Fab City Hamburg and its Mission-Oriented Coalition for Digital Transformation

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  • Master's Thesis: HOW TO HARNESS THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION THROUGH A MISSION-ORIENTED COALITION? FIRST INSIGHTS FROM THE CASE OF FAB CITY HAMBURG. By Benedikt Seidel. TALLINN UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, School of Business and Governance, Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Technology Governance and Digital Transformation, January 2020

URL = https://docs.google.com/document/d/13obq9m1ydbaDS5oNjA_YSrWBBQW55UvKHXofc8oy4WQ/edit#

aims at influencing the direction of innovation, i.e. growth, towards a circular and commons-driven economy


"This paper elaborates on how to harness the digital transformation. Theoretically, it derives a generic policy toolkit from selected literature that aims at influencing the direction of innovation, i.e. growth, towards a circular and commons-driven economy. Practically, it elaborates on the toolkit’s implementation in the case of Hamburg becoming a Fab City. It is argued that the first six months of the toolkit’s implementation in Hamburg have ignited a positive dynamic that proofs the viability of the toolkit."


By Benedikt Seidel:

"the paper is structured into a theoretical and a practical part. Theoretically, a toolkit for strategy development is derived from selected literature referring to the concepts mentioned in the research question. Concretely, chapter 3.1. specifies the popular term “digital transformation” with the Perezian’ theory of techno-economic paradigms as the analytical framework of this paper and identifies the ICT-Paradigm as the current techno economic paradigm. According to the idea that each techno economic paradigm has a “mode of production” which synergises the forces at play, chapter 3.2. depicts commons-based peer production as the synergising mode of production of the ICT-Paradigm. Following up, chapter 3.3. takes a closer look at the inner dynamics of the ICT-Paradigm, namely networks and information to understand better why in the ICT-Paradigm commons-based peer production is superior to other modes of production. Sticking to the framework of techno-economic paradigms, the socio-technical transformation is not determined but can develop into a falling short of the potential gilded or a golden age that harnesses the ICT-Paradigm. Therefore, chapter 3.4. introduces the concepts of mission-driven innovation and coalition building as means for influencing the directionality of a socio-technical transformation. Chapter 3.5. synthesises the aforementioned concepts into a toolkit to formulate appropriate strategies for harnessing the ICT-Paradigm. Practically, the toolkit is tested in a case study in the city of Hamburg. Chapter 4.1. reports on the outcomes of a study pursued in Hamburg with regards to the realm that is relevant for the toolkit, namely commons-based peer production and digital fabrication. Subsequently, informed by the study chapter 4.2. describes how the toolkit has been implemented in Hamburg by building a coalition behind the mission objective of Fab City. Hereupon, chapter 4.3. addresses a SWOT-Analysis that has been conducted by the author in cooperation with the coalition to prepare for the following strategy development. This strategy development is outlined in the following subchapter of chapter 4.3.. Chapter 5. discusses whether the strategy is appropriate to harness the digital transformation, i.e. the ICT-Paradigm. Finally, chapter 6. concludes the paper by summarising the outcomes and giving final remarks."




  • 3.1. The Perezian’ Theory of Techno-Economic Paradigms as the analytical framework 11
  • 3.2. Commons-based peer production and the Information and Communication Technologies Paradigm 12
  • 3.3. The dynamics of networks and the economics of information 14
  • 3.4. Influencing the directionality of a socio-technical transformation with mission-driven innovation and coalition building 16
  • 3.5. Synthesis - a toolkit for realising a golden age of the ICT-Paradigm 18
    • 3.5.1. Defining mission goals - towards a golden age of the ICT-Paradigm 19
    • 3.5.2. The toolkit 21


  • 4.1. Hamburg’s current situation with regards to digital fabrication and commons-based peer production 23
  • 4.2. Implementation of the toolkit - building a coalition and defining Fab City as the mission objective 28
  • 4.3. Strategic focus areas for Fab City Hamburg 29
    • 4.3.1. Sustainable intensification of agriculture and regeneration of soils 30
    • 4.3.2. Product design 36
    • 4.3.3. Education 36
    • 4.3.4. Distributed manufacturing infrastructure and (re-) generation of resources 38
    • 4.3.5. Fostering free and open source platforms 40
    • 4.3.6. Distributed energy production 40
    • 4.3.7. Digital infrastructure 41




By Benedikt Seidel:

"In Hamburg, a coalition, initiated by actors of civil society and the local government, pushes for the manifestation of a golden age by joining forces to deploy a commons-oriented system both horizontally (synergies amongst each other) and vertically (integration in global networks and local citizenship). A simplified, but in this case sufficient, definition of commons is that it is a shared resource that is maintained by a community according to its own rules (see Ostrom 1990). The coalition consists of waste water scientists, research institutes, makerspaces, fab labs, repair cafés, schools, libraries and the municipality and has declared its intent to combine efforts with the Fab City Global Initiative to make Hamburg a city that manufactures almost everything it consumes by the year 2054. It is the goal to come from a product-in-trash-out model to a data-in-data-out model, which in other words would be a fully deployed circular economy. (see Fab City Global Initiative 2016) Given the unpredictability of circumstances over such a long period of time, all judgments whether this goal is realistic must be subject to arbitrariness. However, it can serve as s direction towards which the different actors can align their next steps and join forces. In this sense, the implementation of the goal to manufacture almost anything in Hamburg by 2054 is an analog adaption from the concept of mission oriented policy making (see Mazzucato 2018) and the concepts of movements with missions (see Leadbeater 2018). This adaption is elaborated in the theory part of this paper.

Cornerstone of Hamburgs fab city strategy is enhancing commons-based initiatives (see Benkler 2006; Kostakis, Niaros and Giotitsas 2015; Fab City Global Initiative 2016) such as production sites across the virtual (e.g., Wikipidia, farm hack, Linux) and the physical realm (e.g. makerspaces, Fab Labs, Open Lab, open workshops). They are commons-based in the sense that they are run by productive communities according to their own rules. The ideal outcome are globally designed and locally manufactured and adaptable goods with eternal life cycles that are made out of recycled resources. The plan is to build upon existing and start new circular economic capacities in cooperation with like minded actors. Key of this endeavour will be the installment of a network of distributed manufacturing sites in the city, which is enabled by the decreased capital intensity of the basic means of production in the ICT Paradigm. If the coalition manages to implement this plan, it could serve as a blueprint for how the ICT Paradigm can be given a directionality towards sustainability. The research question of this paper is the following. Can a coalition of the federal city state of Hamburg and commons-oriented institutions (the toolkit developed in this paper) develop an appropriate strategy to harness the ICT-Paradigm through aiming for accomplishing the Fab City mission goal to achieve local manufacturing of all locally consumed physical goods by 2054?" (https://docs.google.com/document/d/13obq9m1ydbaDS5oNjA_YSrWBBQW55UvKHXofc8oy4WQ/edit#)


Hamburg’s Current Situation With Regards To Digital Fabrication and Commons-Based Peer Production

By Benedikt Seidel:

"In order to analyze Hamburgs stand with regards to digital fabrication and CBPP, first a definition of what exactly is looked for must be given. In the context of this paper the interest lies rather in bottom-up initiatives, where civil society is empowered to participate in value creation thru digital means. Therefore, businesses or private actors that have no ambition to contribute to networks of online or offline communities are excluded from this screening. The research of the author and that of Schreiner (2019) shows that so far there is no systemic net of CBPP infrastructure but rather a loose conglomeration of different initiatives. Makerspaces would be the clearest manifestation of CBPP and digital fabrication, because according to Niaros, Kostakis and Drechsler (2017) makerspaces can be CBPP in the physical realm. Makerspaces are open workshops where almost anything can produced with comparably low capital intensity. Prominent tools in these shops are 3D-printers and laser-cutters.

However, the most systemic one is the fab labs of which Hamburg currently has four (Fab Foundation 2019). Fab labs are makerspaces that belong to a global network of close to 2000 fab labs. In order to become a fab lab, a makerspace must have a minimum of a certain set of tools and subscribe to the fab lab charta. The fab charta guarantees easy access to the tools. However, there is 15 makerspaces that offer digital fabrication, but do not subscribe to the fab lab concept and also those that only have not the whole set of machinery that is required for being a fab lab (Verbund offener Werkstätten 2019). In addition to open workshops, Hamburg has eleven repair cafés, which are places where usually electronic gadgets can be repaired without charging fees. These places rather seldom use digital fabrication but the way knowledge and tools are shared is peer to peer and the mentality is in line with commons-oriented initiatives. As an experience of the research being done in Hamburg, the author has learned that the management of repair cafés would like to “upgrade” their sites to makerspaces. This is why repair cafés are listed in this screening. Other than these initiatives, Hamburg has research institutions that have been dealing with the topic of either CBPP, digital fabrication, or both in their research, such as the Laboratorium Fertigungstechnik at Helmut Schmidt University and the Institut für Technische Bildung und Hochschuldidaktik at the Technical University of Hamburg.

In cooperation with Schreiner (2019) the author identified the following characteristics of makerspaces in Hamburg, that are structured according to the business model canvas:

In terms of key resources, the study names facilities in which the users can work without interruption and that allow for interaction with other users. This space for interaction is quite relevant because it is necessary for learning processes that is at the core of commons-based peer production. Also, tools that can be used in sharing processes to better utilise capacities were mentioned as being important. Another key resource is digital fabrication technologies, such as laser cutters and 3D-printers. Adding to this, skilled personnel that is able to teach less skilled users is also important. The teaching is usually done thru learning by doing by assisting in realising certain project ideas.

Among key partners are the users themselves. Three of the makerspaces in Hamburg see them as shareholders of their own organisation, because the users become members of the non-profit and pay member fees. Another key partner is the government, because it often funds makerspaces. However, only one makerspace receives non-project based funding by the government. Other than that, the government funding is project based and can therefore not secure the long term existence of the makerspaces. The funding for two of the makerspaces comes from the ministry for culture and media, which reflects that the government has so far rather seen a cultural value in makerspaces and not an economic one. A problem that arises due to funding by the government is that the political will to fund might change due to elections. In addition, sources of funding are for-profit businesses, private investors and philanthropic foundations.

The interviewed makerspaces perceive the core of their value creation in education, innovation, social community building, sustainable thought patterns and in repairing and recycling.

The study finds that users of makerspaces in Hamburg do not mainly belong to one group, but can be considered as diverse. Differentiated by their function, makerspaces in Hamburg are used by artists, businesses, hobbyists, self-employed, start-ups, university students, apprentices and school students." (https://docs.google.com/document/d/13obq9m1ydbaDS5oNjA_YSrWBBQW55UvKHXofc8oy4WQ/edit#)