Empowerment, Ownership and Sustainability
International development cooperation tries to trigger and support sustainable human development by catalyzing transformation processes worldwide. This is often described as “capacity development”. Capacity development is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as “the process whereby people, organisations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time”.
Hence, sustainable learning and transformation is at the core of sustainable capacity development. This is what the learning processes around commons-based peer production are all about. Here we “find evidence of learning in collective action and/or behavioral change in groups rather than a psychological process in individuals” (peeragogy.org 2013: 73).
Such a step-up from simply increasing the knowledge of individuals to action and sustained behavioral change on the level of communities and organizations is one of the thorniest issues inherent in both adult education and capacity development. Learning modes and principles of open, commons-based peer-production therefor have the potential to provide the “gold standard” of enhancing future skills, competencies, connections, capacities of people and their organisations on a global scale. In short: peer-to-peer learning around open, commons-based peer-production is a game changer in international development cooperation.
This becomes clear when looking at the principles of implementing capacity development, which are empowerment, local adaptability, ownership, participation, value creation, scalability, decentralization and sustainability. Here are some of the reasons why commons-based peer learning and peer-production has the potential to become a key tool to advance core principles of sustainable capacity development [8. For more, see Seibold 2009: 264-265, Benkler 2006: 60, 112 & „Golden Rules for Successful Partnerships – Design Principles“ of BMZ of 2008 - German original: „Goldene Regeln für eine erfolgreiche Partnerschaft – Die Gestaltungsprinzipien“]:
Empowerment and local adaptability: Learners can fully shape and control their learning process, setting and resources, which allows for further change as well as for easy adaption to local circumstances. Producers control their joint production systems. For example, a school IT admin in Uganda is able to localise learning software and learning material and provide it in local language.
Ownership: Learners and their institutions coown the commons-based learning setting and its resources. All of them have equal and free access to learning and support from peers. Likewise, producers own the commons-based production setting. For example, the producers of the biogas production plants mentioned above co-own the technology blueprints with the global community.
Participation: Learners and producers fully participate in a commons-based learning environment. For example, every author of a Wikipedia article is part of a joint and collaborative editing process.
Value creation/Benefit creation: Values created through peer learning and production include knowledge distribution, monetary value, recognition, trust, satisfaction and the personal and social value of the learning process itself. Learners and producers have the freedom to define and shape their metrics of such value creation or benefit creation – according to the rules of the respective commons and according to their core motivations.
Scalability and decentralisation: Learners and providers of peer learning as well as peer-producers have the ability to scale to the global level and at the same time decentralize the learning and production process to the local level. This can be achieved through modular designs, cocreation oriented methods and open licensing. One example are massive open online courses, but also the development of the Linux operating system in different flavors and languages by tens of thousands of software developers.
Sustainability: The availability of the learning process and learning resources as a commons for future learners is one of the key factors that adds to the sustainability of peer learning. Secondly, sustained ‘learning by doing’ in peer communities fosters durable capacities to cope with change. Finally, commons-based models of operation have proven to be quite flexible and robust because of their open and participatory governance options (see Wikipedia). This allows for a perpetuation of decentralized learning and corresponding peer production systems.
These learning processes also fit in well with two pressing needs in international cooperation: the need to move towards scaling up of development solutions and the need to move towards knowledge sharing as part of an emerging global ethics of fairness.
About the Author
Balthas Seibold is a senior project manager for ‚Global Knowledge Sharing & Learning’ at GIZ, the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH’. He focuses on open knowledge cooperation to foster the freedom to learn and innovate in developing countries. Balthas has a special interest in the knowledge commons and social networks and their potential to build human capacities, link up people and foster open learning worldwide. Before 2012 he led capacity building programs with GIZ that promote the open source IT-sector in Asia and Africa such as ict@innovation. Balthas has also worked at InWEnt – Capacity Building International, UNESCO’s bureau of strategic planning, the GTZ and the UNDP.
The author would like to thank the following persons for invaluable input and detailed comments (any errors and misjudgments are of course his own): Philipp Schmidt, Andreas Meiszner, Susanna Albrecht, Kader Ekici, Christian Gmelin, Petra Hagemann, Claudia Lange, Sarah Malelu, Sabine Olthof, Natalie Maria Stewart, Lennart Stoy, Miriam Unverzagt.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GIZ or any other affiliation.