Platform co-operatives: Inspiring ideas for a new economy

A month ago we joined around 300 others at Open:2017, the UK’s first multi-day conference dedicated to platform co-operatives, organised by The Open Co-op LLP. As one of the early sponsors of the event, we were so excited to help make it happen, and to contribute to what became an incredibly inspiring couple of days.
For those who might not know, ‘platform co-operatives’ are owned and managed by their members just like traditional co-ops, but whilst traditional co-ops are normally based around a physical community of members, platform co-ops exist online and are normally populated by online communities of members. As Oliver Sylvester-Bradley, co-founder of The Open Co-op, explains in his Co-operative News article, the word ‘platform’ is often used to describe an internet service which brings together suppliers and consumers in an online marketplace. But they don’t necessarily provide traditional ‘products’, they often facilitate the trade of services, like taxis or temporary accommodation. Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo – platform monopolies – have been the recent focus of much negative media attention for their unfair treatment of workers, whilst generating huge profits for their shareholders. Platform co-ops, on the other hand, are specifically designed to address the issues of workers’ rights and the extraction of value by making their members owners of the platforms, and giving them democratic control.


So, coming together at Open:2017 were individuals, initiatives and organisations united in their vision of a transparent, democratic and decentralised economy which works for everyone. Contributors focused on exploring how collaborative software and co-operative ownership models are being combined to create this new economy. Workshops, talks and debates considered the practical steps needed to set up platform co-ops and accelerate their growth in the UK. There was much talk about an ecosystem of apps to support the Solidarity Economy in general, and the co-op movement in particular, and it’s really exciting to feel this momentum.
Linked Open Data for the Solidarity Economy
Open:2017 was also an important event for us as an organisation, because for the very first time we shared some of the work we’ve been doing on using Linked Open Data (LOD) to connect the Solidarity Economy. Matt Wallis presented to a room full of people with a real interest in the power of LOD (a video of Matt’s presentation will be available to watch on the conference website soon, and you can download a PDF version of Matt’s presentation with additional notes here). Over the past year, we’ve undertaken a detailed study of the role that LOD can play in helping the Solidarity Economy Movement in the UK to grow, and in particular by helping to make initiatives within the movement more visible, for example through the creation of a map.

We have produced experimental Linked Open Data describing over 13,000 UK co-operative outlets, based on the open dataset published by Co-ops UK. This data has been deployed in a “triple store” (database for Linked Open Data), with a SPARQL endpoint (for querying the data over the web). We have produced a map application that is powered by queries made to this SPARQL endpoint.

You can read more about our work in this area here.

 

Looking to the future
It’s been particularly great to see the way in which conversations have continued online after the event. The hashtag for the conference, #opencoop, started to trend on the first day (meaning it was in the top ten most used hashtags among users in a geographic area) and has since continued to generate interest; a quick analysis from the past 7 days shows 17 contributors, 19 tweets and a total of 18,000 accounts reached with #opencoop – a testament to the fact that the conference posed as many questions as it answered, and inspired a whole wave of new ideas and possibilities!

 

Once again, we want to say a huge thank you to the Open Co-op team. We all now owe it to them to build on the momentum and begin to grow this ecosystem of apps and its supporting open data and software infrastructure, for a fairer economy that puts the needs of people and planet before profit.
In case you missed it…

  • The formation of a new network, CoTech, was announced at the conference – could this be a key vehicle for the UK’s contribution to the platform co-operatives movement?
  • Our special collaborative STIR magazine edition on the Solidarity Economy sold 150 copies – have you got yours yet?!

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