How Peer-to-Peer Learning Advances Global Transformation
Some critics argue that commons-based peer production and learning only apply in the digital, non-real world (“building websites”, “building online training material”). The concept, they say, is therefore less of interest to international and development cooperation, which focuses on non-digital environments and “hard” topics such as health, energy or agriculture.
Jaime from Bolivia and John from Rwanda are not in the business of building websites. They are in the business of building tube digesters to support local biogas production in rural Bolivia and in rural Rwanda. They live 6,515 miles apart, but they both use the same manual to build the tank. It is one of 822 open online articles packed with practical production know-ledge on the knowledge commons platform energypedia. The platform’s vision is “a world of free knowledge exchange and mutual learning on renewable energies in which everyone has access to sustainable energy sources.”
Building a tube digester based on specific needs of local communities is a concept that dates back to the “appropriate technologies” movement. But now, global and open peer-learning can be unleashed on top of it.
Anyone, including Jaime, John, and numerous others, can tinker with and improve the designs of tube digesters. This is only possible, however, if the instruction on how to build a tube digester is available as a shared resource. Therefor many of the fledgling peer production platforms, such as energypedia, appropedia, opensourceecology, Howtopedia, knowable, or Fabwiki have deliberately chosen open models and ‘open source’ licenses that enable “commons-based peer production” as envisioned by Yochai Benkler. Only ‘open source’ licensing can spur open learning, invention, and innovation processes that come with it.
More examples of hubs with a focus on “production”, on “peer-driven production” and on “commons-based initiatives” for human development are listed and described online at 10innovations.net. All those chosen above focus on open learning and practical improvement on a community-level; nevertheless, many of them have a global reach. This is, in fact, what makes commons-based peer production and learning so relevant in the context of current debates in international development cooperation.
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.