social movement

Grassroots Public Policy Development

Pattern ID: 
862
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
78
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Michael Maranda
Association For Community Networking
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Ironically, public policy development is very unpublic. It's often silent, invisible, and developed "behind the scene." This results in poor public policy that favors narrow interests and blocks progress. As power and wealth become more concentrated, wealthy people and institutions become more and more dominant in the policy arena. When that happens, local and marginalized voices are not heard; people feel disempowered and disengage further from the political process. "Ordinary" people generally stay far from the public policy arena. They feel isolated and are unaware that others are striving towards positive change. When there are public policy successes, they're not often shared with other communities and the people at the grassroots who enter the public policy arena often must needlessly reinvent the wheel.

Context: 

As our lifeworld becomes more and more complex governance also grows more complicated. Meanwhile the need for sound policy becomes more essential. There are opportunities for grassroots political engagement for every policy issue that is at stake. Increasingly this will involve the intelligent use of new media and the Internet. Moreover, in this context, the development of the Internet — and policies regarding citizen use of and oversight of ICT in general — make these a critical areas in themselves for grassroots public policy development.

Discussion: 

Public policy determines whether a new library is built — and where — and how a new clinic for homeless people is funded — or not. It even determines to a large degree who has access to communication services and who has the right to control them. Although it is often "public policy" which silently promotes or discourages certain public actions, the development, maintenance, use, and, often, the very existence of the "public policy" is about as far from "public" as can be imagined.

Policy is governance. It helps address questions like, How will we live together in a complex society? How will we deal with the problems of our time and how we collectively define what those problems are? Will governance be of the people, by the people, for the people? or will it succumb to the defects resulting from a concentration of power and wealth? This pattern is closely related to Power Research because the information uncovered is likely to be useful in determining how policy is developed and what alternative practices may be effective for developing alternative policies from the grassroots.

Public policy often has a technocratic air about it. It's often constructed by "wonks" just as computer code is produced by "geeks" and both geeks and wonks are stereotypically portrayed as social misfits who prefer complicated and artificial arcana to the "real world" (of flesh, blood, emotions, etc.). But while it's true that policy development (like computer development) does have its degree of inherent complexity (especially as it assumes a final form), an important part of its development is not "geeky" at all: it involves the crucial task of determining what one would like to see in society and how it might be encouraged to happen.

Grassroots public policy development involves local engagement that is generally contrary to top-down approaches. It occurs when the problem and the solution are defined by the active local parties rather than imposed from outside. Jason Corburn (2005) discusses why people — especially non-professionals working in the local community — are unlikely to get involved in policy work.

"…one difficulty that local knowledge presents is that is insights are often very contextual, while policy-making tends to make general rules. Much of the work on local knowledge is ethnographic and deeply conceptual, and few general patterns or lessons are offered. Advocates of local knowledge have been understandably hesitant to "scale up" or generalize their findings and insights — largely out of fear of inaccurate decontextualizations, oversimplifications and unjustified generalizations."

Corburn goes on to point out that it isn't just local communities who lose out when they're excluded from the process. Society at large suffers as well as, interestingly enough, the policy "wonks" whose job it is to develop these policies.

"…professional decision makers have not found ways to incorporate the important understandings from studies of local knowledge into the more generalized practice of policymaking. Scaling up knowledge from local settings is a necessary task in environmental health because of the extreme heterogeneity in ecosystems and human-environment linkages. But local knowledge can be used to improve environmental-health decisions while maintaining a heightened sensitivity to the contextually specific qualities of this knowledge."

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation lists four types of public policy (Kellogg Foundation, 2006): statutory (including constitution / charter or laws), fiscal (including annual budgets, acts and resolutions), regulatory (administrative rules), and institutional (such as policy manual and standards, and tenure and appointment). For each public policy type, they describe broad characteristics including scope, applicability, duration, process characteristics and primary policy makers. Note that different jurisdictions will have different public policies and each contains a variety of types. Nevertheless, the public policy landscape of any given jurisdiction can be described and understood with some variation using this framework. Using the typology described above as a way to focus one's learning in the public policy arena — especially as it pertains to one's own area of interest — is usefull for focusing public policy engagement.

Once the type of policy to be developed has been established along with at least a rough form for the policy, the plan for implementing the policy should be developed. The process must be considered, including both the formal or legal aspects of the process and the informal, tacit and behind-the-scenes aspects of the process, especially in conjunction with a consideration of the primary policy makers and how they generally operate.

The Children's Partnership offers "Six Essential Elements Derived from The Children's Partnership's Experiences" that show the basic steps in a process of moving "from an idea to a successful public policy."

1. RESEARCH BASE that is grounded in what local communities want and need.
2. POLICY PROPOSAL that responds to findings from research — one that is saleable and scaleable.
3. WAYS TO COMMUNICATE the policy idea effectively.
4. DEMONSTRATION that the policy idea can work in the real world.
5. ORGANIZING / ADVOCACY for the idea — using strategic partnerships
6. FOLLOW THROUGH TO IMPLEMENTATION of the new policy.

The inherent problem of people approaching similar problems from diverse perspectives (and, hence, using different vocabularies) will continue to crop up. People working on similar problems may not find each other or be aware of their respective efforts and intentions. Other questions also need to be addressed: who gets to do what, whose ideas are taken into account, what attitudes (respectful, paternalistic, domineering) prevail, in whose name or on what basis decisions are made, and whether they are enforced or neglected.

People often do not know how to get involved and have limited experience with being effectively involved. They therefore require contexts or channels to guide their participation and an invitation to join the effort. There are numerous sociological and psychological dimensions at play here and people will need to advance in their individual development within this social exercise.

Although face-to-face encounters remain important, tools of the Internet era can be used to facilitate new modes of organizing. For one thing, people can allow for more open spaces for dialogue and engagement. It may also be possible to coordinate with other communities who are involved in similar activities. The Internet can promote the idea of moving decision-making power towards smaller local assemblies while maintaining flexibility and freedom to connect local assemblies. In other words, new online media can allow people and communities to organize more effectively around these principles and values.

Note also that although some action, procedure or decision might be properly enshrined as part of public policy, it may have very little bearing on how things are actually done. In other words, public policy is only as valid to the degree that it is enforced and/or respected and abided by. The use of this pattern is probably only reasonable to the extent that public policy is actually respected in the setting in which it is intended to be used. For that reason, the reality of the policy's actual deployment in society, in addition to any other relevant circumstances surrounding the development and use of the policy, needs to be given special consideration.

Solution: 

Public policy should genuinely reflect accumulated public wisdom. The discipline required for policy work must be distributed throughout the body politic in civil discourse, research, and inclusive creative deliberation. The exercise of grassroots public policy development is the ongoing work of reconstituting the public sphere.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Policy helps address issues related to living together in a complex society. Ironically, public policy development is very unpublic. It's often silent, invisible, and developed behind the scenes. We must advance Grassroots Public Policy Development which is distributed throughout the body politic in civil discourse, research, and inclusive and creative deliberation.

Pattern status: 
Released

Mobile ICT Learning Facilities

Pattern ID: 
485
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
77
Grant Hearn
University of the Western Cape
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In many countries, the lack of access to technology and Information and Communication Technology in particular, is an acute problem of both resources and location. Solutions must focus on making scarce resources cover as much ground as possible.

Context: 

Placing fixed computer facilities in communities with government or donor funding limits the benefits to the particular communities in question.

Discussion: 

One solution that has long been available in the sphere of basic literacy is the mobile library, whereby suitable motor vehicles carry libraries on wheels to those unable to otherwise access them. This makes good use of financial resources and allows a scarce and important asset to be brought to where it is most needed and reused continually.

The provision of similar traveling computer laboratories, the drivers of which are trained computer literacy educators, could play a similar role in bringing the ICT “mountain” to the disempowered. Self-contained units with their own power generation ability will grant ICT access to many people in remote locations or simply living in communities which are too poor to support such access in other ways. Encouraging community participation in the program will help to ensure that those in the community who could most benefit by the program will be helped first. The goals of such a program would be to:

  • Bring scarce and economically empowering assets to communities desperately in need of them or otherwise simply lacking in access to these assets by virtue of their remote location
  • Contribute to reducing the geographic and economic isolation of many communities
  • Begin to bring the wider world to communities who wish to gain knowledge of it and interact with it.
  • Contribute to the knowledge and skills of those joining the exodus from rural to urban areas in an attempt to provide survival strategies that move away from begging, menial labor and crime

In South Africa a similar initiative which focuses on bringing science and technology to disadvantaged communities is already in place. A bus called the Discovery Mobile travels to communities and gives young people the opportunity to interact with a wide range of exhibits inside the bus.

Solution: 

By working together with government, donors and communities, mobile computer laboratory facilities can be established to begin to answer the needs of many communities for exposure to and training in the use of information and communication technologies.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

In many countries, the lack of access to Information and Communication Technology is an acute problem. Just as the mobile library brings books to those who lack access, traveling computer laboratories with computer literacy educators as drivers can play similar roles. In South Africa, the Discovery Mobile bus travels to communities and gives people the opportunity to interact with science and technology exhibits.

Pattern status: 
Released

Open Access Scholarly Publishing

Pattern ID: 
880
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
76
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The cost of journals and books has risen to the point where libraries, let alone individual scholars, can barely afford them. This is not because the payments to authors have risen dramatically. Far from it. Nor have publishing costs skyrocketed. Instead, there has been a dramatic consolidation in the publishing industry along with skyrocketing profits, far faster than, for instance, the general rises in the cost of living. In addition, with the consolidation in the retail bookstores as well as publishers, the publishes concentrate their efforts disproportionately on textbooks that will have large markets. Moreover, even if publishing profits were driven to zero, there would still be many people in the world who would not be able to gain access to important scientific and scholarly information in the form of paper books and journals.

Context: 

There are many scholars, scientists, and teachers in a wide variety of fields. Only a very small percentage gain a significant amount of income from the publication of their scholarly works. In fact, in many cases, authors have to pay page charges to have their work published. Publishing companies make a lot of money. Yet, people who could gain greatly from the knowledge in books and articles cannot afford them. Not only do most scholars receive little, no, or negative income for publishing their work; the amount of work that they are expected to do has increased, Not too many years ago, authors sent in a paper manuscript and the publishing companies were responsible for typesetting and copy editing. Today, most publishers require computer-readable files completely formatted and expect the author to carefully check for typos, grammatical errors, word usage, etc.. In other words, the author now does much of the work that publishers used to do, but all the resultant reduction in costs have been added to the profits of publisher rather than to any benefits to the authors.

Discussion: 

Probably the best introduction to the important concepts in Open Access (OA) Scholarly Publishing can be found at Peter Suber's website:
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm
Among other important points, he debunks some important myths about OA. OA is not cost-free, for instance, although clearly, it can be less expensive than traditional use of a paper publishing company. Even if not completely cost-free, it can still be free to the readers. There are a number of different models of funding. In some cases, the authors pay a small fee; in others, institutions pay; in still others (e.g., NSF), granting agencies make OA a condition of acceptance. It is also pointed out that there is no necessary relationship between quality and whether something is paper published. OA journals support peer-review, high standards and editing (at least) as easily as paper media. OA archives typically permit researchers to post non-reviewed white papers, drafts, etc. OA projects do well to use the OAI metadata standards so that others may search works seamlessly across organizational boundaries.

Perhaps the best-known current example of open access scholarly publishing is the cooperative project known as the "Wikipedia" but there are many others. MIT is making all its course material available online; MERLOT is a cooperative project across many universities in the United States to share course materials. There are similar projects in Europe and Canada.

One example illustrating some of these concepts is the Global Text Project. THE GLOBAL TEXT PROJECT - Engaging many for the benefit of many more. While even individuals and libraries in the United States find it difficult to afford books and journals, these items in many in the developed world are completely beyond reach. In many countries, the price for the textbooks equivalent to the requirements for a single year of undergraduate college is higher than the median gross net income. The Global Text Project website (http://globaltext.org) states their goal as the provision of a library of 1000 free electronic textbooks for the developing world. These would comprise all the texts needed for undergraduates in every major. Many of the participants have experience with creating a free textbook about XML. The next two planned projects are for texts on management and on Information Technology.

The project seems feasible. Most scholars in the developed world are relatively wealthy compared with the developing world. Contributing to the education of other parts of the world can ultimately help developing countries lower disease rates and improve economic conditions, lower the probability of civil war, corruption and starvation. In turn, this increases the chances for more education in a virtuous cycle. In addition, contributing to such projects offers scholars the opportunity for enhancing their reputation and getting valuable feedback from other colleagues.

There are some advantages to print media. It is nice to be able to "own" an actual book or journal and annotate it. In some ways, the distinctive covers and form factors of books can serve as a helpful retrieval cue to the material inside in a way that websites typically do not. However, having books and journals online also has distinct advantages over and above the tremendous difference in costs. On line books allows one to search for keywords, put related passages on the screen side by side, apply automatic summarization techniques, run software to check spelling, grammar, difficulty level and easily reformat. On line books can also contain hyperlinks to other scholarly (or non-scholarly) work and websites.

There are other significant advantages to Open Source Publishing. Because the overall price is so much less (less cost and less concern with profit) publishing in a multitude of languages becomes feasible. In addition, for the same reason, a much wider variety of materials may be published. By way of contrast, textbook publishers tend to focus their efforts on books for very popular and required courses.

While this discussion has focused so far on the benefits of open source scholarly publishing to potential readers and society generally and has argued that there is little financial disincentive for most scholarly authors, a study by Antelman (2004) indicates that they may actually be substantial benfeits to authors as well. In her study of citations for articles in four fields (philosophy, political science, electrical engineering and mathematics) she found in each case a highly significant difference in favor of open source articles.

Solution: 

Provide ways (e.g., via Wikis) for scholars to jointly create and improve scholarly materials, have them peer-reviewed and disseminated to those who can learn and critique the information without always engaging the additional costs and gate-keeping properties of traditional paper publishers.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Due to industry consolidation and skyrocketing profits, the cost of journals and books has become outrageous. But even without profits, many people would still not be able to gain access to needed information. We need to create and improve online materials that are freely available and avoid the costs and gate-keeping of traditional publishers.

Pattern status: 
Released

Positive Health Information

Pattern ID: 
746
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
74
Jenny Epstein
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Health information in the developed world exists in vast quantities, not only for the general public but also for health professionals. Much of this information depicts good health in terms of vigilance against the failings of our own bodies. This serves to create dependency on a high tech, commodity health system.

Context: 

The style of language and the content of information are very important in how information makes people perceive the world. Authors in many fields have noted patterns of communication that create distrust and enforce dependency by emphasizing danger from external, uncontrollable forces. If people have a sense of helplessness in the face of this threat, they do not act upon their own feelings and perceptions.

Discussion: 

Negative language has the effect of emphasizing threats, magnifying fears, and creating dependency. Reminding people of their mortality tends to make them hold more closely to traditional culture (Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Greenberg, 2003); this has implications for mental health, and can also be used to influence mass opinion and behavior. A recent example is the US administration’s use of language to create fear and mistrust among the public by creating the specter of a constant external threat (Brooks, 2003).

Much health information, especially advertising from hospital corporations and pharmaceutical companies, uses this technique. A paternalistic (doctor knows best) and commodity-driven medical system produces an endless stream of information that encourages the perception that natural processes, such as growing older or pregnancy, are fraught with danger. This inhibits the spread of health information that is not based on the treatments that this system has to offer.

Language may not only be negative; it can also be empty (Brooks, 2003); complex issues are broken down into broad statements with little meaning. In health care information, this pattern of communication places the cause of ill health on the individual. The complexity of individuals’ relationships to the world they live in and the effects on individual health of pollution, poverty, and unhealthy social norms and values are ignored. People come to construe healthy behavior in terms of dependency on a medical industry that constantly invents not only new cures, but new diseases for the cures it already possesses (Blech, 2006).

Empty language is like empty calories. It tastes good and you can eat a lot of it, but you don’t obtain much benefit. A great deal of health information tempts us to feel that we are well-informed. We are bombarded by advertising and public health campaigns that do little more than create mistrust of the inherent healthy processes we possess. To reduce complex health issues to taking a pill ignores people’s emotional needs and the complex connection between body and mind; instead it emphasizes the negative aspects of their health.

The use of estrogen replacement in post-menopausal women illustrates this. Estrogen replacement was pushed on women as a way if combating the “problems” of growing old such as osteoporosis, heart disease, memory loss and drying skin. The unspoken message was that there was something wrong with growing old that taking medication could correct it. Preventative approaches, that emphasized a lifetime of healthy behaviors and the inherent correctness of aging, were ignored.

In pattern 47, Health Center, Alexander et al. (1977) describe a medical system that emphasizes sickness over health. By contrast, they show the Pioneer Health Center in Peckham, an experiment from the 1930s, as an example of medical care that focuses on health instead of sickness. In the same manner, health information must distinguish between healing and medicine. We need to hear messages of what is right with us and what needs to be done to stay in touch with the inherent health of our bodies.

Many alternative health practices, such as yoga, polarity treatment, or acupuncture focus on the inherent healthiness of the body. In these practices, the underlying concept is on healing, the natural process by which the body repairs itself. The rise of alternatives to conventional medicine reflects, in part, the lack of substance people feel from the information they receive after a visit to a doctor. Health-related discussion forums, that include both lay and professional perspectives but avoid the disease-mongering (Marshall & Aldhous, 2006) influence of industry funding, offer a way to make sense of information from various health related sources without falling victim to negative language and information; people put information into the context of everyday life and validate positive perceptions of themselves. This type of information has substance to it, not only because it is active rather than passive; it has the positive effect of engaging people in independent, creative thinking.

Solution: 

Health information should emphasize the idea that people are inherently healthy. It must inspire trust in the body’s ability to heal itself, once a healthy path has been taken. Where information of this kind is insufficient, either create it or supplant it with participant-controlled interactive forums.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Health information in the developed world often depicts health in terms of vigilance against external, uncontrollable forces. This fosters distrust and dependency on a high-tech, commodity health system. Positive Health Information is built on the fact that people are inherently healthy. It inspires trust in the body's ability to heal itself, once a healthy path has been taken.

Pattern status: 
Released

Powerful Remittances

Pattern ID: 
785
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
73
Scott Robinson
Universidad Metropolitana
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The amount of remittances that people working in the developed world send home to their families is huge, estimated to approach US$232 billion in 2006. This figure surpasses by far the total of direct foreign investment and overseas development aid. Many countries, in fact, around the world, now rely on remittances as a major source of foreign exchange. World Bank technical reports fret about how best to leverage remittance income. While remittance transfers has become a growth industry (e.g. “banking the unbanked”), public policy has to date been reluctant to regulate this phenomenal resource flow apart from the usual concerns about money laundering. Remittance transfers grow annually, but this growth curve is not indefinite. Low-paid "guest workers" (many working "illegally", i.e. sans documents) in richer countries send a portion of their paychecks to their families back home. Their cheap labor allows many industries to remain competitive. In the recipient countries, this foreign exchange often represents a large percentage of GDP. While the amount of money is large, the percentage of funds siphoned off as commissions at various points during the transfer process is also significant, but steadily dropping. Five years ago the average transfer cost was often close to 15%, whereas today it is around 5.5%. Nevertheless, there is considerable room for further transfer cost reductions via innovative information technologies and regulatory reform. Remittance transfers from the migrant refugees from recent structural adjustment policies and "market failures" represent the flip side of global capital flows.

Context: 

The poor countries generally have few job opportunities and their "best and brightest" leave the country in what amounts to a new form of resource extraction (if not a new form of inverse "colonialism"). This process seems to be self-perpetuating, as the respective national Diaspora circuits become consolidated and young men and increasingly women as well migrate Northbound, to the United States or Europe, or Westbound to the Gulf States, upon reaching adulthood. Migration patterns may vary significantly within countries. Village cultures, family and ritual life has adapted to these new circumstances, often less than a generation old. Transnational communities are now the norm in many regions of Mesoamerica, Mexico to Nicaragua, the Caribbean microstates, regional pockets in northern South America and sub-Saharan Africa, amongst South Africa

Discussion: 

National elites quietly applaud these incoming resources; unfortunately, some would like to tax them as income as some US state legislatures also propose. This money is an aggregate of private, family funds that paradoxically provoke a positive multiplier effect for local merchants and economies, while reducing somewhat demands for social services from public funds and improving the balance of payments in national accounts. Remittance flows in hard currency reinforce central banks’ stock of foreign exchange, in effect reducing interest rates for the minority with access to credit. Banks and money transfer operators (MTOs to the financial community) now accept foreign government identification cards (e.g. Mexico’s Matrícula Consular ) thereby bypassing strict migration controls in some countries. Global remittance flows may be a contemporary form of social Darwinism whereby "remittances seem to be taking care of local needs." While in the job and remittance-generating host countries, workers from poor countries are often exploited, denied basic rights and services while paying local taxes, and increasingly, demonized by racist “seal the borders” ultranationalists.

Mexico has taken the lead in leveraging migrants’ remittances via a 3 for 1 program now operating in 16 states of its federal system. Begun in Zacatecas in 1992, for each dollar a migrant organization earmarks for investment in public improvements in specific locations back home, the municipal, state and federal governments contribute another dollar. Gradually, many municipios are paving their plazas, building sidewalks, refurbishing the churches, adding bathrooms to primary schools, etc. This program can be exported and other countries are discussing its implementation.

The emergence of these remittance economies is a function of emigration patterns that attest to the failures and limitations of the capitalist development model. Near monopoly MTOs (e.g. Western Union and Money Gram) dominated the early phase, but the profits to be made attracted many new players, including regional companies and most recently, commercial banks and credit unions. Workers deliver cash to a MTO receiving window, often in franchises located in small businesses and storefronts in migrant urban neighborhoods or small towns next to labor intensive industries (furniture, poultry and meat packing, fruit and vegetable farms). The licensed MTO moves the funds via their electronic network, situating the remittance at the assigned location on the receiving end in the migrant’s home country. Often the remitter is unaware of the foreign exchange rate used (US dollars or Euros to his/her local currency), and MTOs have been sued for offering exchange rates well below the market value on the day of the transaction. In addition to service commissions, exchange rate “spreads” are a major component of MTOs’ bottom line.

In the United States, undocumented workers often use a fake Social Security identification card and number. Employers accept them at face value and send obligatory salary deductions to the Social Security Administration that deposits these funds in a special Earnings Suspense Fund (ESF). This account now receives over USD$7 billion a year, a significant sum that will never be reclaimed by workers in the future. The ESF is a de facto migrant subsidy to the US social security capital budget. It remains an open question if this amount equals or is less than the value of social services non-tax paying migrants receive at the state and local levels.

This pattern of massive remittance transfers can be more transparent and cost efficient while leveraging resources for migrant families and organizations committed to growth back home. Information technology can substantially reduce remittance transfer costs and improve transparency if both financial and telecommunications regulatory reforms were in place. Experts in the field admit that commissions and exchange rate spreads totaling 2.5% of the amount sent home allows for a healthy profit for MTOs. Commercial and financial elites, both in the North and the South, at present profiting from the poor, are probably not going to willfully innovate in this fashion. Accelerating the citizenship process and then, mobilizing former migrant voter turnout may lead to immigration policy reforms in the North. Simultaneously, migrant organizations need to continue to fight for their rights, services’ access, job safety, and civic respect in the framework of each respective national "guest worker" policy. Also, there is immense potential in using the power that can be derived from the aggregated sums of small proportions of remittances to bring pressure to bear on political elites in the home countries. This is beginning to happen in Mesoamerica where returning migrants manage collective remittances, run for public office, win, often reconfigure local priorities and lobby for reforms at other levels. The power of leveraging this amount of money via political lobbying and policy reform will have impacts both in the North and South.

Solution: 

Non-profit foundations working with migrant organizations could set up alternative networks of cost plus transfer mechanisms and otherwise protect remittance transactions while lowering costs still more. Stored value cards will play a strategic role in this process. Voice over Internet Protocol free or low cost phone calls will contribute to lower communications costs, a significant aspect of each migration circuit. International financial institutions could offer matching funds for specific investments back home. There is room for innovation and experimentation for migrant organizations and their supporting transnational communities. Emerging remittance economies may reconfigure local politics over time.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People leave poor countries in search of jobs. Village cultures and families have adapted to this and to the significant sums of money sent home. Information technology innovation can reduce remittance transfer costs and improve transparency. Financial institutions could offer matching funds for investments while non-profit foundations working with migrant groups could set up alternative transfer networks.

Pattern status: 
Released

Transaction Tax

Pattern ID: 
590
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
72
Burl Humana
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Transaction taxes have been proposed on both international and national levels as a development tool to help groups of people with less financial strength. An international cash transaction tax could help the global good by raising substantial funds to support the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. This tax also has the potential of stemming damaging speculative attacks on the currencies of middle-income developing countries aiding in their financial stability. National transaction taxes have also been suggested to create even handedness and fairness by allowing the wealthy to carry the larger share of the tax burden.

Context: 

The implementation of transaction taxes are seen as a way to broaden the tax base by the collection of tax on the voluntary exchange of money that is not currently taxed. Primary examples of this are the purchase and sale of stocks, bonds, and foreign exchange transactions. Transaction taxes have been proposed on both national and international levels for various reasons.

Discussion: 

Many support the idea of an international currency transaction tax (ICTT) on voluntary currency transactions as an innovative financing tool to raise money for international development. One of the most urgent local problems that needs to be addressed is starvation in the sub-Sahara region of Africa, though The United Nations has defined several areas of need around the world with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). "The MDG's are as follows: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and, develop a global partnership for development." (Spratt 2005) The G8 have also pledged money for the achievement of the MDG's by the year 2015. Whether the G8 money becomes a reality or not, there is still a huge need for funding to help implement these important goals.

The idea of a transaction tax has been around for a long time and was presented in London in 1936 by James Maynard Keating. However, a transaction tax is commonly known as a Tobin Tax, named after Nobel laureate James Tobin. In 1970 James Tobin recommended the use of a transaction tax to discourage speculation in the foreign exchange (FX) market. Reducing speculation has the expected result of lowering market volatility. This volatility can be very damaging to developing countries when their currencies are unstable. In this way the transaction tax has a second development function in bringing mid-income countries in line with underlying fundamentals that promote long term investment in their country. India has already implemented its own national transaction tax on securities trades as a means to simplify the tax regime and to reduce speculation in Indian financial markets.

Even in wealthier nations like the USA the idea of instituting a transaction tax is floated as a means to broaden the tax base, delete the marginal tax, and overhaul a complex tax system. This type of national transaction tax allows the wealthy to carry a larger share of the tax burden based on their easy access to financial markets and the less fortunate to carry a smaller burden in relation to their lower income and assets.

There are many critics of the Tobin tax. Some economists say the reduction of speculation also means the reduction of liquidity which can have its own damaging effects. Other economists have produced studies to show that curbing speculation does not reduce currency volatility. Often critics are those who would be most effected by paying the new tax and their criticisms feed their own selfish interests. However, there are many around the world, including wealthy people who would be affected by the tax, that like the charitable development that could be funded by this type of financing.

New technology and communications systems along with the internet make it possible to collect a transaction tax with efficiency and make avoidance extremely difficult. Electronic technology of the bank clearing system already in place could be digitally fitted with a financial equivalent of the EZ pass that is now used to speed traffic through toll booths on highways. International payment and collection systems like the CLS (continuously linked settlement) Bank already link automated domestic LVPS (large value payment systems) making the collection of a transaction tax a realistic idea.

Solution: 

By allowing a transaction tax at either a national or international level, disparities between the rich and poor can be mitigated to some degree. The poor won't bare an over proportionate amount of tax in relation to their incomes. Needs of people in developing countries can be served by taxes reaped from the wealthiest who perform large national or international transactions. Financial markets can also be strengthened in developing countries creating a win win situtation.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

An international Transaction Tax could help the global good by raising substantial funds to support the Millennium Development Goals set by the UN. New information and communications technology would make it possible to collect tax efficiently and make avoidance difficult. Disparities between rich and poor could be reduced and the poor would bear a smaller tax burden relative to their incomes.

Pattern status: 
Released

Participatory Budgeting

Pattern ID: 
471
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
71
Andrew Gordon
University of Washington Evans School
Chris Halaska
Social Design
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Developing a budget is a task often left to financial "experts" even though the decisions that result from the budget-making process impact everyone, and the ideas that inform budget decisions often are improved by the experience and insights of a wide range of individuals. Budget development is in fact a "political" act, with "winners" and "losers" most of whom never participate in the process.

Context: 

Properly understood, budgets and the budget development process are tools through which social values are expressed and manifested in useful public activity. This pattern explains the importance of budgeting and encourages participation in all stages of budget development. Public budgeting connects to several other patterns. For example: participating in the creation of budgets is an ideal way to foster Civic Intelligence (1); joint budget development helps create Shared Vision (9); public budgeting via online tools is an example of Using Collaborative Technologies for Civic Accountability (257); and understanding budgets is one aspect of Power Research (128).

Discussion: 

A fundamental step in the life of any organization is the design of a budget. The decisions which are made early in the process (e.g., What is to be budgeted for? What are the sources of income? Who is to be paid? What are the categories of effort which are highly compensated and what effort is to be considered voluntary?) often set core parameters for the future, and impact not only the ways in which time and money are spent, but also the values and reputation of the organization, and even its soul.

But budgeting is often treated as a "technical" process which should be handled by experts rather than as a political activity in which many people should be invited and encouraged to participate. One way in which budgets can be more easily discussed publicly is to use online tools to disseminate budget information, host public discussions, and create sample budget variations -- though from our experience, we believe this should be coupled with face-to-face discussions whenever possible.

The best-known example of participatory budgeting is found in Porto Alegre, Brasil, where community residents (now numbering in the thousands) have cooperated since 1989 in annual deliberations about the allocation of a portion of the municipal budget. Poor citizens are vastly more engaged in this process than is typical in budgeting processes, and increasing proportions of the city's revenue have been directed towards improving the most impoverished parts of Porto Alegre. While there is some disagreement over how much of this outcome to attribute to the participatory budgeting process, there is no doubt about the increased sensitivity of all citizens to the importance of budgeting decisions. In June, 1996, the United Nations declared the "popular administration" of Porto Alegre as one of forth urban innovations at the Second Conference on Human Settlements.

Various related experiments in participatory budgeting have taken place on several continents since Porto Alegre, typically fine-tuned to local circumstances, with an evolving set of principles promoting conditions that enhance the effectiveness of the process.

Several important attempts at involving typically excluded citizens in the budget allocation process have occurred in the U.S. -- often during progressive periods. Two of the most significant were the Affirmative Neighborhood Information Program during Mayor Harold Washington's tenure in Chicago (Kretzmann, 1992), which failed to survive successor administrations; and the Seattle Public Schools multi-year experiment in decentralized, "school-based" budgeting, supported by an online budgeting tool (Halaska, 2000).

In the Seattle experiment, a vastly increased proportion of district resources was redistributed from the central administrative offices to individual schools. School principals were encouraged to engage in a public budgeting process where trade-offs (e.g. reduced class size vs after-school music programs) were actively debated -- both in public meetings and online. The process was messy because "democracy is messy" and was controversial at every stage, in part because it surfaced hidden assumptions about core values in public education. Some participants believed that this process had the potential to provoke a fundamental rethinking of the purposes of the education process itself.

Key findings from the Chicago and Seattle experiments align with the principles of Porto Alegre and elsewhere. For example, it is important that significantly different approaches to budgeting such as these become so embedded that they cannot readily be set aside by later regimes. Equally critical is that traditional budget staff be convinced about the importance of participatory budgeting. While philosophical and political discussions about larger scale budget issues can be done without technical assistance, detailed information about current costs and funding formulas typically reside with budget staff. Without their support, key budget information can be difficult to obtain. Moreover, while the ideology of participatory budgeting has wide appeal, critical studies should be undertaken to determine under what circumstances participatory strategies have lasting effects and whether, in the case of participatory budgeting for example, systemic changes such as in the labor market must occur for poorer citizens to benefit from these new strategies in the long run.

Solution: 

Budgets for organizations in the public sphere should be developed openly and inclusively, in public meetings and using publicly accessible online tools. Budget assumptions should be discussed, and rethinking of assumptions, priorities, and allocations should be encouraged, no matter how far they depart from current practice. At every stage, the results of the process should be made public for feedback and refinement. Attention should be paid to what has been learned from experience (for example, about the wisdom of convincing traditional budget staff of the utility of public budgeting), and studies of the long-range impact of participatory budgeting are essential.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Budget development is often thought of as a dry, technical task, best left to "experts." But budgets are critical tools through which social values are expressed. Developing a budget, with its criteria and categories, is a "political" act. Participatory Budgeting helps to bring in people who generally don't participate in the process. There are now many successful examples in which whole communities play substantial roles in the budgeting process.

Pattern status: 
Released

Media Diversity

Pattern ID: 
593
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
66
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. This is particularly important during this current era of globalization and critical public issues that require public engagement. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media which is becoming precipitously less diverse. The control of much of the world's media is becomingly increasingly concentrated in a handful of giant corporations.

Context: 

Although the exact situation will vary from place to place, virtually all communities are affected by the lack of media diversity and all communities have opportunities to help promote media diversity. In the consolidating world of corporate mass media, large companies are touting mergers and monopolistic ownership practices as being conducive to diversity of programming and community representation in broadcasting. This claim of diversity is a facade that circumvents and ignores the idea of true community access.

Discussion: 

A rich, dynamic universe of public thinking helps to ensure that all sides in public matters will be taken into consideration thus promoting social — as well as economic — innovation. A paucity of diversity doesn't just jeopardize societal innovation however. It becomes a threat to democracy itself. When media diversity is too low, public opinion is less likely to provide the oversight that democratic societies require and is more likely to be engaged in public affairs and less willing to entertain new ideas.

Ben Bagdikian is generally credited with the sounding of the alarm on media concentration in the U.S. His book, The Media Monopoly (1983) revealed the disturbing fact that 50 corporations owned the majority of US media companies and this trend towards concentration was continuing. That trend has continued unabated for the 20 or so years since the original publication and now five corporations own approximately the same percentage of media output in the U.S as the 50 did in 1983. Today media corporations argue that when a company is able to monopolize a market, they can provide a more diverse array of cultures and voices than if that media landscape was broken into independently owned outlets. To use radio as a simple example, executives claim that when a corporation owns the majority of a market, the number of different formats increases dramatically. While it may be true that different formats increase, it's doubtfuil that this reflects an increased diversity of opinion. Many media corporations use the opportunity to record one radio show which they then rebroadcast from all of their other stations with similar formats, sometimes "localizing" the show with a few references (pronounced correctly hopefully).

A lack of media diversity invariably means media concentration and media concentration exacerbates problems of media homogeneity. The problem of media concentration extends beyond mere banality; it represents a major threat to the ability of citizens to act conscientiously and to govern themselves as democracy requires. Media concentration brings power above and beyond what mere information provision would demand; illegitimate political and economic power invariably comes with the territory and the nearly inevitable cozy connection with political elites leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that is extremely difficult to break. When media concentration reaches certain levels, it then can keep an issue out of the public eye and, hence, off the public agenda. An important and relevant point of fact is the virtual blackout on stories involving media consolidation over the past two decades. Intense media concentration also allows companies to more easily work with government to pass legislation in its favor, notably overturning laws that combat media concentration; and not stepping on government toes because of possible retribution. It may already be too late. As Bagdikian notes, "Corporate news media and business-oriented governments have made common cause."

The U.S. is not the only victim of media monopolization: Conrad Black in the U.K. and Canada, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Rupert Murdoch in Australia (and, now, after a special act of congress, in the U.S. as well) [more?] and many others are huge players in national markets while global media consolidation is now proceeding ahead in increasingly troubling ways.

In the 1990s, when use of the Internet was beginning to explode into the among the general population — or, more accurately, of people who are relatively well-off economically, especially those who live in countries that are relatively well-off economically — some of the digerati were quite eager to dismiss any protestations over media monopolization in the "smokestack" (i.e. non-Internet-based) media industries that included broadcast, print and others. They reasoned that the inherent nature of the Internet made it more-or-less immune to human tinkering, in contrast to humankind's inventions. Not only was it inalterable but it would soon prove the obsolescence of the old-fashioned media and, at the same time, provide diversity of viewpoint despite corporate or government efforts. Within several years of the Internet's inception it has become incredibly commercial and now, 10 or 15 years later, a mere handful of sites accounts for half the number of sites first seen as their web browser is invoked. This is not to say that the Internet is not important. It's absolutely critical as millions upon millions of political actions initiated by civil society has demonstrated. And it's absolutely clear that citizen activism will be indispensable to prevent control from being seized gradually or not-so-gradually by corporate and/or government bodies. It's also clear that older forms of media should be not abandoned to corporate entities &mdash even if you believe that the Internet will put them all of business anyway!

Our media and information systems do not exist in a sealed bubble independent of the capitalist structure. Because you must either own or hold stakes in a news or entertainment company to have any semblance of control over its content, the rich control our news and entertainment. While community-operated media does exist in nearly every city, its saturation and distribution into the communities is extremely low because of financial restrictions. The news and entertainment offered by these resources are vastly diverse from the corporate-owned outlets, often representing conflicting accounts and stories. Because the conflicting programming often represents the viewpoints of a different social class than of that which owns the corporations, this programming rarely makes it into the mass media. The corporate owners claim they can provide an adequate diversity of community voice, when in truth the diversity they provide is severely limited by their moneyed interests.

People can get involved in the struggle in many ways. One of the most direct ways is to create and support independent media. This not only means developing videos, comics, zines, blogs, etc. with alterative points-of-view, it means developing funding and distribution approaches, and fighting for representation within the political system. For while it may be true that globalization and new communication technologies change the rules of the game, there are still likely to be rules and for this reason civil society must be vigilant: changes in protocols, domain name registry, domain servers, etc. etc. can have vast repercussions.

One of the most effective approaches, however, remains the development of public interest policy that promotes media diversity. Although critics of this approach are likely to scoff at its quaint, "smokestack" modus operandi, governments in democratic societies have an obligation to support democratic systems and the democratic experiment may be terminated earlier than anticipated by its original proponents if they fail in this duty.

The policies that governments can enact fall into two broad categories: those that limit the enclosure by the big corporations into various regions or "markets" and those that promote media diversity by promoting alternatives to corporate mono-cultures such as government subsidies or tax breaks to independent media or specific set-asides for radio or television spectra, etc. Media diversity represents both a desired state for the media environment and an absence of concentrated ownership of media. For that reason people need to fight for both: media diversity and diversity of media ownership.

Solution: 

Democratic societies require diversity of opinions. Although government is often negligent in this area, media corporations cannot be allowed to assume too much concentration. As in other realms, power corrupts, and media corporations are of course not exceptionss to this rule. Citizens must vigilant to ensure that a diversity of opinions is availale and that citizens have access to the media. Diversity of ownership of media is one approach that is likely to promote diversity of opinion in the media.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media, whose control is becomingly increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. Citizens — and government — must be vigilant to ensure that citizens have access to Media Diversity of opinions.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Transparency

Pattern ID: 
527
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
64
John B. Adams
Public Sphere Project
Douglas Schuler
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The lack of authentic and principled accountability of corporations, government, political processes, and the media provides irresistable opportunities for corruption. Unfortunately this most often deprives whole societies and the world's poorest people of their right to an equitable sense of well-being and opportunity.

Context: 

Corruption, although illegitimate, is a common mechanism of social domination. In one basic form it exacts a price from people with little power in exchange for a "favor" from someone with more power. In another form, two or more people or organizations with power swap "favors" for mutual advantage. The "favor" can be large or small and it can be granted or denied at the pleasure of the power-holder, whose criteria, rationale, and legitimacy for the decision is hidden and, therefore, unavailable for review or criticism. Although the degree of corruption varies from place to place, everybody at one time or another can be a victim, however indirectly. Journalists, business people, government officials, activists, educators as well as "ordinary" people - citizens - are affected by corruption and can play a role in its prevention.

Discussion: 

At its most basic level, "Transparency" is "the quality of being able to be seen through." When used in a social context it means "easily detected, understood: obvious, evident." To exhibit transparency means that the reality of how things actually work is not occluded by false or misleading layers of artifice. Transparency thus helps shed light on corrupt practices that thrive on secrecy.

At a time when concern is mounting over the seemingly overwhelming range of problems facing our world, the principle and initiatives of transparency advocates are gaining momentum and significant interest within a broadening global discourse. While rights to privacy and protection are critical benchmarks in evaluating the relative health of a democracy, deterrents and penalties to corruption are essential if efforts designed to invigorate social justice are to become more successful.

It turns out that the relatively simple approach of making transactions — both monetarily and information-based — of the powerful visible has the desired effect of discouraging corruption and encouraging good works. Learning about corruption is a first step towards rooting it out — but it's only the initial step. Rooting out corruption is often a long, frustrating, thankless and sometimes dangerous enterprise. A corrupt court system, for example, is likely to free guilty people in certain instances, and non-corrupt judges may pay with their lives when they act to convict guilty people.

Niccolo Machiavelli introduced the familiar social equation, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" that asserts that corruption is an inevitable consequence of power, and that the greater the power - the greater the resultant corruption. Machiavelli's perspective reminds us why citizens are naturally suspicious, for example, of secret meetings between government officials and corporate executives. For example, when Bush administration officials met behind closed doors with executives from the world's biggest energy corporations to discuss U.S. energy policy.

In truth, Machiavelli's wisdom provides governments with ample incentive for making such meetings more open or "transparent." Corruption is not intrinsically the province of one political party or another. It does thrive, however, in situations where secrecy and fear are prevalent. The Enron and WorldCom scandals certainly provided lessons that were largely responsible for the whistleblower protection provisions of the "Sarbanes-Oxley Act" in the U.S.

On the international front, groups that adopt transparency as a prerequisite to their work while providing expert advice, include IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development), whose model "Multilateral Agreement on Investment for Sustainable Development" brought the convention of sustainability to influence within OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) — by helping design both legal and policy instruments on foreign investment.

While numerous projects and symposia have focused on transparency, two relatively recent events are especially relevant to this pattern's "big picture" at a most sensitive time in human history. They are the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the ongoing, USC (Union of Concerned Scientists) Transparency Project (2000-2001) that has been working for over a decade to foster the "intellectual and institutional capacity to increase transparency through participation in international arms control negotiations".

The Transparency pattern is very general and can be applied in various cultures and in various situations that include the following:

  • Disaster aid and reconstruction, such as that related to the Southeast Asian tsunami
  • Decisions about what articles to run in newspapers or on television news shows
  • Source of funding for columnists
  • Decisions about corporate executive salaries and severance packages
  • Inspectors of new construction, fish harvests, food quality, tax returns
  • Building permits and other land-use decisions
  • "Revolving door" between executives in weapons corporations and government officials who buy from them
  • Lobbying government officials (versus bribes for legislative support)
  • Welfare systems
  • Judicial systems
  • Money laundering, or support or opposition to banking transparency legislation
  • Attendance at government meetings by corporate executives to decide policies where they are the direct beneficiaries

One of the greatest strengths of transparency as a social pattern can be found in its inclusiveness. Highlighting this point are grassroots activists who are elevating public awareness and forming alliances with many types of people and groups. As a result the 'practice of transparency' is becoming a model of increasingly influence.

For instance, in 1999 the Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power) an NGO group based in Argentina "negotiated an integrity pact with the city government of Buenos Aires", to monitor a 1.2 billion dollar subway construction project to "root out corruption". Across political, economic, industrial, scientific, legal, and civic sectors numerous reform initiatives are being coordinated providing benchmarks for accountability and success that are being applauded. These evolving strategies have resulted in a holistic "integrity approach" towards waging a unified struggle against corruption. The resulting 'victories' provide a great ray of hope for countries and peoples ravaged by decades — or centuries — of tyranny. Hence, 'transparency' is now poised to have a greater and greater influence on enforcing Civil Society values over time.

Transparency International was launched by people who shared a "common experience of having witnessed first hand the devastating effects of cross-border corruption" and is now providing leadership in the battle against corruption worldwide. Over the years Transparency International has developed a wide range of useful tools and information resources. These include:

  • TI Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the best known of TI's tools. It has been credited with putting the issue of corruption on the international policy agenda. The CPI ranks more than 150 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.
  • Global Corruption Barometer: A survey that assesses general public attitudes toward and experience of corruption in dozens of countries around the world.
  • Global Corruption Report: 2006 focuses on the health sector, where lack of integrity can be a matter of life and death.
  • TI Integrity Pact (IP): A tool aimed at preventing corruption in public contracting; consisting of a process that includes an agreement between a government department (at the federal, national or local level) and all bidders for a public contract. The IP also introduces a monitoring system that provides for independent oversight and accountability.
  • TI Bribe Payers Surveys: Annual tool that evaluates the supply side of corruption - the propensity of firms from industrialized countries to bribe abroad.
  • Business Principles: This comprehensive reference aims to provide a practical tool to which companies can look for a comprehensive reference to good practice to counter bribery. Designed as a starting point for businesses to develop their own anti-bribery systems or as a benchmark.
  • TI Integrity Pact (IP) is a tool aimed at preventing corruption in public contracting.

Transparency is fundamental to the evolution of a just and humane civil society. Focusing on transparency should help thwart corruption at the root(s) and help create new solutions to age-old problems stemming from greed, fear, anger and stupidity.

A concentrated effort to foster visibility is fundamental for the success of this project. Humanity has much to learn from the many tangible gains and policy shifts that are taking effect. As stated at the beginning of this pattern, corruption in its various guises can deprive whole societies of opportunity and a sense of well-being. This reality beckons us to develop constructive innovations that stand at the vortex of change. If we are successful, this work holds the promise of “giving new life” to the testimony and values of peace, justice and solidarity for generations to come.

Solution: 

Using traditional, as well as new forms of on-line media and ICT, we can continue to raise public awareness about specific struggles over transparency while exposing, protesting and defying corruption at all levels. It is important at the same time to continue to broaden the support for transparency initiatives and enforcement. In this way, more accountability can be demanded which can be translated into the development of equitable practices and policies.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Lack of accountability encourages corruption. Journalists, business people, government officials, activists, educators and "ordinary" people are affected by corruption and can play a role in its prevention. Transparency ensures that important transactions are not hidden or inaccurately portrayed. Using traditional and newer forms of media and communication, we can support transparency initiatives and enforcement while exposing and defying corruption at all levels.

Pattern status: 
Released

Community Currencies

Pattern ID: 
789
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
63
Burl Humana
Gilson Schwartz
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People have always traded or bartered with each other, using different tools and materials to represent and store value in various kinds of transactions; trade, investment, consumption, production, marriage, kinship, sacrifice. In complex, urban and global capitalist societies, money expands the potential for growth and accumulation, while also creating new forms of wealth and power concentration, regulated by central banks and other supervisory authorities at national and international levels. Community Currencies or “complementary currencies” offer a solution for local markets deprived or unserved by global or national currencies.

Context: 

Thomas Greco states three basic ways in which conventional money malfunctions: there is never enough of it, it is misallocated at its source so that it goes to those who already have lots of it, and it systematically pumps wealth from the poor to the rich. The symptoms of a "polluted" money supply are too familiar: inflation, unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures, increasing indebtedness, homelessness, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, the ultimate resource of the community, the productivity, skills, and creativity of its members, is not limited by lack of money. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Discussion: 

According to Michael Linton, "Money is really just an immaterial measure, like an inch, or a gallon, a pound, or degree. While there is certainly a limit on real resources -- only so many tons of wheat, only so many feet of material, only so many hours in the day -- there need never be a shortage of measure. (No, you can’t use any inches today, there aren’t any around, they are all being used somewhere else.) Yet this is precisely the situation in which we persist regarding money. Money is, for the most part, merely a symbol, accepted to be valuable generally throughout the society that uses it. Why should we ever be short of symbols to keep account of how we serve one another?" (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

"The proper kind of money used in the right circumstances is a liberating tool that can allow the fuller expression of human creativity. Money has not lived up to its potential as a liberator because it has been perverted by the monopolization of its creation and by politically manipulating its distribution -- available to the favored few and scarce for everyone else."2 Creating community currencies may foster exchanges among people that need it most.

Conventional money is strictly regulated by central authorities at a federal level. Its regulated scarcity is a major source of powerful economic policy (i.e..raising interest rates to curb inflation) that plays on the rules of capitalist competition. Community currencies, on the other hand, are designed to counterweight scarcity by promoting exchanges founded on cooperation or collaboration. The emergence of new information and communication technologies has promoted numerous local projects that use “open source money” or “collaborative money”. Both “conventional” money and “community” currencies, however, rest on the same foundation, that is, confidence in the agreed on rules of production and supply of monetary and financial instruments (credits, loans, time sharing, etc.). Both are “conventions” designed and operated by living human communities.

Community currencies may also be qualitative rather than quantitative, so that the “purchasing power” of the currency takes advantage of specific ranges of skills and resources (child and social health care, environmental campaigns or edutainment projects), unlike the conventional economy which values certain skills and devalues or ignores others as effects of blind market forces. The move toward “community” currency is motivated by the desire to bridge the gap between what we earn and what we need to survive financially.

Local currencies are seen as a community-building tool. Communities may range from solidarity economies in slums and vulnerable social areas, to game players, to collectors or charity donors; spread throughout the entire world as digital networks promote new forms of community life. Community currencies not only prove a commitment to community building and to supporting what’s local but also may function as a path towards a greater experiential understanding of the role of economics and money in our daily lives. Any community can, in principle, design currencies backed by something, tangible or intangible, that the community agrees has collective value.

Hundreds of community currency models are at work these days. These are a few of the community currency reference sites - Bernard Lietaer,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Lietaer; Resources for Community Currency Activists, http://www.communitycurrency.org/resources.html; Luca Fantacci, "Complementary Currencies: a Prospect on Money from a Retrospect on Premodern Practices", http://akira.arts.kuleuven.be/meijifin/node/52; Social Trade Organisation, http://www.strohalm.net/en/site.php; Open Money, http://www.thetransitioner.org/wiki/tiki-index.phppage=Open+Money+home+page.

ITHACA HOURS, where everyone’s honest hour of labor has the same dignity and LETS, Local Exchange Trading Systems are examples of such models. These two community currency models illustrate new forms of social and communicative practices that have a real impact on living structures at a local level.

The ITHACA HOURS system was created in 1991 by Paul Glover, a community economist and ecological designer. With ITHACA HOURS, each HOUR is equivalent to $10.00 because that’s the approximate average hourly wage in Tompkins County, Ithaca, New York. Participants are able to use HOURS for rent, plumbing, carpentry, car repair, chiropractic, food (two large locally-owned grocery stores as well as farmer’s market vendors accept them), firewood, childcare, and numerous other goods and services. Some movie theaters accept HOURS as well as bowling alleys and the local Ben & Jerry’s. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

The LETS model was created on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, as a self contained network in which members buy and sell services to other members and are paid in the LETS currency. Every member has an individual account which records their debit or credit. Members do not "owe" the person or business providing the service, instead their debt is to the LETS system, and their debt is thus socialized.( James DeFilippus, 2004)

"Currencies are powerful carriers of feedback information, and potent triggers of adjustments, but on their own terms. (Jacobs, 1984) “A national currency registers, above all, consolidated information on a nation’s international trade." (Jacobs, 1984) National dollars tend to flow out of local communities where they are needed the most to those who already control large pools of wealth like banks and corporations. Community currency is also a tool that can help revitalize local economies by encouraging wealth to stay within a community rather than flowing out. It provides valuable information about the community’s balance of trade and collective values. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

People who are time-rich and cash poor can be socially and economically productive without necessarily using only national or international, centrally regulated money. If community currencies can also be used in conjunctions with national currency their use does not have to become an all or nothing proposition, thus leading to the notion of “complementary” currencies.

Local currencies empower their members to improve their circumstances and environment while protecting the general community from the negative influences of other capital flows. This gives the community more control over investments and allows the poor to become emancipated beings in the economic choices and conditions that affect their daily lives. Local currency systems offer the opportunity of transforming labor power or working time into local purchasing power. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Solution: 

There are unique challenges in implementing a community currency system, both technical and political. Shared values and multiplayer commitment by community members are needed to build a sustainable currency. Adequate management at the local level may involve monetary policy issues similar to those experienced at national or international spheres. The community may be local, but also involve participants from distant places acting towards a common goal that can be social, educational and cultural. If successful, a community currency system can leverage local projects in economically depressed areas of the map and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People have always traded with each other, using various ways to represent and store value. In complex capitalist societies, money encourages growth, accumulation, and new forms of wealth and power concentration. Community Currencies can offer a solution for local markets deprived of or unserved by national financial policy. If successful, it can promote local projects and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://www.samarasproject.net/images/hours.jpg -- permission sought
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