collection of simple yet powerful digital tools for collective management
Commons are platforms where people come together to engage in a productive activity under shared management, such as collectively managing forests or lakes, growing vegetables, organising events, sharing mobility or housing, etc. Shared management promotes sustainable, resilient and local cooperation. Thus, commons are an intrinsically circular mode of production.
Although the phenomenon has been on the rise in recent years, it remains rather rare. One of the reasons may be the complexity: even the simplest tasks quickly become complicated with a large number of stakeholders. Digitisation offers numerous new possibilities for making things a lot simpler, both in terms of communication and organisation. Unfortunately, these digital solutions do not come cheap.
With this project, Ghent University, in collaboration with Media Belgium and Harvestgoed CSA, wants to work on an application that will considerably simplify the complexity of commons management.
Through a survey of the sector, a series of simple but powerful basic shared needs were first identified, such as profile management, automatic follow-up of payments, matchmaking and the creation of a complementary currency. Next, a working prototype was tested at the Oogstgoed self-harvesting farm in Gentbrugge, a farm where participants produce local, ecological and fair food together with farmers.
That digital platform can serve as a prototype for a commons ecosystem. In time, this could lead to the full integration of commons in the economy.
PartnersCommonTomorrow bvba, DOK vzw, vzw Het Spilvarken, Oogstgoed, Media Belgium bvba
Through this project, we were able to identify a series of important organisational needs or bottlenecks for which we came up with simple yet powerful digital solutions, such as the automatic follow-up of payments, profile management, matchmaking, etc.
We combined all the digital solutions into one app, in this case for picking farms, which allows them to better manage and use their ecosystem as a common (participants, land, infrastructure, etc.).
The collection of modules that makes up the app can later be used in the same or a different configuration for other commons. The intention is to continuously extend the set of tools through other application contexts.
It is still too early for reliable results on the app at the Oogstgoed farm, especially since the launch took place in winter. We can already say that the app is well used and the reactions are very positive.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
To maintain the relevance of the project, it was important to start from real needs. Only by questioning stakeholders in the sector itself did we get a clear view of the most important bottlenecks.
Fear of the digital is still a major obstacle. To keep the threshold low, we work with a web application that requires no separate installation, we send a weekly summary by e-mail and payments can still be made outside the app.
Collaborating with private partners is not easy. In addition to their own contribution, the developer involved also had to pay for non-recoverable VAT and unforeseen additional costs in the development.
It is not easy to find follow-up funding for a project that falls between the commercial and the social.
211family member of Oogstgoed
9.000self-harvesters in Flanders
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
The app was launched at the Oogstgoed picking farm in February 2020, at a time when there is little activity on the field. We expect usage to grow along with the activity on the farm in summer and autumn. Nevertheless, we can already say that the app is being used effectively and the reactions are positive. This has aroused the interest of a second farm, Rawijs (Lochristi).
CSA network, the umbrella network of picking farms, is also interested in rolling out the use of the app more widely.
In the longer term, we want to grow further by using the app for applications in other commons, whether or not food-related. Concrete follow-up steps will depend on further financing and research opportunities.