Summary of the Commons-Oriented Policy Recommendations of the French National Council of Digital Technology

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Summary of the French report: Travail - Emploi - Numérique / Les nouvelles trajectoires

This report was written by the French "Conseil National du Numérique" (National Council of Digital Technology) and was handed to the Secretary of Work, Employment, Vocational Training and Social Dialogue in January, 2016.


The report studies three main problems:

  • What are the new jobs, new skills and methods to lead the digital transformation of companies?
  • What are the digital practices of governmental employment services in the world?
  • How do the automation and digitalization of activities act on the work and its conditions?

The report does not answer these questions, but:

  • proposes a not-exhaustive mapping of the identified controversies
  • makes recommendations and gives clues about methods

As an introduction, the Cnum says that the current deep transformation we are living does not look like previous known events: it's not a crisis, it's a metamorphosis. That can be linked with the idea of "phase transition" developed by Michel Bauwens.

The human work in the society of tomorrow

In the first part, the report evokes the human work in the society of tomorrow, saying in particular that digital technology questions the traditional forms of production.

For example:

  • the structuring in distributed networks favors the implementation of projects based on the voluntary contributions of a set of individuals (free software, platforms of work on demand).
  • the technological novelties such as Blockchain are at the origin of new forms of companies, based on the multi-membership and the sporadic contribution validated by peers and producers of externalities.
  • a renewal of practices is occurring in industrial production: increase in the number of 'collaborative third places' ('Tiers Lieux Open Source') - places of production and movements to develop craft practices, such as the maker movement

Digital technology also favors an empowerment emancipator of workers.

  • Individualization, increase of independent activities
  • Recognition of autonomy in French labor law
  • More flexible modes of organization in the company: digital nomads, telecommuting, thirds-places, spaces of co-working

Digital technology allows and promotes a particular way of working, based on contribution, information sharing and creativity. The culture of the self-taught, the do-it-yourself and the distribution of knowledges is valued by the maker movement.

The platform economy leads economic value creation towards new actors, development of alternate models of production, and a weakening of "the organizational advantage of the wage-earner" (“Uberization”), while the the logics of reputation and the algorithms of real time create situations of "on subordination".

The commons: an alternate model of production?

The report ask the question: can the the commons carry an alternate model of production? And it explains the concept in a very large paragraph:

The commons indicate resources managed by a community, which defines the rights of users, organizes its own mode of governance and defends them against the risks of enclosure. It can involve a local community managing a material resource (ex: a shared garden) or of a global community managing an immaterial resource (ex: Wikipedia).

The commons, and more particularly the production between peers based on derivative works, are often described as an alternate model to the management by the State or the market. This notion, which joins in the long history of the "commons" finds itself reactivated by the digital technology. Indeed, here, the collapse of transaction costs does not lead any more only to an outsourcing by the market and the exit of the wage-earner, but also to an appearance of a mode of production and management of resources which differs from the classic regimes of property; it favors the use value of the resources (the interest for the individuals and the communities) rather than their exchange value (their monetization according to their rarity, defined by the balance enter supply and demand). We distinguish various problems which emerged with this "returns of the commons”.

  • First of all that of the articulation with regimes of traditional property, in particular the intellectual property. The Commons indeed consist of forms of sharing and distribution of the attributes of the property right where one can find various degrees of exclusivity for the rights (rights of access, use, taking or exploitation). The contradiction between modes of distribution and re-use of the works of the mind products by peers in a logic of Commons and the copyright has resulted in the development of innovative contractual solutions (the free software movement, licenses like Creative Commons). This shape of cooperative free access based on the contribution and the sharing gathers a lot of communities of exchange and creates a new shape of economic and social wealth.
  • The inscription of the Commons in the economic field nevertheless raises questioning as for the sustainability of certain models, which depend on a financing or on outside contributions, and which remain vulnerable relative to the attractivity of big actors. Certain contractual solutions try to favor, beyond the free re-use, a shape of responsibility of the users of the common resources. "Share-alike" licenses allow, for example, the authors to impose that the sharing of their creations are done under the same conditions as the initial sharing, and in so doing shape a viral process in the open distribution of a work. Other licenses aim more explicitly at the risk of appropriation or predatory capture by the commercial sector. Some try to establish a mechanism of reversion for when a capitalist organization makes use of a common resource (Peer Production Licence and Reciprocity Licence). Additionally, certain authors speak in favour of a protection of the derivative works which would no longer be only contractual, and so militate for a positive registration of a "common domain" in the law, or for a creation of a new shape of association, with a regime associated by protection against cornering or "abuses of joint property".

For Michel Bauwens, these mechanisms have to allow the development of a real alternative system for the wage-earner, and more widely for capitalism, by the development of a "ethical and cooperative economy", which is not focused on the accumulation of the capital and the outsourcing of the social and environmental costs, but on a market essentially based on reciprocity. The increase of derivative works would lead then - according to him - to an accumulation of common resources which would allow a production independent from the field of the economic rationality, where we can insure its subsistence through contribution on the condition of the development of an infrastructure supported by mechanisms of remuneration, for example use licenses, but also alternate currencies - even for technology solutions as Blockchain. Other authors have further articulated the question of remuneration for contributors in derivative works with the creation of a basic or contributory income.

Among all the subjects approached, the report also talks about the Digital Labor of Trebor Scholtz, the crowdsourcing, the Shadow Work of Craig Lambert, the Measures of Value of Jean Torole, paying each of our contributions in the form of fees or micro-payments (Cf. Jaron Lanier Who Owns the Future), the Sharing Economy, the cognitive capitalism, and makes a wide place for basic income.

We can quote three interesting concepts:

  • Free time: non-employment would be a supplier of strengthened liberties, on the condition of having guarantees to exercise them in safety and make transitions of an activity paid by the classic models in a "contributory" activity.
  • Status of collaborative actor: certain contributors evoked the need to define more clearly the status of the actors who use platforms of collaborative economy, and to better establish the distinction between activities: remuneration which corresponds to a contribution to expenses (use value) from remuneration which is an income (profit). This distinction would clarify professional activities from not-professional activities. It would also be a question of defining the bonds which are imperative upon platforms regarding information and regarding risk management.
  • Recognition of a "professional state of the people" throughout their lives: this vision can also be put in parallel with the proposal to establish a contributory income. Several actors defend such a generalization of the system which was set up for entertainment workers, to assure all workers a better management of their professional time (capacity-development phases, and phases of putting these capacities in production). The collection of this "contributory income" would be conditioned on the exercise of activities presenting an interest for the community.

How to value the activities carriers of individual and collective sense

In the second part, the report proposes dozens of recommendations classified in 6 main axes.

One is to mobilize digital technology to value the activities (paid or not) and carriers of individual and collective sense, in particular:

  • Participation in projects for the creation and development of companies, Fab Labs, cooperatives, etc.
  • The production of common properties
  • The use of reciprocity licenses (ex: FairlyShare, Creative Commons) allowing to explore logics of recognition of the value produced without passage through monetaization
  • The use of Blockchain protocols for the construction of Commons
  • Further develop the crowdfunding of citizen and contributory projects
  • Promote crowdfunding to accompany local energy and digital projects of transition

It also evokes crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer, horizontality, reticularity, open data,...

Platform Cooperativism: the new working relationship

The second axis is about the new working relationship, and the report addresses Platform Cooperativism at great length:

Platform Cooperativism consists in applying the cooperative model to platforms, in particular of collaborative economy. This model allows every user to be at the same time a holder of the platform and thus to be actively involved in the constitution of the rules of the platform via the democratic governance: the conditions of pricing, the social rights opened to the workers, the regulations concerning the delisting. Far from establishing a new obligation for the existing platforms, the support for the Platform Cooperativism joins in the will to diversify the economic models of the collaborative economy and to favor the innovation and the appearance of new actors. This type of organization thus constitutes an alternate way of development for the collaborative economy, which allows reconciling of the objectives of protection of the workers and the social innovation and the service.

Various initiatives can be organized to support this new type of platform:

  • The Program of investments of future (PIA) could be used to finance the launch of this type of platform, which has difficulty in finding an investment on behalf of private actors because of the novelty of this type of model
  • Experiments could be launched by regions with a measure of autonomy: one of the possibilities to establish a Platform Cooperativism is indeed that public authorities participate themselves in the creation of public platforms. To this end, modules in freeware could be developed in a mutualized way, to promote services of collaborative economy operated with communities in connection with the users (for example, a service equivalent to Airbnb operated by the City Hall of Paris);
  • Research programs concerning the new technologies favoring more decentralized modes of organization could be launched. In this respect, the Blockchain technology, still in its early stages, cannot be the object of development only by those companies within directly-impacted sectors (banks, insurance). This technology, at the foundation of virtual coins Bitcoin, enables assurance of a certification of transactions in a decentralized way, without passing through an actor in an intermediary position playing the role of a trusted third party. It must therefore be studied as such to favor new potentialities of organization that it makes possible;
  • Sit legally and spread reciprocity licenses, such as the Peer Production License, which creates different rights-of-use depending on whether the entity reusing the product is a cooperative or not.

Platform Cooperativism is an idea defended by Trebor Scholz, an American academic, and joins within its framework the works on the cooperative model and the online peer to peer (Michel Bauwens, Yochai Benkler). This idea rises in a double report:

  • The collaborative economy platforms receive a large part of the value created by the work of users
  • The same platforms have a role which can be similar to that of the employer, even though they have no parallel bonds

Examples of cooperative platforms:

  • Fairmondo is a German platform of e-commerce under cooperative form by her users and her employees.
  • La Zooz, still at the development stage, is an Israeli company whose objective is to compete with ride sharing services by proposing a model based on the blockchain and virtual currency.
  • The lab Cellabz is a laboratory of innovation which associates emergent technologies and the Blockchain around a multidisciplinary and multi-actors approach, combining universities, start-ups and companies.

Opened innovation as axis of industrial revival

And to finish it off, the report talks about open innovation as axis of industrial revival, with recommendations such as:

  • Support the development of open innovation projects (teams of innovation fellows - multidisciplinary programs of search-action - Distribution of the profits in Open Data - incentive mechanisms, as the open 1 %)
  • Join the Commons and Open Innovation. Fertile cooperations can be developed between the wealth of the Information Commons sphere and the industrial processing economic fabric.
  • Financing the production of the Pan-European Commons
  • Legally strengthen the system of Reciprocity licenses and lead a fight against copyfraud and obvious trolling.
  • Establish European guidelines describing both the virtuous and the predatory practices of the commercial use of open source.