Move Commons: Moving Collectives and Initiatives Towards The Commons

Applicants: Association "Comunes", based in Beirut (Lebanon) and Madrid (Spain)
Affiliation: Association "Comunes"
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Samer Hassan (Beirut, Lebanon)
Coordinator: Samer Hassan (Beirut, Lebanon)
Project Start: 2010/08/01
Project End: 2011/01/31
http://comunes.org
http://comunes.org/move-commons
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Move Commons (MC) is a simple and effective tool for initiatives, collectives, NGOs and social movements to declare the core principles they are committed to in order to promote openness, understanding, cooperation and encouragement of The Commons amongst them.

Just as CC does with cultural works, MC aims to provide a standard, user-friendly, bottom-up, self-labelling system for each collective or initiative, with four meaningful labels: Non-Profit, Reproducible, Structural Change and Decentralized; and a complementary set of tags or keywords to provide further classification.

The main aim of MC is to provide structure to the jungle of initiatives/collectives that exist in Lebanon, Spain and across the world, promoting the availability of their principles, procedures and work to be available in The Commons, and thus allowing outsiders who want to get involved to easily find where they can help, and collectives to boost their visibility and diffusion, creating relationships with other similar collectives and hence reach critical mass in their respective fields much faster.

"Non-Profit" recognizes the initiative as volunteer-based and not profit-driven; "Reproducible" refers to the visibility (in internet), openness (using CC) and transparency (sharing their procedures to facilitate replication); "Structural-Change" highlights those promoting a change of paradigm (sustainable alternatives that empower The Commons); and "Decentralized" indicates if the collective has a horizontal grassroots nature

More info and introductory slide-show presentation can be found at: http://comunes.org/en/move-commons/
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Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).


A well-defined tool for collectives based on:

  • A set of four meaningful labels (Non-Profit, Replicable, Structural Change, Decentralized) and their associated icons for use in webpages, together with few complementary tags/keywords for each collective
  • The MC web platform that would provide the basic support in a similar way to CC (see preliminary work at: preliminary work of http://comunes.org/en/mc-preview/ and http://comunes.org/en/mc-0-1-np-rp-sc/ ) together with other services on top of them: collective search according to their MC (e.g. "which collectives of Alternative Education exist in Lebanon that are NP-RP-SC?") ; clustering of collectives for automatic alliances; recommender system of similar initiatives (boost collaboration); etc.
  • Like CC, MC will provide three readings: computational (a RDF specification like CC REL), in-depth (descriptive material about the 4 categories) and user-friendly (the icons+keywords)

Note: We have defined several stages for the platform development. The previous description corresponds to the first release of the platform that will be launched. The following development stages will be redefined based on our current research on these topics and in the feedback and reactions of the users (initiatives/collectives/individuals) and free software developers.
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Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?


In general, MC targets both collectives and individuals:

  • Any collective, NGO, initiative, social movement or organisation with a non-profit approach, seeking social transformation of some kind, especially those too small to maintain market and communication departments. MC seeks to boost the visibility of these small collectives and facilitate both their clustering/alliances and localisation through volunteers
  • Any (potential or actual) volunteer or activist who is looking to help in a collective or initiative. MC helps them to locate the initiatives that fit their interests, as local as possible.

Geographically, MC has, ideally, a worldwide reach. However, initially it will focus on Lebanese and Spanish collectives for a preliminary period of constant testing and improving the work:

  • a) the Lebanese community of collectives: small country, high number of non-profits in proportion to its size
  • b) the Spanish community of collectives: large country, with a very high number of collectives of many different kinds

Taking into account the possible benefits for these communities of collectives, the possible implications/impact have been divided in three types:

THE FOUR MC LABELS

  • Non-Profit (NP): MC encourages people who want to get involved (but don’t know how) and facilitates their participation as they can easily find where to help according to their interests and areas of expertise.
  • Reproducible (RP): MC promotes “good practices” in activism activities, the same way that the scientific method foments “good science”. The principle of reproducibility is basic in science.
  • Structural Change (SC): MC impulses the construction of alternatives to the current system as solutions to our social problems, in each field of action.
  • Decentralized (DC): MC promotes decentralized, networked organisation according to the new paradigms of organization that are currently emerging as an alternative to bureaucratic pyramidal hierarchies.

COLLECTIVES AND MC

  • MC stimulates the evolution of collectives towards the principles of Non-Profit (NP), Reproducible (RP), Structural Change (SC) and Decentralised (DC).
  • MC allows people to find alternatives in each field of action and the collectives that are working in these areas, forming a global directory.
  • MC allows clustering:
    • Automatic alliance with similar groups (collectives tend not to make enough effort in getting to know other similar initiatives).
    • It reduces the duplication of efforts, encouraging collaboration.
    • It facilitates reaching critical mass (e.g. seed bank initiatives joined together as to trigger exponential growth as they quickly become more known)

VOLUNTEERS AND MC

  • MC promotes equity in choosing collectives to collaborate with, without giving priority to the larger ones that have the most resources or more widespread advertising.
  • MC facilitates local action by providing easy access to information on small and local groups acting in your community, often little known and with few resources.
  • MC promotes mobility among volunteers and collectives.

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What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?


The core group behind MC is formed by Lebanese and Spanish volunteers with a wide experience in social movements and NGOs. In 2002 we launched the initiative ourproject.org (OP), with the aim of expanding the ideas and methodology of free software to social areas and free culture. Essentially, OP is a web-based collaborative free content repository for social/cultural/artistic projects (not just software), under the condition that they share their contents using Creative Commons or similar licenses. Stallman defined this idea as "social sourceforge". Nowadays, OP hosts 757 projects on multiple topics: environment, education, alternative art, feminism, radio, NGOs...

Also, in 2009, we established in our association Comunes ( comunes.org ). Comunes is based both in Lebanon and Spain, and focuses on encouraging The Commons: a broad concept that includes everything from free software/culture to the exchange of heirloom seeds. Under the umbrella of Comunes we have launched multiple initiatives (our own "ecosystem", including ourproject: http://comunes.org/en/ecosystem/ ), always with the role of "facilitators": facilitating and supporting  grassroots movements that protect or expand The Commons. Move Commons is another attempt in the same direction - which we firmly believe has stunning potentials.

After our experience in these initiatives, most of them linking the virtual world and real social initiatives, we believe we are prepared to lead the development and launch of Move Commons. The association Comunes is  involved in social communities both in Beirut and Madrid, and these social networks of collectives will be used for preliminary testing of the platform. ourproject.org and the Comunes initiatives have strengthened our ties with the social projects we provide support for.
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How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?


There are multiple indicators to measure, some more difficult than others:

  • The adoption of MC will be rather easy to monitor, through web stats, referers and via semantic search of our RDF in popular search engines.
  • It will be interesting to monitor the types of collectives that adopt MC, in order to evaluate and locate possible strengths/weaknesses, or fields in which we should put more effort in promotion.
  • The measure of the success of our web services (semantic searches, clustering/alliances, recommendations) could also be easily monitored, and periodical evaluations would lead to further improvement
  • The measurement of many of the implications of MC are very qualitative (such as the internal discussions of groups, or the promotion of the Commons over other initiatives), but still there are some that could be measured in later stages of the project (if found necessary):
    • Tracking the reference to local small groups and comparing it to large well-known NGOs we could measure the promotion of local small initiatives
    • Tracking the use of the clustering/alliances and recommendations we could project an increase of collaboration/communication among collectives
    • Tracking the frequency of appearance of certain searches before/after reaching critical mass could provide an insight of the boost provided by MC
    • We will maintain fluent communication with a subset of collectives from the very beginning in order to receive continuous feedback
    • We can develop surveys of a statistically representative sample of the collectives in order to receive further information

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How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?


The Comunes Association is based in Lebanon and Spain and its members belong to these countries, and thus it is firmly based in those communities (in particular in Beirut and in Madrid). We can take into account three permanent collaborators of Comunes in Beirut and two in Madrid, together with several collaborators in those cities. On top of that, we also have other collaborators from several other countries: Brazil, Dominican Republic and Argentina.

Move Commons will encompass the involvement of all of them in the initial stage, together with their social networks in order to promote it in their communities. As MC grows, we expect other volunteers to join the project. We already have internal division of tasks and it will not be complicated to absorb new volunteers, especially at the beginning.

On the other hand, the MC web platform expects to receive "user" participants as initiatives/collectives labelled by MC, and as specified in the "scalability" question. We have already specified how to sustain the growth in the number of collectives. Concerning how to seek the involvement of new groups in MC, this would imply several layers:

  • Initial involvement of the known communities in Beirut and Madrid (for a initial testing mass)
  • Promotion of MC through our social networks of collectives, and via web 2.0 diffusion of information
  • General diffusion efforts
    • "Non-geeky" user-friendly web services, so everyone is able to use them
    • Simple explanations of the concepts involved in MC (such as the slide show of http://comunes.org/en/move-commons/ )
    • Explanatory videos and other media
    • Contact with collective coalitions such as the World Social Forum, other Social Forums, the Free Culture Forum and Medialabs.

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Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".


We believe that new activism approaches for solving a social problem, new ways of organisation with specific innovative methods, and the internal procedures followed by NGOs are also knowledge that implies creativity and that should be moved to The Commons.

Move Commons intends to widen the Commons by

  • Promoting the transparency and collaboration of social movements (including cultural, artistic, educational... but also environmental, communicational, humanitarian...) through the labels "Non-Profit" (labelling non-profits) and "Reproducible" (the collective is visible, open and transparent, using CC and clearly showing its internal procedures, funding and results)
  • Highlighting those that encourage The Commons and promote the same structural change as CC is promoting everyday, through the "Structural-Change" label.
  • Specifically from a local and grassroots approach, via the "Decentralized" label, that reveals its internal organization.

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Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?


The participants in Comunes are technically qualified for the required development and administration of Move Commons, as our previous experiences in ourproject.org and other initiatives show. The development would be supported principally by a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and by a Computer Scientist with 15 years of experience.

The platform for Move Commons implies the development of a web application specified broadly as follows:

  • Free Software license for all development: "Affero GPL"; License for the art-work and contents: CC by.
  • Development of web services:
    • Search of collectives based on their icons and keywords (using RDF Semantic Search). E.g. "give me which collectives NP-RP, related to Environment and Health, in Lebanon";
    • Clustering: using Data Mining or Classifiers for clustering the different collectives based on their icons and keywords. E.g. "collectives of Alternative Education that are NP-RP-SC";
    • Recommender system: using Semantic Search techniques for recommending similar collectives, promoting automatic alliances. E.g. "These collectives are similar to yours..." (similar labels and related tags);
  • Hardware requirements:
    • At present we already have two servers for ourproject.org and the Comunes initiatives.
    • The Move Commons web application does not necessarily need to grow exponentially in terms of consumed resources (space, memory) with the quantity of collectives using it. The same way as CC, it does not provide hosting to the users, it simply provides the HTML code and logos for the collective website. Thus, the only resources which are expected to grow with the user growth is band-width. Thus,  band-width requirements for MC are expected to grow exponentially after reaching critical mass (in a number of collectives).

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What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?


We have located several challenges that MC will face. The main one would be:

  • The users find it too complicated to adopt, as it implies the insertion of HTML code in their webpages
    • Strategy: development of widgets for the insertion of MC in a user-friendly way, by us or by external interested developers. Plugins, assistants, extensions... should be encouraged for every platform (e.g. wordpress, google wave, Firefox)
  • The difficulty of the early adoption, as the web services have minimal utility with just a few collectives
    • Strategy: we plan to expand progressively, first via the Beirut and Madrid communities, as explained in the question below concerning scalability. We expect these communities will act as a catalyst to reach critical mass. In any case, afterwards we plan to contact collective coalitions such as the World Social Forum, other Social Forums, the Free Culture Forum and Medialabs. The integration of MC in the registration process of any of then would boost adoption in those communities.
  • Difficulty of understanding the concepts behind the four labels
    • Strategy: MC is a work in progress, and the four labels are open to be changed if deemed necessary. We have already modified them after the feedback received from several waves of surveys among selected representative collectives. Future adaptations of the definitions and even of the name of any of them could be performed in order to clarify the concepts to newcomers. Besides, explanatory documentation concerning the insight of the four dimensions should be provided, allowing continuous feedback from the community.

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How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?


First of all, the expenses associated to the scalability of Move Commons are not very big. Especially in the case of sharing the hosting with CC, as its main problem in the mid-long term would be quick band-width growth. After the initial big effort of the platform development, MC would just need a constant support for maintenance and administration that the volunteer-based Comunes can cope with.

Second, CC Catalyst funding will be used mainly for the initial development of the Move Commons platform and web services, boosting all the required programming and testing, in order to launch the Beta version in 3 months and a final version in 6 months. Also, the Catalyst would allow us to share the hosting needs with CC (as CC indicates is possible), limiting the impact of the band-width growing needs associated to the scalability of MC.

Third, if CC does not provide any funding, we plan to continue with the development of MC in any case. However, the speed of the initial development and planned launching would take an estimation of 2-3 times more than the time window planned. Besides, without a hosting partner, the band-width problems would become rather problematic in the mid term: that is, the costs associated to the exponential growth would exceed our capabilities for fund-raising in the mid-term. In such a case, we would search for temporary solutions until we receive enough donations to self-sustain the initiative.

Sources of fund-raising:

  • Direct donations from projects which find MC useful enough: "if the community finds us useful, they will be interested in supporting us, and make sure we stay alive" [Expected]
  • Channelled donations from Comunes, which already receives the donations of OurProject ( http://ourproject.org/op/donate.php ) and other initiatives ( http://comunes.org/donate/ )  [Used at present]
  • Channelled donations from forthcoming Mozilla Drumbeat page of Move Commons [Forthcoming]
  • Grants such as NLnet, Ashoka, CC Catalyst. [Applied/will apply]
  • Periodical contributions from Comunes members [Used at present]
  • Resources provided by research groups in universities that would cut expenses (hosting, machines, components). [To explore]
  • Funding from research projects in coalition with research groups, focusing on different aspects of the MC platform: recommender systems; social networks; semantic search; trust&reputation techniques for anonymous voting. [To explore]

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How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?


MC is meant to be scalable by structure. Ideally, its target is global, although its focus will be incremental:

  • a) the Lebanese community of collectives: small country, relatively big number of non-profits, with a solid social network in the ground;
  • b) the Spanish community of collectives: big country, with a very high number of collectives of multiple kinds, with a solid social network in Madrid and relationships with other collectives around the state.  
  • c) together with the spread of MC, its focus would move to new emerging MC communities depending on their local support

The more initiatives/collectives/organizations are labelled under MC, the more powerful and important MC becomes (as with other social-network based initiatives). When MC reaches critical mass, the utility of being labelled as MC will be obvious for any collective which knows about it, as the offered services will cover a wide spectrum (searches, clustering/alliances, collective recommendation) and thus a huge potential for any social group. By then, the growth of MC could reach an exponential speed.

There are multiple aspects to consider the scalability of MC:

  • MC has a potential scalable impact on its target audience, with an impact growing with each collective who joins.
  • As specified previously, the technical requirements of the servers in space and memory do not grow exponentially with the number of collectives. MC does not host the collectives, nor needs much more additional processing for the services provided. In fact, it does not even need a database of the initiatives/collectives (as CC doesn't have a database of each CC cultural work), as the recommendations can be based in semantic search. Thus, the only technical resource with difficulties in the scalability would be bandwidth, as more and more collectives would demand our services and that would imply more traffic. If CC or another partner institution provides us with a shared hosting/bandwidth solution, this issue would be solved
  • MC could be modified in the future, following the CC approach, in which new versions (CC v2, v3; MC v2, v3) are launched and live with the previously released versions. Thus, MC itself could have more/less/different labels, for instance.
  • On the other hand, the MC web platform will be able to provide additional services if found convenient, and depending on the resources. However, we attempt to promote decentralization as much as we can, so we do not host the initiatives' information, and initiatives do not depend on us. That is, as MC in essence would be just a RDF specification in the collective webpage (gathered by semantic searches), there could be other providers that read that information and offer alternative services to MC-labelled collectives different than those provided by the Comunes Association.
  • The fact that the web platform is free software encourages the creation of related works and services on top of MC classification (such as widgets/extensions for some specifics platforms).  On the other hand, new non-geek volunteers could join Comunes in order to promote and support MC and Comunes aims of encouraging

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What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?


We would be grateful if CC could provide:

  • A shared hosting solution for the Move Commons web services. That is, we would like to keep maintaining our services from our servers, but with the growth of Move Commons and its progressive increase of adopters among collectives, there is a clear bottle-neck in the band-width requirements that we cannot afford. Thus, we could reach an agreement with CC for a balanced shared hosting of MC.
  • Spreading the word

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Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)


Currently, we are using different tools depending on the part of the community:

  • Different mailing lists hosted by ourproject.org for normal internal communication; communication with donors; communication with ourproject.org projects; communication with Comunes partners: http://comunes.org/contact/
  • Google Wave for many-to-many collaborative work, inviting different selected individuals, depending on the topic of the document
  • XMPP/Jabber and IRC (FreeNode) for one-to-one discussions

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