Charging the Commons
Charging the Commons: Towards a situated design approach for the development of digital ledger technologies to empower resource communities
The Netherlands faces a number of challenges in the coming decades: the climate crisis, growing socio-economic inequality, and a divided society. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as administrators and economists, see an opportunity to address these issues by combining recent social and technological developments: a renewed interest in the urban commons as an inclusive organisational form for local economies, and the emergence of distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) that can facilitate such common projects. The SMEs involved in the consortium want to contribute to the above-mentioned societal challenges by developing new forms of living together and by creating social value. They work with residents to develop urban commons initiatives: communities of city dwellers jointly managing resources in a sustainable and prosocial manner. This could be a collective that is formed for the installation of solar panels, or a neighbourhood car-share, or communities of residents working with architects and developers to evolve new shared housing concepts. Many projects focus on urgent issues such as energy transition, affordable housing, or the circular use of raw materials. Another term for these commons projects is resource communities. SME partners indicate that many resource communities still have some way to go when it comes to effectively managing their urban resources. Another issue for SMEs is that of economies of scale: while there are many small-scale commons initiatives, they are different resource communities, with different underlying value systems. How, then, might these initiatives come together to increase their impact and social earning power? The use of digital technologies such as DLTs is seen by researchers and developers as a possible tool for making resource communities more effective. DLTs, like blockchains, are decentralised, tamper-proof databases with a timestamp. They allow multiple parties, working peer-to-peer across a network, to capture, verify and share data in a synchronised and transparent manner. They require limited human intervention and they reduce the number of intermediate steps that are needed in the process. Through the use of smart contracts, mutual agreements can be swiftly executed and automatically implemented. These features make it possible to track, monitor and visualise the contributions and withdrawals of individual members of resource communities, and to record rights and agreements within automated procedures.