Main Page/Industrial Cooperation Project

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The Cooperation Project

Despite the growing popular and academic recognition of the importance of commons-based, cooperative, and peer production, there is still relatively little sustained academic work that studies both the scope and micro-foundations of these phenomena. Together, the rise of commons-based collaboration and production encompasses a class of innovative and creative practices whose outputs could be freely available to support human development in a global, networked information economy and society.

The purpose of the Cooperation Project was to allow the Berkman Center for Internet and Society to develop a more comprehensive map of current practices, and a basic set of methodological tools and approaches, to allow the continued study of commons-based practices, both online and offline, as well as large-scale networked cooperation. To this end, the proposal envisioned two tracks within a single study.

One track would focus on defining verticals within existing industries, and would map those industries in terms of the degree to which open and commons-based practices were used as compared to proprietary approaches. This mapping would also analyze who was using such commons-based strategies, and provide initial pointers for future political alliances on issues of patent and copyright policy. We now call this track the Industrial Cooperation Project (ICP), which is the focus of this ICP Wiki. The second track would focus on developing new approaches to studying online cooperation on a much larger and more comprehensive scale than attempted in the past. We call this track the Online Cooperation Research group.

We hired two Fellows to direct the two parts of the project. Carolina Rossini was the project manager of the ICP, from 2008 to 2010. Aaron Shaw was the project manager for the OCR, from 2008 to 2009. Each has worked to develop a methodological framework, cooperative research infrastructure, and to hire and train researchers to assist with the research.

ICP Justifications

The initial research questions that motivated this study were:

  • How are components of the industrial structure changing in how they deal with and manage knowledge embedded assets, in different industries, different business models, and different sets of actors?
  • How (and if) are they incorporating commons based strategy?

Thus, the Institutional Cooperation Project focused on understanding how institutions shape the kind of organization available for sustainable human cooperation (social, economic and political behavior). This focus is also neeed in order to understand to what extent and how the Intellectual Property System affects cooperation in different sectors. As Benkler wrote: “If some information producers do not need to capture the economic benefits of their particular information outputs, or if some businesses can capture the economic value of their information production by means other than exclusive control over their products, then the justification for regulating access by granting copyrights or patents is weakened”.

The project was primarily a mapping exercise, where we were trying to capture the evolving constituencies strategies in a certain field/market towards “closedness” or “openness” and how the closure or opening impacted innovation. We also looked at the motivations and driving forces around cooperation - is there a demand pressure, change in government regulation, competition, new business models, etc?

ICP in Berkman's Page

ICP Methods

The methodological approach of the ICP is well known and understood: the industry case study. The primary challenge here was to create a conceptual map that would allow us to: (a) standardize observations across sectors; (b) represent conceptually and visually the relevant attributes of players in each sector, and their changes over time, if any; and (c) identify whether industry practices have shifted toward more or less cooperative frameworks over time.

To achieve this Carolina developed a quadrant mapping approach - see p.12 & 13 of the File:FFPregressReport.pdf. For the first year, we have focused on four major sectors that will likely have significant impact on global development and welfare over the long term: Biotechnology - Genomic and Proteomics; Alternative Energy; Educational Materials; and Telecommunications.

The Biotechnology - Genomic and Proteomics sector has enormous potential implications for global health and food security; has well developed variability in practices, with some of the most proprietary alongside some of the most open and collaborative efforts. It therefore is a substantively important area and a potential model for our analysis more broadly. See the BGP Synthesis here and working papers here.

The second sector is one of enormous importance, but one for which there has been practically no work done on innovation policy to foster cooperation and knowledge sharing — Alternative Energy. Here, the practices are less well developed, there is no real structure for commons-based practices, but there is substantial and interesting support from the current United States Department of Energy to embrace innovation-sharing practices as part of the global effort to address climate change and sustainability. In this regard, the area is important, and particularly fertile for developing new political alliances around questions of innovation and development as checks on IP. See the AE Synthesis here and working papers here.

The third sector is central to education — that is, Educational Materials. This area is intermediate in the development of commons-based practices, counting large and historically powerful incumbents supported by regulation and practices such as the textbook adoption process within K-12. However, the impact of technology and emergence of new business models, the maturity of open educational resources projects, and, primarily the recognition of those by the Obama administration as central to improve educational opportunities to all Americans, among other forces, may shape the future of this field.See the EM Synthesis here and working papers here.

The fourth sector, which we studied through an arrangement with an independent expert, was Telecommunications, and in particular innovation in telecommunications. Here, much of the work that is open is done in standards setting, and the debates over telecommunications regulation take on some of the same characteristics as the debates over patents and copyrights in the other areas. See the Telecom working paper here.

For the second year of the ICP, Carolina has expanded and deepened these initial studies, and extend the research to other sectors such as Diagnostic Kits. See the BGP Synthesis here and working papers here.

The project started in the end of December of 2008, and we began by drawing a rough picture of each field - work done based on a set of ICP Questions that have guided our resources review - and mapping some paradigmatic cases into a quadrant device that deals with questions of open/closed in terms of participation, and regulation/unregulation in terms of IP, contracts or norms. A Questionnaire for Case Studies was also developed, but not implemented. However, we kept it in the back of our minds when approaching possible commons-based instances.

The second major portion of the project was structured in three main phases regarding:

  • the understanding of a sector configuration and mapping of actors and market practices regarding Intellectual Property in a chosen economic sector (Field);
  • the identification and analysis of paradigmatic commons-based cases; and
  • the characterizations of common practices for a possible taxonomy development.

This portion of the project was carried on mainly through literature and market reports review, and interviews with sector experts, scholars, activists and investors.

Interesting questions that emerged, that could not be addresses, or sectors we wish we could have researched are placed in the ICP Parking Lot.

ICP Goals and Delivarables

  • Map the practices, organizations, and institutions that form the potential basis for creating significant commons-based information production in areas critical to long-term development in a global information economy
  • Provide a source of ideas and learning opportunities for new social and educational agents who are considering new tasks, and thinking about how to approach their organization so as to leverage the power of distributed peers in support of their goals.
  • Provide data necessary to examine the success and sustainability of commons-based practices as part of the online policy and political debates over the importance, extension, or contraction of patents, copyrights, and similar exclusive rights and their implementation through the world trade system.
  • Provide a platform and context for practitioners and researchers interested in commons-based production, collaboration, development, and access to knowledge to network with each other, to learn from each other's work and in conversation with each other's practices.
  • Provide a rich set of materials to stimulate innovative organizational and institutional thinking among policy makers, at both the national and international levels; among civil society activists and social entrepreneurs; and among the small but growing portion of the business community that seeks to interact with practitioners of social production and achieve positive social outcomes.

In our initial proposal to the Ford Foundation, we laid out the following Goals and Deliverables:

  • A report laying out the research findings
  • An experimental version of a web platform for collaborative self-reporting on commons-based and peer production practices

ICP Research Platform

We adopted a wiki platform as the base for our research and also as a way to document the research progress. This decision took into consideration the geographic distribution of the research team and also the long-term goals, such as providing a platform for future learning opportunities. We wanted to use the systems we were searching for in industrial cooperation, and to leave the tracks of all our work, from the complete and polished to the raw data.

Our hope is that the wiki takes on a life beyond the project. We believe that this experience can also provide us inputs on how best to organize a platform for collaborative knowledge production in the long-term run of the project, in addition to helping us organize our research progress.

ICP Sectors

ICP Team

ICP Discussion

ICP Parking Lot

The ICP was an ambitious project. We set out to map very different sectors, and different kinds of knowledge products inside those sectors, with a small team. We encountered many interesting opportunities, questions, hypotheses, fields of study, and research leads that we simply could not follow in the project lifespan. We have collected them here in the Parking Lot so that others can see what we saw, build upon and research further, and make new connections. There is an enormous amount of activity in the ICP Sectors that will change some of the data in the wiki, and we hope to see activity here feed into the wiki as current events catch up to the research.
Go to ICP Parking Lot.

ICP Reports and Working Papers

Using and Contributing to the ICP Wiki


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