Creating a “Stone Soup” of Alternative Economy Maps and Directories

Written by Ethan Miller and Noémi Giszpenc of Data Commons Cooperative for Shareable

The emerging constellation of alternative economic activities celebrated on Shareable.net goes by many names—shared, gift, solidarity, social, cooperative, rooted, generative, and new economy are just a few—but they share many core values and aspirations in common. Fundamentally, we are working to re-build our economic relationships to be based on equality, reciprocity and respect, as an affirmation of life rather than a threat to its integrity. To accelerate this work from an “alternative” periphery toward the center of our culture, we need to make these concrete initiatives more visible, and help link these many projects with each other in webs of mutual support. This is how we build new economies based on cooperation, democratic participation and solidarity.

A powerful first step in this process is the creation of inventories and maps (see Mira Luna's article on How to Map the New Economy and Map Jam Guide, and the recent article by Jo Guldi on Participatory Mapping). Many groups understand this, and mapping projects are proliferating. There are maps and directories for local farms and food projects, renewable energy, cooperatives of all kinds, alternative currencies, green businesses, open source software projects, intentional communities, commoning practices, gleaning sites, free stuff exchanges, and more. We have found 164 such directories in our searches (you can view and download the list here), and we're sure that this represents only a small fraction of what exists.

Share N Save Map, Adelaide, Australia

This proliferation of maps and inventories poses a challenge and an exciting possibility. The challenge is that we're ending up with a hundred different maps, branded with the alternative economy term of choice, and it's hard to sort them all out or know which one or two or three or hundred to go to. We're reinventing the wheel over and over again, all over the place. And this makes sense, since groups are using these maps to strengthen their work and connect with and broaden their constituencies.

Of course the new economy folks would want to use a map to make the "new economy" more visible, and the solidarity economy folks would want to do the same with a map of the "solidarity economy"! The possibility that emerges from these many mappings is that all of these collections—all of these lists of powerful, inspiring alternative projects—could actually be linked together in a way that enables each group to keep their identity while also sharing data with all the other groups. Can we build a collectively-curated, shared data pool that everyone can draw from via different "views," customized for different organizing purposes? Everyone's work would be strengthened in this “stone soup” approach.

SolidarityNYC Map

The Data Commons Cooperative (DCC) aims to do exactly this. We've been working, quietly but diligently, for the past eight years to develop a technical and organizational infrastructure to coordinate this kind of data-sharing. We're building a true "data commons," cared for cooperatively and for the benefit of all members and the broader communities we connect to. Our twenty founding members represent a range of data-sharers including broad umbrella groups, sector-specific associations and grassroots initiatives. Each brings different resources, energy and focus to the goal of connecting our diverse economies.

The DCC's goal is to become the default way of sharing and collectively-curating information about the diverse array of alternative economy movements in the U.S. and Canada (and perhaps beyond). It is not in competition with anyone's map, directory or database, but rather seeks to provide a platform for all of these projects to connect with each other and benefit from each other's work.

In all of its work, the DCC and its members seek to apply the values embodied in the emerging new economy. This is why we're organized as a cooperative, and our members support the work, share resources through our structure and drive our development process. We want to move our organizations from an "everyone for themselves" model to a model of collaboration. We want to encourage groups doing work to build new economies to move from thinking like an organization (staking out turf, competing for resources) to thinking like a movement (connecting, sharing, strengthening each other's work toward shared goals). Sharing data cooperatively is one way to start this shift.

The fundamental realization made in the world of open-source software development, and applied for the past several decades by computer programmers (and now increasingly in other realms, such as hardware), is that individuals can accomplish more if they are free to build on the work of others and asked only to contribute their own work back to the pool. This sharing does not stifle individual creativity or even erase outstanding contributions, it rather bolsters what everyone can do. The same is true for efforts to map the alternative economy. We can accomplish more if we connect with and build on the work of others, and others will be able to build further on what we ourselves contribute.

While the DCC is committed to the establishment and sustenance of a more rooted, equitable, cooperative and democratic economy, we leave decisions about the merit of any particular group or enterprise to our members, empowering them to filter the data as they wish.

There are two key ways that members can plug into the data commons:

  1. Link your database/map to the DCC data pool. You keep your software, we make your data visible and useful to other members, and other members' data visible and useful to you.
  2. Use the DCC mapping/directory software (the template of which is at find.coop) and create a custom "view" for your organization (like, for example usworker.find.coop).

Membership is open to any group or individual curating a set of data about the cooperative, sharing, social, new, solidarity (etc.!) economy. Annual dues are calculated based on budget, and waivers are available for low/no-budget grassroots groups. You can apply online at http://member.find.coop/.

Don't let your mapping project sit on its own – let it jump in to the data commons pool and get energized by all its friends!

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