Filed under: Creative Commons, Digital Economy, open business models | Tags: open source software, Open Hardware, brew dog, greenwave, shareable, postcapitalism
Creative Commons based open business models are part of something larger, a bigger transformation taking place in society and the economy.
This really struck home for me when, in response to our open call for nominations on who we should interview for our book on Creative Commons based open business models, we received tons of suggestions — many of which didn’t use Creative Commons at all.
In checking out all the suggestions we receive it quickly became apparent that “open business models” is a large context within which Creative Commons based open business models are a subset. While all of our interviews have focused on organizations and businesses that use Creative Commons I‘ve really enjoyed getting a deeper sense of this larger context. Understanding the big picture within which Creative Commons based open business models sit is helping me see the bigger transformation unfolding.
I want to share in this post some of things people recommend we explore and the non-Creative Commons based examples of open business models that are part of this larger context. Lets start with a few fun examples.
Calling themselves the first crowdfunded brewery BrewDog decided to do something breweries just don’t do — openly release all their recipes. Here’s what they say about their DIY Dog initiative:
“With DIY Dog we wanted to do something that has never been done before as well as paying tribute to our home-brewing roots. We wanted to take all of our recipes, every single last one, and give them all away for free, to the amazing global home-brewing community.
We have always loved the sharing of knowledge, expertise and passion in the craft beer community and we wanted to take that spirit of collaboration to the next level.
So here it is. The keys to our kingdom. Every single BrewDog recipe, ever. So copy them, tear them to pieces, bastardise them, adapt them, but most of all, enjoy them. They are well travelled but with plenty of miles still left on the clock. Just remember to share your brews, and share your results. Sharing is caring.
This is anti-corporate beer writ large; a new way of doing business. For generations, companies have fiercely protected their ‘secret’ recipes — clinging to a classified ideal, yellowing documents nervously hidden away by the founders, keys to the safe around their necks. Is it co-incidental that these same companies are the plodding remnants of another age; desperately clinging to their foundations?
For businesses born in the 21st Century it is all about sharing. Who cares about 11 herbs and spices? Here are 234 beers; our entire back catalogue and those yet to be released.”
From an open business model point of view not only do they give away all their craft beer recipes they’ve also devised a unique way to attract investors with their Equity for Punks Own a Piece of BrewDog pitch. Here’s what it says:
“Brewdog is an alternative small business owned by thousands of people who love craft beer. They are our shareholders, our friends, our community and the heart and soul of our business.
We have a community of over 14,500 equity punk investors, and this is your chance to join them.
In 2010, we tore up convention, turned the traditional business model on its head and launched Equity for Punks giving thousands of people a front row seat to the craft beer revolution.
And now it’s back. Bigger and better than ever.
You can find out more about investing in BrewDog by downloading the prospectus here.”
Unfortunately they don’t have a prospectus for Canada. 😦
But I want to try all the BrewDog beers. 🙂
I like BrewDog’s openness, playfulness, and inventiveness. The benefits for shareholders in the prospectus are especially fun. They don’t use Creative Commons (recipes aren’t copyrightable) but they’ve embraced open sharing as a means of building community and understand the benefits that come with that.
Monique Belair at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges sent me this amazing story on underwater vertical farming.
“Our goal is to build a just foundation for the blue-green economy. Saving the seas is not enough. There is 40 percent unemployment in my hometown. I wouldn’t be doing this work unless it created jobs for my people, unless it opened up new opportunities for the 3 billion folks who depend on our oceans to make a living.
For the first time in generations, we have an opportunity to grow food the right way, provide good middle-class jobs, restore ecosystem, and feed the planet.
Our old economy is crumbling. The old economy is built on the arrogance of growth at all costs, profiting from pollution, and the refusal to share economic gains with 99 percent of Americans. But out of the ashes of the old economy, together we are building something new based on new-economy principles of collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs. Because ocean agriculture is still in its infancy, we have the unprecedented opportunity to build a model from scratch, to build from the bottom up an economy that works for everyone, not just a few. We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of industrial agriculture and aquaculture. This is our chance to do food right.
We addressed the first question of farm replication and scale, not by patenting or franchising — those are tools of the old economy — but by open-sourcing our farming model so that anybody with 20 acres and a boat and $30,000 can start his or her own farm.”
Bren Smith’s identification of the new-economy principles as being about collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs is very much part of what we are finding with Creative Commons open business models.
We’ve received tons of suggestions that we interview companies that have a open business model based on free and open source software. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how hugely important, popular, and influential free and open source software has become.
We’ve received suggestions that we look at Gimp, Audacity, Synfig, Inkscape, VLC, Joomla, Ubuntu, and many more. As fascinating as these are free and open source software have their own special non-Creative Commons licenses. Given our open business models work is focused on Creative Commons use we’ve not interviewed them. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are many diverse and compelling open business models based on free and open source software and the suggestions we’ve received are great examples of another piece of the larger open context.
I’ve always admired the work of Eric Raymond who defined a taxonomy of open source software business models in his essay The Magic Cauldron (also included in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar). If you have any interest in open business models I highly encourage you to read Raymond’s work.
The Magic Cauldron uses clever and memorable descriptors like, “Widget Frosting”, “Give Away the Recipe Open a Restaurant”, and “Accessorizing” to define categories of businesses and the ways they generate revenue. There are lots of commonalities between open source software business models and those based on use of Creative Commons so the reading is well worth your time.
We’ve also received suggestions that we interview businesses that are based on open hardware. Companies like littleBits for example. littleBits mission is “to democratize hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with our platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.” This kind of mission which talks about democratizing and empowering everyone is very much in line with Creative Commons based open business models. It’s a theme that is central to the larger context and bigger transformation I’m seeing. While littleBits licenses its web site with a Creative Commons license the core of their business makes the circuit designs for its modules available via the CERN Hardware License.
One of the signals that a bigger transformation is taking place are the many different licenses in play for making things open. While Creative Commons has become the de facto standard for licensing content to be open others have created licenses for making software and hardware open.
Some licenses attempt to mitigate the traditional economies tendency to extract and exploit. While most of these licenses are not yet in use they are nonetheless fascinating to look at in the larger context. The CopyFair license and the Peer Production License are good examples of licenses in development that try to instil more reciprocity. The Commons Transition organization is developing projects and featuring stories that map out the potential for commons-based reciprocity licenses. All these licenses share a common belief that value and innovation are maximized through open sharing rather than closed hoarding. The larger context includes harmonious use of these licenses to change the default way of operating from closed to open and engage in business in such a way that the benefits of sharing are reciprocal.
The larger context also includes some aspects of the sharing economy. Shareable is doing the best job I know of making evident the social and economic transformations being generated by the sharing economy. And I should be clear upfront I’m not talking about Uber and AirBnB who in my view co-opted the sharing economy term but in fact are examples of traditional approaches that try to maximize extraction value for themselves.
Shareable’s list of the Top 10 Sharing Economy Predictions for 2016 are full of examples of the larger context I’m exploring. Everything from platform cooperatives, sharing cities, and combining global open design communities with local production all are part of this larger context and bigger transformation. They all advocate for a shift of value distribution to address economic inequality.
Finally I want to hint at something even bigger that this work has led me to explore — economic transformation. Books like What Then Must We Do, The Ecology of Law, and Postcapitalism all do a great job of describing the historical context of how we came to choose free market capitalism as the ideal form of economy. They describe the social and ecological problems it has produced, and the transformation needed to improve global well-being. As Paul Mason says in Postcapitalism, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”
Creative Commons open business models are part of this larger context, this bigger transformation prefiguring what comes next.
Originally published April 18, 2016 on Medium as part of Creative Commons open business models work.
Filed under: Creative Commons, Digital Economy, Innovation, Open Access, Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: BCcampus, creative commons, global food safety partnership, herbshare, OER, open access, open data, open government, Open Hardware, open licensing, open source seed initiative, open source software, open textbook summit, shared earth, Systems approach
In the 1990’s I worked for Hughes Aircraft of Canada developing large scale air traffic control systems for international customers around the world. Air traffic control systems are large, complex, mission critical systems. After extensive requirements gathering and analysis an overall architecture for the air traffic control system was defined including complete hardware and software requirements. Development of something so large required the overall architecture to be broken down into subsystem components which were then distributed to different teams for development. The lead systems engineering team had the responsibility of integrating developed subsystems into the final air traffic control system and ensuring that the overall architecture design and requirements were met.
This kind of approach is called systems engineering. The key characteristics of systems engineering are that it:
- gathers, analyses and shapes customer requirements into an overall system
- takes a holistic view that breaks the overall system down into components and integrates developed components together into a whole
- uses and coordinates an interdisciplinary set of expertise and teams
- focuses on not just the initial development of the system but its life cycle and iterative improvement over time
- combines technical and human-centred practices and work processes
The early days of open licensing and open resources were primarily shaped by innovators and early adopters using Creative Commons licenses and creating open resources as independent individuals. What I see now is open moving from an individual activity to a large scale system wide activity similar to systems engineering. As open matures a more holistic approach is being adopted involving many people working together.
Increasingly I see a systems approach to open as being the most strategic and impactful. A systems approach takes a multi-stakeholder perspective, strategically considering all the stakeholders in a value chain and how they can work together to achieve a common goal. This shifts the focus from individual adoption of open practices to system-wide adoption. A system working together can achieve greater impact than an individual.
Let me give a couple of examples.
The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit held in Vancouver 16-17-Apr-2014 brought together a wide range of organizations and people who are all collectively working on adopting, adapting, and authoring open textbooks for students. An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license (such as Creative Commons), and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. While online versions of open textbooks are available for free if students want hard copy they can print out their own or order a low-cost print version.
The open licensing of a textbook makes it possible for others to add to, adapt, translate, localize, and otherwise improve it. Everyone has 5R rights to:
Retain: Make, own, and control their own copy of the textbook
Reuse: Use the open textbook in its unaltered form
Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the book
Remix: Combine the book with other openly licensed content to create something new
Redistribute: Share copies of the original textbook, revisions, or remixes with others
The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit featured speakers representing a wide interdisciplinary group of expertise including government & institution senior administrators, faculty, students (and here), librarians, authors, publishers, and technologists. This wide representation of multiple stakeholders who all play a role in creating open textbooks is a great example of a systemic approach. Each stakeholder’s involvement in creating and using open textbooks is important but it is the cumulative effect of multiple stakeholders working together that creates the greatest impact.
One of the great things about the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit was that it brought together not only multiple stakeholders but multiple regional open textbook initiatives. Representatives of open textbook initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond were all in attendance. This enables sharing and comparing of approaches and lessons learned not just from different stakeholders but from different regional system wide initiatives. Its fascinating, and informative, to hear about the BC open textbook initiative and compare it to the one in California, or Washington, or Oregon.
Inevitably the adoption of open practices requires stakeholders to change current modes of operation, sometimes dramatically so. Change of this magnitude can be disruptive and may threaten traditional roles and responsibilities, business models, and financial structures. A natural reaction to such change is fear, risk aversion, and preference for the status quo.
To generate movement and acceptance I’ve found it important to keep the focus on the shared goal, cause, or issue that open solves. In the case of open textbooks the shared goal is making education more accessible and affordable for students. Having a shared goal as the primary focus make business models, roles, modes of operation and the like secondary to the main goal. When the impetus and value associated with achieving the main goal are big enough, change happens, the system and stakeholders adapt, new models and modes of operation emerge. Adoption of open practices is best enabled when the value proposition of doing so is high.
Open textbooks are one great example of a systems approach to open.
Another example emerged for me in the context of leading an open models working group for the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Our task was to generate a range of open models that enhance the scalability and sustainability of food safety. Our primary goal was to show how open practices can support GFSP’s efforts to help ensure safe food, increase food supply chain value, accelerate economic growth, alleviate rural poverty, and improve public health outcomes. This is the big picture goal the GFSP seeks to attain.
Can adoption of open practices help the GFSP achieve this goal? If so, how?
The Global Food Safety Partnership is a public/private partnership representing many different stakeholders including:
- regulatory agencies – public regulators, inspectors and managers
- private sector agri-food processors and manufacturers
- farmers and producers
- universities, service providers, trainers and certification bodies
- international organizations
- non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
This suggests that a systems approach to open is required. It won’t be enough for one stakeholder to adopt open practices. The goals of GFSP are too large for that to be impactful. Achieving the big goals of GFSP requires multi-stakeholder coordinated participation.
One of the significant benefits of open practices is that they open up the opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved and participate. Food storage and cooking at home, the poor, the farmer, the food market seller, the street vendor, these uses and stakeholders are not well represented at the GFSP table. Adoption of open practices opens up the opportunity for them to be involved. If GFSP has a goal of alleviating rural poverty it is essential that they be engaged as active participants.
A systems approach to open offers opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. Multi-stakeholder adoption of open practices generates cumulative benefits for all stakeholders. In a systems approach to open the more stakeholders participating the greater the impact.
Applying a systems approach to open for GFSP considers the role of each stakeholder and what open practices they could adopt that would contribute to the big picture goal GFSP is seeking to realize. Its not a one size fits all approach. Different stakeholders adopt different open practices. Government and funders might adopt open policy that require deliverables produced through the funds they provide to be openly licensed. Providers involved in generating food safety training and learning resources can publish their content as Open Educational Resources. There are many forms of open and a myriad of open practices can be brought to bear on a shared goal.
For the GFSP we defined nine different open practices stakeholders could adopt:
- open content (including Open Educational Resources and Open Courseware)
- open data
- open access (research)
- open government
- open source software
- open standards
- open policy
- open licensing
- open hardware
For each type of open practice we provided GFSP relevant examples. Here’s a sampling:
- open content – see Digital Green and Food Safety Knowledge Network
- open data – the US web site data.gov releases government open data.In 2012, a national annual competition was created as part of the Health Data Initiative to stimulate the innovative use of health data in apps and products. The “Health DataPalooza” is now a sold out event attended by over 2,000 health providers, technology developers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and community advocates and has resulted in the launch of new products and companies. OpenFDA, providing easy access to public data of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and highlighting projects using these data, will be implemented in September of 2014.
- open access (research) – There are a number of open access journals and online publications that provide free and open access to scholarly articles specific to food safety, foodborne illness, manufacturing and processing practices, etc. In 2007 the US National Institutes of Health enacted an open access policy requiring the researchers they fund to make their final, peer‐reviewed manuscripts publicly available no later than 12 months after official date of publication. The number of open access journals is rapidly increasing – the Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 9,000. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central are two popular examples relevant to food safety.
- open hardware – See Open Source Ecology and Farm Hack for examples relevant to food production and food safety. Photosynq is an open research project whose goal is to create a low cost, hand-held measurement device which researchers, educators and citizen scientists can use to build a global database of plant health. A low cost mobile prototype has been developed to replace the large, expensive and stationary equipment that was previously required to measure photosynthesis.
One of the challenges in open work is helping people understand the myriad forms of open and how they work. Defining open practices, along with associated value propositions and examples goes a long way to establishing a common lexicon and a tool box of methods that can be strategically deployed.
All that and more is captured in the GFSP Open Models Concept paper. Feel free to read the whole thing if this interests you. I also want to express deep appreciation and thanks to Theresa Bernardo and Garin Fons who co-wrote this paper with me and to Chris Geith and the World Bank for the opportunity.
Writing the GFSP Open Models paper led me to have a heightened interest in the use of open practices for food related issues. My colleague Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons shared with me another great example – the Open Source Seed Initiative. Linux for Lettuce and The Carrot Hack provide thoughtful coverage of this important development.
I also recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society (highly recommend) which contains a few other fascinating examples including Shared Earth connecting land owners with gardeners and farmers, and HerbShare which is fundraising to develop online, searchable community maps of fresh herbs available for sharing.
A systems approach to open combines a wide range of open practices across multiple stakeholders and applies them to a shared common goal. It’s exciting work that not only accomplishes short term goals but sets in place a process that can scale, iterate, and sustain over the long term.