Mapping the Collaborative and Democratic Economy - Cooperatively

A guest post by Noémi Giszpenc of the Data Commons Cooperative about gathering and disseminating information on the cooperative economy.
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Noémi Giszpenc

Critiquing the old economy is easy. The ends (more economic growth!) don't justify the means (privatize everything, and Devil take the hindmost!). And the means don't even get us the advertised ends; instead we just get widening inequality, perverted democracy, and degradation of life-giving systems.

Now, creating the next economy -- that's harder, and much more interesting. What are the ends? Which means will get us there? It's becoming very clear that if we want an open, collaborative, democratic economy, then we need to go about building it in an open, collaborative, democratic way.

That's why, instead of aiming to position itself as the go-to place for information on economic alternatives (to the exclusion of others), the Data Commons Cooperative seeks to build free and open infrastructure for its members to collaboratively gather, share, maintain, display and deploy information about a generative economy. When you see a map displayed by one of our members, you'll know that many people and groups contributed to making it and keeping it up to date; and many people and groups will benefit from improvements and updates that flow through it.

Above is a screenshot of SolidarityNYC map. The Data Commons helped make the back-end of adding, editing, and uploading listings more efficient, as well as improved the way users could add tags, which contributes to creating linkages across previously silo-ed solidarity economy efforts.
Take, for example, the SolidarityNYC map of the co-ops, collectives, credit unions, land trusts, barter clubs, and other solidarity economy enterprises in the five boroughs. This map was constructed using the volunteer work of the collective. The map was first a directory that the members of the collective populated themselves, and became user-generated (taking user submissions through the website) once it was formatted into a map. The Data Commons Cooperative assisted SolidarityNYC in restructuring the back-end of the map to make it easier for users to add new information and create tags for listings, thus enhancing the visibility of different parts of the system to each other. As Lauren Hudson, a member of SolidarityNYC and President of the board of DCC, says, "The map has been central to our organizing work in connecting Solidarity Economy sectors to one another and illustrating the breadth of activity in our city and movement writ large. This is why we so deeply believe in the work of the Data Commons, because such data sharing eliminates the silos that we as cooperators often work within."

The beginnings of a map of the U.S. Solidarity Economy, built on the foundation of and extending the software’s capability. All Data Commons tools are open source. 
At the same time, the Data Commons has supported the creation of an online map to display the results of researchers connected to our member, US Solidarity Economy Network. This map allows users to browse by category and suggest changes and additions. It will be maintained by the Data Commons Cooperative now that the research project is over. Its codebase built off the existing back-end, and is open-source, so that continued improvements, refinements, and elaborations can be available to all.

In the future, we hope to create more easy-to-use tools for grassroots groups and regional and umbrella organizations to find and share information about the cooperative and solidarity economy. The possibilities for how this information could be used are exciting:

  • Start-up groups could find similar projects that will mentor them, or allies to support their launch. The Toolbox for Education and Social Action, for example, identified cooperatives using who could contribute crowdfunding for their groundbreaking Co-opoly game.
  • Enterprises can make business alliances in their geography or sector. An exciting recent example of growth is Namasté Solar, a worker co-op, launching the Amicus Solar Cooperative, which now has 34 member-owner solar installers across the country, sharing purchasing power and best practices.  
  • Associations can demonstrate the power of their numbers to politicians and policymakers, as Data Commons member Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance plans to do with its survey results -- and use that power to affect legislation. A planned extension of the Data Commons services is to offer members an up-to-date overlay of political boundaries and representatives over their constituency information.
  • The general public can become more familiar with and more supportive of the generative economy organizations in their area. For example, in Italy, individuals sign up to be members of a social network called "," an "equo-sustainable zone," to be in contact with organizations and businesses in line with their values.  
  • Researchers can demonstrate the positive impacts that such organizations have on workers and the community. As Julia Poznik, DCC board member and Economics PhD student at University of Missouri-Kansas City, says, “access to a current database enables economists and other social scientists to analyze the impact of democratic businesses on the local economy - in terms of jobs generated, wages and revenue, even the environmental impacts. This information is of great value to researchers as there are few sources of current data on the generative economy in the US, and none as rich.”
  • National organizations can more effectively partner with local leaders. Sarah Stranahan, a board member of the New Economy Coalition and Strategic Development Director for Free Speech for People, sees mutual benefit for local groups and national organizations. “With shared intellectual capital, local groups can more easily connect to data gathered at the national level, such as polling or marketing information, and national groups interested in critical local campaigns can better understand local knowledge and local leaders, and ascertain whether national support would even be appreciated and useful to efforts on the ground.”


If any or all of this sounds enticing, please lend your support to the Data Commons. We are currently fundraising, and donations under $100 will be matched by the Fund for Democratic Communities. The economy we want to see is one where everyone's contributions are valued, and everyone does their part. Please participate by donating or spreading the word today!