The FLOK Society Project: Making The Good Life Possible Through Good Knowledge

from the free,-libre,-open dept

One of the most striking and important developments in the world of technology over the last two decades or so has been the rise of an alternative mode of production that is open, collaborative and global. This began in the world of software, with Richard Stallman’s GNU project, but has now been extended to the realms of text, data, science and hardware, among others. The free sharing of information to form a kind of digital commons, which lies at the heart of these projects, has also been applied to business, albeit in the modified form of collaborative consumption — things like Airbnb. These different manifestations of fundamentally similar ideas have sprung up in a largely uncoordinated way, but an interesting question is whether they could be drawn together into a unified approach, applied to a whole country, say.

That’s what Ecuador’s FLOK Society (original in Spanish) has been exploring. “FLOK” is derived from “free”, “libre” and “open knowledge”; here’s how David Bollier, an expert on the commons, describes the project:

The FLOK Society bills its mission as “designing a world for the commons.”

The research project will focus on many interrelated themes, including open education; open innovation and science; “arts and meaning-making activities”; open design commons; distributed manufacturing; and sustainable agriculture; and open machining. The research will also explore enabling legal and institutional frameworks to support open productive capacities; new sorts of open technical infrastructures and systems for privacy, security, data ownership and digital rights; and ways to mutualize the physical infrastructures of collective life and promote collaborative consumption.

There is a detailed research plan, “Transitioning to a Commons-Based Society“, and numerous texts providing more detailed information. But probably the best introduction to FLOK Society and its ideas is an interview with the project’s research leader, Michel Bauwens, conducted by Richard Poynder, best known for his unmatched profiles of key figures in the world of open access. Bauwens describes the background to the FLOK Society project as follows:

The legitimacy and logic of the project comes from the National Plan of Ecuador, which is centred around the concept of Good Living (Buen Vivir), which is a non-reductionist, non-exclusive material way to look at the economy and social life, inspired by the traditional values of the indigenous people of the Andes. The aim of FLOK is to add “Good Knowledge” as an enabler and facilitator of the good life.

That sounds inspirational, but how will it work in practice? In particular, how will those participating in the “Good Life” earn a living through this “Good Knowledge”? Bauwens explains:

Think of the core model of our economy as the Linux economy writ large, but one in which the enterprises are actually in the hands of the value creators themselves. Imagine this micro-economic model on the macro scale of a whole society. Civil society becomes a series of commonses with citizens as contributors; the shareholding market becomes an ethical stakeholder marketplace; and the state becomes a partner state, which “enables and empowers social production” through the communication of public services and public-commons partnerships.

Central to the success of Linux has been the adoption of the GNU General Public License, which allowed code to be shared widely but in a way that prevented the software commons being enclosed by companies taking and using that code without contributing back. Building on the GNU GPL’s ideas, Bauwens and his team have drawn up a new license, tailored to the needs of the FLOK Society project and the people of Ecuador:

traditional communities have suffered from systematic biopiracy over the last few decades, with western scientists studying their botanical knowledge, extracting patentable scientific results from it, and then commercialising it in the West.

So fully shareable licenses like the GPL would keep the knowledge in a commons, but would still allow full commercialisation without material benefits flowing back to Ecuador. So what we are proposing is a discussion about a new type of licensing, which we call Commons-Based Reciprocity Licensing. This idea was first pioneered with the Peer Production License as conceived by Dmytri Kleiner.

Such licences would be designed for a particular usage, say biodiversity research in a series of traditional communities. It allows for free sharing non-commercially, commercial use by not-for-profit entities, and even caters for for-profit entities who contribute back. Importantly, it creates a frontier for for-profits who do not contribute back, and asks them to pay.

Although the license and FLOK Society are very consciously geared to the needs of the Ecuadorean nation that has sponsored them, the long-term goal is much more ambitious, and has at its heart ideas that have often been discussed here on Techdirt:

To work for a sustainable society and economy is absolutely crucial for the future of humanity, and while we respect the freedoms of people to engage in market dynamics for the allocation of rival goods, we cannot afford a system of infinite growth and scarcity engineering, which is what capitalism is.

In other words, today, we consider nature infinite and we believe that infinite resources should be made scarce in order to protect monopolistic players; tomorrow, we need to consider nature as a finite resource, and we should respect the abundance of nature and the human spirit.

Bauwens himself admits that FLOK Society is unlikely to transform an entire nation overnight, or even in the foreseeable future, but sees it as a crucially-important step towards that larger goal of global change:

the publication and the dialogue about the plan itself, and some concrete actions, legislative frameworks, and pilot projects, are the best we can hope for. What this will do is give real legitimacy to our approach and move the commons transition to the geo-political stage. Can we hope for more?

Personally, I believe that even if only 20% of our proposals are retained for action, I think we can consider it a relative success. This is the very first time such an even partial transition will have happened at the scale of the nation and, as I see it, it gives legitimacy to a whole new set of ideas about societal transition.

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Comments on “The FLOK Society Project: Making The Good Life Possible Through Good Knowledge”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Without a GPL like license, you get the situation where companies can pull in ideas from the commons, and rarely or never give anything back. Apples for instance, takes more from the software commons than it gives back. It will take innovations produced by others if it can, but uses patents to prevent others using its innovation.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, he’s right. The biggest impediments to the widespread adaptation of open-source software are Richard Stallman’s ideological zealotry and the widespread perception of open-source software as being equivalent to the GPL license.

Yes, Apple is able to do despicable things because of basing their work on the exceptionally weak BSD license. But that doesn’t mean that the answer is to adopt a viral license that essentially says “if you build 99% of your program on your own, but you need GPL code to create one single feature, then all of your own effort is irrelevant; we claim the entirety of your codebase for the GPL.” I’m sorry, but as an open-source developer myself, that’s a bunch of crap, and the sooner that idea dies, the better.

What actually makes sense is the MPL, whose core idea is “if you build 99% of the program yourself, its your code to use as you want to. If you use our code, go ahead, but if you modify our code, if you make changes or improvements to it, those changes must remain under MPL and be republished.” That actually makes sense. It’s a license for getting stuff done; the GPL is a license for pushing a hateful ideology on those around you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The GPL is a good basis for co-operation between predatory and competing companies, as it ensure that they all play by the rules. I suspect that without it, Linux would have gone the way of Unix, fragmented into competing versions.
It is not necessary to use GPLed code, plenty of BSD licensed code exists. Co-operation is a two way street, and GPL licenses are probably the best for supporting this in a predatory and competitive commercial environment. The BSD licenses run the risk of take without give. Interestingly, the BSDs under their licenses are more fragmented than Linux under the GPL, despite it being as easy to fork code under either license.
As to the philosophy behind the GPL, it is based on bitter experience. While RMS can be shrill on the subject, he does have a valid point in that if you cannot obtain and modify the code you use, you can be held hostage by the provider of your programs, and you cannot check for back-doors and other nasties. Proprietary code, and DRM, allows corporation to control how you use your devices and data, and also demand whatever rent they can get away with.

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I agree; the GPL made GNU/Linux possible, and I believe it is why GNU/Linux has surpassed the various flavors of BSD in popularity.

The sad fact is that our modern predatory commercial and legal systems are perfect for enclosure. Powerful interests, looking to lock up as much as possible for themselves, have remade the world in their image. If you want something to be truly free and open to the public, you can’t just say “This is public!”, because someone will just waltz in, fence it off, and say “Now it’s private, and it’s mine!” Just look at what’s happened to the very concept of public domain; it shouldn’t take a 52-page process to figure out if something is public, and yet it does. The public domain has been replaced by the plundered domain.

Stallman, via the GPL, created a new kind of domain, which I’ll call the protected domain. Whereas the public domain is free to be plundered, the protected domain is kept free, by force if necessary. This approach made Wikipedia possible, first through the GFDL and later through the superior CC-BY-SA license. These licenses are a bother, but they are a necessity, and until copyright and patent are dead, we will need the licenses to keep a protected domain of truly free knowledge.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Proclaiming an entire business model that works well for some scenarios and not very well for others to be illegitimate, and using the force of law to attempt to sabotage it and force people to replace it with your own business model that works well for some scenarios (such as the ones your rival model does poorly at) and not very well for others (such as the ones your rival model does well at) is hateful ideology.

gnudist says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Also, if you don’t like the license I choose then write different code to do the same thing.

I’m sure as a propriety Software supporter you can get behind the concept of me dictating terms for software I hold copyright on even if you don’t subscribe to the ideology of software freedom

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You have clearly never heard of the Excluded Middle Fallacy. Or of subtlety, or of basic reading comprehension, for that matter.

Have a look at what I actually wrote: that I’m an open-source developer myself, that I consider free software to be a good and useful thing, and that the reason I don’t like the GPL is because it is actively impeding the widespread adoption of open-source software by tying it to a bunch of needless and harmful ideological baggage.

But of course this will not be understood at all. Such subtleties and shades of gray always make zealots’ heads explode.

Remember, a heretic is someone who shares most of your beliefs. They must be destroyed without mercy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

He’s not saying that the GPL is bad because it’s not the ideal license for every situation, or at least not directly.

As I interpret it (probably biased by my agreement with the sentiment) he is saying that what it bad about the GPL is that the general public associates all free-as-in-speech licensing as being the same as the GPL, and that the GPL is viral/not compatible with commercial effort/trade secrets.

For myself, as a user I’m quite happy with GPL and find the available GPL products are often superior in quality to alternatives. As a programmer, I despise the GPL for its zealotry and narrow-mindedness, in favour of licenses which actually feel free like MIT or MPL.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

If your project is a product, then GPL it with my blessing. If your project is a library, I personally would prefer you to release it under a proprietary license than the GPL, or even the LGPL. Of course, the MIT or MPL licenses would be even better, but you have no obligation to listen to my preferences in the first place.

I know that a lot of people like the GPL a lot, and you can see that on any forum. That doesn’t stop me from being sad, but me being sad isn’t a problem for anyone but me.

Anonymous Coward says:

if there is something that goes against or challenges the norm, it will be stopped. governments everywhere today want to be able to have every single person on tap! that goes more than anything else as far as getting money from us. the more they can ensure they get from us lowly citizens, the less they have to take from their buddies, ensuring the wealthy stay if not get more wealthy!!

Quiliro Ord??ez says:

another perspective on FLOK

The project presents good proposals. But in practice, it does not uphold them when it is their turn to implement them. The project leaders have excluded people that propose very interesting concepts. The project has proposed Sumak Kawsay an the use of freedom tools and decentralized networks. In contrast, they have used centralized networks and have excluded people that propose complementary positions. Nice words, bad actions. Another take on the project is expresseed by Gordon Cook:


and translated into spanish here


The entire pdf some 108 pages is here

the exec summary on my blog is here

summary AND table of contents four full issue is here

Peter Troxler (profile) says:

update suggested

OK, so this is essentially a FLOK PR rewrite.
Fair enough.

I think it would be adequate to revisit the post given Michel Bauwen’s recent post on facebook before leaving Ecuador — pasted below for your perusal:

(source url:

dear friends, I am leaving Ecuador tomorrow after a rich but difficult experience with many up and downs … (one of the downs being is that we are leaving the country with still 2.5 months of salary due); though the summit was a success in terms of its own dynamic, we discovered that the president of the country didn’t even know of the existence of the FLOK, and the one of our funding ministers even blocked his officials of attending until one day before the summit .. 15 attempts to talk with our two funding ministers about a supposedly strategic effort went unheeded .. nevertheless, there are also good sides: one is that lower level officials, those that feel the need to remain faithful to the ideals of the civic revolution, are enthusiastic and are working on pilot projects; the other is a number of civic movements intent on continuing the effort such as our friends at Diabluma and the associated rural-urban coalition; amongst the most inspiring efforts is that of Mario Andino, the mayor of Sigchos, the third poorest district in Ecuador, who just bought a 2,200 ha. domain to experiment with open agriculture, and that is at least partially a direct result of our interventions, this will happen with our without the government … and then we leave a cultural and political legacy in terms of the ideas; here is a sample reaction that I received, and that makes me very happy:
“.I know you have had good and bad moments here, but I truly believe that you leave a relevant and unforgettable way of thinking in my community. I personally have seen how my vision of reality has changed based on your ideas, knowledge and will to change things…Farewell my friend…I´m sure that wherever you go, you will make the difference that humanity desperately needs… “
Then of course there is the legacy of the flok as the first ever effort to craft a integrated commons transition program, legitimized even if imperfectly supported by a nation state, which makes it a geo-political event; we are already talking with a large cooperative group, 2-3 cities, and a rural hub elsewhere in the world, to do local flok processes; and the flok as a open and participatory method to craft policy, which is getting interest from other governments in the region ..
So this is life, sometimes we do a seeming huge step forwards, only to fall back, and even as we may be disappointed in the short term, we have planted a seed that may bear more fruit than we expected later on
Goodbye to Ecuador then, or perhaps just hasta luego, as it is a most spectacular country … let the hundred flowers bloom, here and elsewhere in the world, we certainly would love to return to Sigchos and help the mayor, the assembly of the people and the population as a model locale for commons-oriented practices and transitions. After all , it is a mini-Ecuador with four climate zones ..
With thanks of all the flok team members, volunteers, and the local citizens who supported us; special mention to Fabien and his team at Allianza Solidaria, the most inspiring project so far,
Michel Bauwens, Quito, June 30, 2014

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