Delimiting Commons-Based Peer Production

Mapping 30 areas of activity (Fig. 1)


(This post is by Marco Berlinguer & Mayo Fuster)

It has been for some time now that research is engaging around a fauna of new forms of production that have been progressively appearing in the sectors more intensively impacted by the Internet and the digital revolution and more dependent on knowledge, creativity and innovation. Neologisms and innovative proposals of framing proliferate.

The P2Pvalue project adopted as its own framework that of Commons-based peer production (CBPP).

The concept is due to Yochai Benkler, who – partly relying on the work of Elinor Ostrom – developed it between 2002 and 2006, as a way to grasp the characteristics of a new model of production that loomed behind the surprising success of experiences, like the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) and Wikipedia.

Benkler’s notion has the merit of highlighting the emergency of the “information commons”.

Indeed a new approach to the regulation of property arguably represents the most crucial organizational and institutional innovation of these new forms of production.

Since Benkler proposed the notion, CBPP understanding continued to progress.

Even so, research about CBPP is still in its first stages of development. Especially insofar as the proposed characterization of CBPP is that of a new and distinctive model of production, the theoretical and empirical work to sustain such a claim is still limited.

Fundamental questions still need to be addressed.

The P2Pvalue project aims to contribute to the progress in the state of art in the understanding of CBPP.

This is done through several methodologies of research.

Our group – IGOPnet – is developing a statistical analysis of 300 CBPP cases.

The objective required the development and test of a common framework of analysis applicable to an extremely varied sample of cases. It was unprecedented in research and we met several challenges along this attempt.

In this post we explain how we addressed the first, preliminary step we had to face: the definition of a set of criteria of delimitation and distinctiveness of CBPP.

To us, these criteria were necessary to define our unit of analysis across the research. Or in other words, to provide the distinctive features of CBPP that would have justified the insertion or rather the exclusion of specific project in our 300 cases.

The main issue we had to engage with was the following.

CBPP first characterizations have been developed mainly observing FLOSS at its origins and Wikipedia. These still represent the most known ideal-types and studied cases. However one of the objectives of our investigation was to cover the expansion and the more recent developments in CBPP. We ended up mapping 30 areas of activity (Fig. 1, above).

Thus we had to test the applicability of a common CBPP framework of analysis to such a variety of new areas. Furthermore, looking at the more recent developments, meant defining a strategy to deal with the growing diffusion of “hybrids”, that is of cases in which commercial objectives interweave with CBPP features.

In the end, we framed four features as defining characteristics of CBPP (Fig. 2).

Defining characteristics of CBPP (Fig. 2)


Collaborative production. The process of collaboration results into something valuable not present before.

Peer-to-peer relationships. Community collaborative interactions are neither solely nor mainly coordinated by contractual relationships, mercantile exchange or hierarchical command.

Commons based. The resources co-produced result in a commons. The collaboration is anchored around the production of shared resources.

Reproducibility and derivativeness. “Commonness” and autonomy of the actors are reinforced when the characteristics of the resource and the license allow reproduction and derivative works.


These features can be present in different degrees in each case.

Yet, as a whole, they allow us to delimit the “contours” of a specific and distinct model of production.  

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