Interfacing Open Peer Production Organizations with Classical Institutions

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Interfacting Sensorica's Peer Production with classical institutions

?Tiberius Brastaviceanu, Scott Laughlin, Jim Anastassiou

"SENSORICA is not a corporation, it is not a coop, it is not an non profit, it is not an LLP. It is an open value network. From a legal perspective, it is a non-registered association. It is an open network of freelancers that coordinate and co-manage their work using some IT tools (the NRP-VAS) and some special governance. If you still don’t understand what SENSORICA is and how it operates please don’t panic. It is something new and it takes a bit of time to get accustomed. It is new, but at the same time it is very similar to other new things that have emerged recently, like Bitcoin for example. We can say that SENSORICA is for production what a blockchain-based cryptocurrency is for exchange. So the million dollar question is how do we interface these new creatures with the ones from the classical world? How do you sign a contract with a loose network of individuals? Who is going to show up to do the work? How can we guarantee that a swarm of people converging on tasks from all four corners of the planet via the Internet will deliver on time, and with the required specifications? Who is responsible and accountable?

In our opinion, SENSORICA is the most advanced commons-based peer production network applied to hardware production, using infrastructure and methodologies that have been specifically tailored for open networks. We claim that the OVN model is able to sustain deterministic economic processes and accountability, while preserving the open and fluid nature of networks, while maximizing individual autonomy. This new ability of open innovation and peer production networks to generate predictable outputs, demonstrated by SENSORICA, was the main topic of the meeting with Jenn Gustetic from the White House, in June of 2015.

The role of SENSORICA in the service cases enumerated earlier shaped as the interface between the crowd and the classical institution. In other words, input from the crowd can be structured and channeled towards solving someone’s problem, through SENSORICA’s infrastructure, methodologies and governance. But let’s not get confused, we are not talking about a crowdsourcing platform. So what is the difference? A crowdsourcing platform like Upwork is an intermediary between companies and the crowd: the company posts a problem with a prize for someone who can provide the solution; the platform takes a cut. Taskrabbit is the Uber of cheap labor, connecting people who need chores done with people who can do them, while taking a cut from their transactions. In both cases, the intermediary platform is owned by a company and those who supply the work aren’t organized, they respond individually to demands. In the SENSORICA model, no one in particular really owns the platform. Affiliates of the network organize, they form groups to tackle complex problems for long periods of time. In the cases discussed here, the size of a project is comparable to a startup, reaching up to 10 individuals. The longest duration of steady work is 6 months and ticking. These are the first pilot projects, but the potential is for thousands of individuals per project, which amounts to a large size enterprise, for long-term projects that can take years. SENSORICA is really showing the signs of a new system of production that can operate at large scale. But as an R&D service provider, it can be already be seen by classical institutions as R&D on demand, as an adjacent, very cohesive R&D operation open to the crowd, funneling in low cost and rapidly evolving open innovation. Practically the entire revenue generated is split among participants, with only 5% going to maintain and to develop the infrastructure, which is under the total control of participants.

At the third iteration, the service beneficiary gets a fast paced innovation at a quarter of the normal cost. Even more interestingly, the cost cuts aren’t transferred to those who provide the service. They are actual cost savings that result from a heavy use and rapid remix of open source, from the mutualization of resources within the network, from the collaborative nature of activities, from the elimination of bureaucracy, and other inefficiencies that come from lack of motivation. On the contrary, everyone is paid with the same measure, according to the Canadian labor market, no matter where the contributor lives. More precisely, within SENSORICA those who live in Pakistan aren’t paid less. And if that wasn't enough, on top of providing rapid innovation at a fraction of the cost to classical institutions, so that they can maintain jobs, at the same time sensoricans increase the value of the global commons, because everything they do is open source. All the data about the economic activity within SENSORICA is open to the public, we can’t make this up!

This mutually beneficial economic relationship between classical institutions and SENSORICA, as an open innovation and peer production network, can be seen as a bridge between the classical capitalist economy and the p2p economy, as a channel for transfer of resources from the old economy to the new."

Example 1: The Barda case

The Barda periscope project was the first implementation of a new open project development methodology designed by Fernando, Tiberius and Lynn, in the context of a service provided to a client. This methodology was formalized in SENSORICA’s network resource planning (NRP) software through a concept named Workflow recipes, which are time-dependent and deliverables-dependent bundles of Processes associated with a Project (a context of work). This methodology consists of the following steps: Project initiation, Design considerations, Design, Prototyping, and Product. All the contributions to the Project were logged within this structure.

In order to reduce the perceived risk for the client, the Project was divided into milestones. A cost estimation was produced for the client for every milestone. The agreement was to get paid at the end of every milestone. Every milestone was to be delivered with complete documentation, open source style. The client could stop the process at the end of any milestone and decide to switch to another organization to complete the Project. The documentation provided a guarantee for rapid continuation. The burden was on SENSORICA to provide a good service, at the level of satisfaction of the client, in order to complete all the milestones.

Moreover, the activity logs in the NRP and the associated documentation provided the client with full and real time access to the process. Coordination on different issues and tasks took place in context, directly in the working documents, and the client was invited to provide feedback.

A problem emerged during this project: very rapidly, the work documents became long and the client’s ability to follow the process was hindered. We spent time formatting the documents to make their content more transparent, but these measures didn’t diminish the time spent by the client to effectively follow the process. The situation was more complex, because this was a three parties relation, between the SENSORICA team, Barda and Parcs Canada, Barda’s client. Information produced by sensoricans had to be reformatted to match Barda’s project management structure and the language used between Barda and Parc Canada. In the end, Barda provided sensoricans with a template for 3-way communication, based on their own open issues and tasks.

The Barda periscope project was a small project, involving only a few contributors (see project in SENSORICA’s NRP-VAS). Coordination was fairly easy at this small scale.

Example 2: The Queen’s University case

Joshua Pearce is a professor at Queen’s University and Michigan Tech University. He is dedicated to open science and sustainable technologies, and had been following SENSORICA since 2013. He is the author of the Quantifying the Value of Open Source Hardware Development paper. For years, Joshua’s team has designed multiple scientific instruments by building on various open source projects. These instruments have been released under open licenses. In 2015, he decided to take a risk and transfer to the SENSORICA network the task of designing an instrument used in the characterization of photovoltaic materials. This was an important shift in Joshua team’s approach, from in house development with inspiration from open source projects to crowdsourcing development through the SENSORICA distributed network. The main goal was to create an instrument with a community around it, which would increase the speed of innovation, insure continuity of the product, and increase its diffusion rate to universities around the world. At the same time, the PV characterization project was also seen as a pilot project to build an interface between the crowd and a classical institution, Queen’s University, through SENSORICA’s p2p infrastructure, open project methodologies, and governance.

The open science movement is building momentum. It started with open publications, increasing access to scientific knowledge. This initiative became more nuanced, proposing early stage sharing of data and information (prior to the publication), sharing of unpublished past results and even sharing of lessons learned from failed experiments. In parallel with the development on the distribution side, the movement also built infrastructure for data sharing in resource-intensive domains of inquiry, like genomics for example, as well as social networking platforms designed for scientists and scientific projects (like Research Gate). Recently, we have seen initiatives for redesigning scientific instruments that are in tune with the open science philosophy. New instruments are acquiring new characteristics: they become shareable, they facilitate socialization of scientific activities, they become modular and interoperable, as well as easily serviceable and upgradable. Efforts also go into redesigning scientific labs, making them more collaborative, interconnected, accessible through teleproxmity, etc. SENSORICA leads the way to open science, as one can see in this presentation. The PV characterization project incorporates many of these new aspects.

This project was started by incorporating all the lessons learned in the Barda periscope project. There was a difference in scale: more individuals contributed to the design and the prototyping of the PV characterization device (11 affiliates and over 200 logged contributions). The requirements for accountability and responsibility were also higher, since we were now dealing with a University. All this put more pressure on our support processes. We created a Project responsible role, to be the interface between the University and the SENSORICA OVN. Financial incentives were attached to it. Moreover, the roles of outreach (find skills), orientation (help new affiliates get accustomed), coordination (make sure that all affiliates are on the same page) and facilitation (make sure that all affiliates get the help they need) became very important. We experimented with new tools for orientation that proved to be more effective. A specific forum was created for the project, in order to focus discussions. The PV project was also more complex, its documentation proliferated faster, which lead to the need of content maps in order to ease the navigation.

During the course of the project we noticed that the outreach function was very important and not so easy to finetune. The answers to our signals propagated on social media were slow to come and the conversion to an active contributor was low. We attributed part of that to a poor general understanding of SENSORICA’s OVN model, including its system of incentives. At the beginning of the project, we grossly underestimated the efforts required for outreach, for generating the content to be broadcasted, for establishing a constant social media presence, for mapping the open source ecosystem, targeting specific pools of talent, and establishing trust relations. The project was run below the critical mass of open projects and therefore required a more centralized form of governance.

Example 3: The IoT for heavy industry case

? NOTE: We cannot publicly disclose the name of our sponsor in the IoT for heavy industry applications case.

In December 2015, sensoricans were contacted by a Montreal-based company to help develop an IoT solution for applications in heavy industry. They wanted to make their product “smart” and able to predict its life expectancy. The requirements consisted of a mesh network of sensors that send data to a cloud for analysis, in order to predict failure. The race to be first to market set the pace for fast innovation and low cost. The company crafted a business model based on services, not on selling the hardware, which is fully compatible with the open source development that SENSORICA can offer. The agreement was that everything that SENSORICA develops can be released under an open source licence, with no restrictions for Sensoricans to remix this technology in other projects, including commercial ones.

Thus, the company became the sponsor of an open source IoT applications development project. CAKE, the custodian of the SENSORICA OVN takes in financial contributions from the company and distributes them to network affiliates, as a reward for their involvement to the project, as fiscal sponsorship. The company is not a client of CAKE, since this a three party relationship, between the company, CAKE and the world, the later benefiting from the open source IoT applications design, and not simply a one-to-one service exchange between two organizations, even if the company can draw a direct benefit from this relationship.

The Sensor Network project started almost in free form. The first tacit agreement was that the sponsor informs development based on their knowledge about these applications. Decisions on development were to be made during scrum meetings between Sensoricans and employees of the sponsor, Sensoricans would work on tasks, log their time contributions and get some financial compensation every two weeks, relative to their efforts. As the project unfolded, we felt the need for better planning and cost estimation. The first improvement was to manually create a map of content generated by SENSORICA’s R&D activities. This brought the idea of being able to generate dynamic content maps, either from the NRP-VAS (every development process has R&D documents as deliverables) or from our CRM (content management system), which is not yet implemented. In order to allow the sponsor of the project to follow almost in real time metrics about the project, we created an experimental dashboard. In the end, we realized that we needed to synchronize the sponsor’s ERP with SENSORICA’s NRP. We crafted a shared language and project development structure, and the agreement was to keep track of work in both places. This brings the need to create interfaces between the two management systems, which hasn't yet been implemented. Moreover, we also decided to produce cost estimates for future tasks, to allow the sponsor to better plan its budget. All these measures had a positive impact on our relationship by making our activities much more predictable and auditable, and by increasing the level of reliability of the network.

As the value created during this project increased, the project sponsor realized its first-to-market advantage was in potential danger if the technical work was put in the context of their direct business interest in a public way. This sparked an interesting debate on openness (access to participation) and transparency (access to information). We drew on SENSORICA’s past experience with a project that was sensitive to transparency, and implemented an open and semi-transparent project model. In more concrete terms, anyone can join the project, which preserves the openness aspect. Most of the technical information generated is public from the start, but some documents that contain information about how different components can be used in an application similar to the business case of our sponsor were made non-public. Project affiliates need to sign a non-publication agreement for these documents clustered into a separate folder, but there is no restriction related to the use of this information in any other project. All these non-public documents have a date for publication, which is related to the sponsor’s market deployment strategy and pace. We believe that in through this arrangement we preserved the nature of the SENSORICA OVN, while mitigating the risks perceived by the sponsor, which led a stronger synergy between the two entities." ([1])