Academic Commons Solution Stories

Open Value Networks as a Platform for Academic Collaboration

Some digital communities use “open value accounting” software systems[1] to structure their internal governance and management of shared resources while building a new type of networked community. Open value networks, or OVNs, are voluntary, consensus-driven systems for measuring and valuing the in-kind/ energy and financial contributions of each of its participants. The goal is to make contributions, even small ones, visible and thereby provide a tool that the community can use to manage itself and its resources.

 

Could OVNs play a role in revamping the coordination, governance and management of academic disciplines or research projects? This is a pattern that may be worthy of exploration an development.

 

OVNs are a growing trend among digital communities, according to a 2016 EU-sponsored P2P Value study, which found that 86 percent of the 300 digital communities it studied use open value accounting systems.[2] An “open value network” – a term first introduced by Verna Allee – describes “the connections between companies and the channels through which intangibles move between them.” An open value network is more distributed than conventional value chains, and not necessarily hierarchical.

 

Sensorica, one of the more advanced such communities, is devoted to hardware production, software, the Internet of Things, and services. Much of the group’s success stems from its novel ownership structure and “nondominion” property regime for sharing resources. Tiberius Brastaviceanu, cofounder of Sensorica, has explained that under a nondominion agreement, community members share their equipment with the community while attaching conditions for its use such as repayment for the machine, money to cover maintenance costs, and a percentage to cover risk.[3] A legal custodian then assumes legal control over the physical resources and absorbs liability for their use.

 

But the custodian does not own the resource because it is forbidden from monetizing the assets, as a conventional owner could. So community use prevails even though the custodian is the legal guardian of the resource. This is the essence of the “nondominion” agreement.[4] Sensorica says that its organization “is not a corporation, it is not a coop, it is not a nonprofit, it is not an LLP [limited liability partnership]. 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.”

 

But this description does not fully answer the question, How can networked systems interface with conventional, old-style ones? How can an enterprise or government contract with a loose network of individuals and feel confident that the job will get done properly and on time? After all, who is “in charge” of an open network?

 

Tiberius Brastaviceanu claims that Sensorica’s OVN structure “is able to sustain deterministic economic processes and accountability while preserving the open and fluid nature of networks and maximizing individual autonomy…..[I]nput from the crowd can be structured and channeled towards solving someone’s problem, through SENSORICA’s infrastructure, methodologies and governance.”

 

But Brastaviceanu noted that Sensorica is not a platform such as Taskrabbit or Uber, which is owned by a corporate intermediary whose business is creating new types of markets and managing transactions. Rather, he says:

 

"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….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 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 percent 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 weren'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."

 

Obviously, the application of an OVN such as the one that has evolved at SENSORICA, would require modifications of everyday work practices for academic research and collaboration. It would also require a "growing into" new sorts of social norms and culture. But the OVN socio-digital platform would seem to hold some promising new approaches to the “silo-ization” of research and the university itself, and to the quest for new types of coordination and governance.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] http://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Open_Value_Accounting. See also Tiberius Brastaviceanu, “Sensorica,” [working paper on value-creation in open value networks], at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1F19rvACy80_0k3p32dI2NReuVkmozRvDJceaQCuf8y0/edit.

 

[2] See Commons-Based Peer Production Directory on the P2P Value website, at http://directory.p2pvalue.eu.

 

[3] See “Nondominion Agreement” entry at P2P Foundation wiki. https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Nondominium. “All property rights are transferred to the Custodian by the members of the Nondominium through the act of registering a resource or value added into the Nondominium. The Custodian in return grants the members the right to use, alter/improve (add value), and to receive “rents” (more generally reward in any form) based on the value the member has contributed to the Nondominium in proportion to other members.”

 

[4] Brastaviceanu, “On redistribution of resources,” GoogleDoc, at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1F19rvACy80_0k3p32dI2NReuVkmozRvDJceaQCuf8y0/edit

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