Collaboratively mapping alternative economies (published article)

(Adrien Labaeye) #1

Hi there,

[Update on 6th of March 2018: the article was published in Netcom Journal in 2017]

@almereyda @gandhiano @species @mariana @Silke @josefkreitmayer @Simon_Sarazin

I am now preparing a peer review journal article entitled “Collaboratively mapping alternative economies”. I am trying to gather feedback from people who have been involved in that practice. Now there only the results section of the article (will be completed with methods,, and disucssion). It’s mainly proposing a three-pronged typology to help navigate the diversity of mappings initiatives in the field of alternative economies.
I draw from the following material: 10 semi-structured interviews, analysis of Transformap’s atlas, and 2 years + participation in Transformap involving multiple contacts with mappers of all sorts.

**Would you like to provide me with some feedback? I am particularly interested in whether you find that typology useful, if you think an important type is missing, etc. You don’t need to read in-depth and can look at the titles and maybe something is missing for you. Let me know! ** :slight_smile:

In the discussion part I will discuss various issues such as agency and ownership, but also discuss those practices in the context of commoning. Basically ending up with the conclusion that mapping of alternative economies should be thought as a commoning process leading to

So below is the text! Please do not quote, it’s work in progress!

#Collaboratively mapping alternative economies

[This is only the results section of a longer article]

In order to generalize observations made during the collection of the map atlas as well as situational knowledge stemming from a two-year immersion in the field, a combination of real types and ideal-types is proposed in this section. Products (the maps themselves), processes (how maps have been produced), and producers (who are the actors involved in the mapping process) are presented separately.
Once derived from observation, real types of map products have been tested against the Transformap’s inventory of maps to ensure they were representative of the sample. This atlas was co-produced by the members of the Transformap collective who gathered (as of August 18th 2016) 218 examples of working maps that reflect various facets of the alternative economies.

##3.1 Atlas overview

Table 1 Counts of maps for various geographical coverages

Geographic coverage--------Count of maps
World -----------------------------30
Continental region------------11
Sub-national region-----------7

As a preliminary remark, it is worthwhile to note that the data collection is clearly biased towards Germany (26), France (16), USA (16), UK (14), Austria (12) and the city of Berlin (11) due to the localization of most of the researchers and their languages skills.
In its census the Transformap collective systematically indicated the geographical coverage of the map. Together, country and city-wide maps are representing three-quarter of the sample. It is of interest to observe that maps are easily scalable to the country level: indeed, once set up, digital mapping tools do not limit geographically the expansion of the map. The language, however, is a key constraint and maps spreading over more than one country are often doing so within the same language area. This said, city-level maps are not necessarily a first step towards a country-level map. Often the motivation of the actors behind such cartography is to use it as a catalyst for assembling a local community.

Figure 1 Clustered count of maps by thematic coverage

In order to gain a better understanding of what the maps inventoried in the atlas are about, their thematic coverage is presented in Figure 1. In order to navigate those tags, four clusters have been delineated: generic themes (e.g. Food, Education, Land, etc.), normative and contested concepts (e.g. Sharing, Commons, etc.), identified practices (e.g. Community gardening, Urban foraging, CSAs, etc.), geographic scales (Local, Neighborhood, etc.). It seems not valuable to draw further conclusions from the analysis of thematic coverage due to the fact that the collection of data and its tagging happened in an organic way, not following strict scientific methods. Nevertheless it may give a good indication of what subjects are addressed by these maps.

##3.2 Real types of map products
In order to navigate the diversity of maps, three real types are proposed: those have been selected as they displayed a unique combination of attributes out of the cases inventoried. Together they cover 73% of the atlas entries. The remaining either being hybrids or more marginal cases quickly presented in a fourth subsection. The map attributes have been derived from observation in order to emphasize differences between map products. Using real types instead of ideal types allows the presentation of existing maps making it more concrete for the observer.

###3.2.1 The map directory: Map of urban gardens in Germany
Gärten im Überblick is a map of over 560 urban gardens across Germany. It provides addresses, contact details, and a description for each initiative. It is maintained by the non-profit association Anstiftung und Ertomis that collects data and keeps it up to date as facilitator of a large network. It distinguishes between three types of gardens: those in project, community gardens, and intercultural gardens. The map is known as a key networking resource among people involved in urban gardening. Data is strongly curated (no crowd-sourcing as such) and exclusively focused on one well-identified practice: urban gardening.

Figure 2: Screenshot of German map of urban gardens

With 78 occurrences (36%), this real type is the most common encountered in our atlas. It is an online directory of initiatives that fit a simple criterion: e.g. be an urban garden, or, another example, be a member of the Transition Network . In these directories, inclusion of additional entries is straightforward and usually controlled for compliance by one or more administrators. There may be directories of specific practices (e.g. urban gardening) or formal networks (e.g. Transition Network). It focuses mostly on a national scale or bigger. The popularity of such maps is justified by mappers and communities of practice, because it improves the visibility of a practice, show the geographical scope of a network, and also support networking among initiatives. Such directories sometimes do not involve a map, but are strictly similar in the constant effort of data curation they require.

While data is generally closely curated by administrators, in some seldom cases, like the list of hackerspaces , data is completely crowdsourced thanks to a mediawiki. In such cases curation is done by the community of wiki contributors including administrators with higher editing rights. It is notable that the map directory includes generally few categories as it focuses on one single practice or one defined network of initiatives, and therefore covers a homogeneous population. Aggregating the data of different directories focusing on the same practices across different geographic areas is therefore rather straightforward and displays strong potential for researchers interested in the geographic distribution of specific practices; notwithstanding the fact that data is generally neither licensed nor versioned over time requiring additional efforts on the researcher’s end.

###3.2.2 The normative mapping: Leipzig im Wandel
Leipzig im Wandel is a local mapping of over 40 initiatives that are presented along 9 main categories as being part of a sustainability transition. It is designed to inform inhabitants of the German city, but also, by presenting them together, increase networking among very diverse initiatives. The mapping is a project of two local organizations: Local Agenda 21 Leipzig and Transition Town Leipzig. Local initiatives are encouraged to create an online profile to submit their information to the map. The only purely objective criterion a new entry has to fulfil is to be located in the city; whether it contributes to sustainable development is left to the appreciation of the map administrator.

Figure 3 Screenshot of the ‘Leipzig in transition’ map

This real type is found 45 times (21%) in the atlas. It is characterized by the fact that the boundaries of such mappings cannot be defined by definitive criteria. They are generally displaying an aggregate of diverse objects, with the aim to contribute in substantiating a controverted normative concept across a given geographic area: e.g. transition, commons, and collaborative economy. Such mappings are used by individuals, organizations that are attempting to make various practices or networks converge by developing a collective identity: the mapping is less the representation of an existing object that a peformative activity.

For other mapping that fall under this real type, collection and maintenance of data is generally open to the crowd to add new points or edit existing ones, the level of control by the map provider varying a lot. Some mappings like Karte Von Morgen or let anyone add a new entry when others like the Colibris movement curate the edits made by the crowd, and others such as I-Share require creating and logging into an account. Others, like the map of Tokyo New Urban Commons do not provide any opportunity for participation. Generally, the crowd is not involved in the process of developing categories to order the initiatives, this being done by the publishers of the map. Nevertheless, the example of Collporterre’s map of collaborative consumption in the Bretagne region in France shows that this framing process make take the form of several workshops engaging stakeholders. In that case the mapping process was initiated and designed as an action research study, and the result is in itself a research outcome. Map jams are another way to kickstart a mapping process in a participative fashion (see ideal type on digitally-mediated participatory mapping). The I-Share research project let initiatives add the keywords (tags) they find suitable in addition to pre-determined categories. Such open-ended tagging approach allows the emergence of vocabularies from the bottom-up.

Normative mappings have two main interests from the researchers’ perspective. On the one hand, it may be useful to identify what practices are seen as part of the various streams of the New Economy, and potentially help to identify overlooked or emerging types of innovation. On the other hand, studying the categories shaped by maps’ publishers may provide information on the way narratives about various strands of alternative economies are bundled together. More interestingly, some of those mappings leave users order themselves initiatives with systems of semantic tagging resulting in the emergence of new vocabularies. Eventually, participative mapping methods (such as map jams, or Collporterre’s approach) may hold potential in exploring new research objects.

###3.2.3 Maps of public assets: 596 Acres in New York City

Figure 4 Screenshot of the Living Lots map produced by 596 Acres in NYC, USA

Starting in 2010, 596 Acres developed an accurate map of public vacant land lots in New York City building upon public open data. Through an intensive work of checking, updating, and translating the rough data into actionable information that is brought to the physical vacant locations, combined with active community organizing, the initiative has managed to spark a local movement of people living in under-privileged neighborhoods who have reclaimed over 30 vacant land lots for community purposes such as urban gardening. 596 Acres showed that translating crude data into actionable information and bringing it into the physical space can bridge digital divide, and turn (open) data into a strategic and civic resource for the renegotiation of the public urban space; in some instances, actually promoting commoning practices of those resources (i.e. community gardening of land, and collective consumption of fruits). This initiative has been replicated in other locations such as Philadelphia, Melbourne or Montreal . Similar initiatives have used open or crowdsourced data to map public resources such as fruit trees. In its wiki, Transformap has indexed 18 of those initiatives under the “Urban foraging ” tag.
This real type describes maps of assets, items, contrasting with the two other types where points of interests (i.e. what is mapped) are initiatives, organizations and the likes. 16% (34 occurences) of the sample falls under this category. The map is here not about representing a community or showcasing a practice, but a participative instrument for a bottom-up reconfiguration of public assets such as vacant and or edible trees. In other those maps are maps of resources for alternative economies.
Obviously, and unlike the two previous real types, maps of assets will not be of help for researchers that are trying to look at the geographic distribution of grassroots initiatives. However, they may prove very useful for exploring the availability of untapped urban resources and inform science on the way grassroots movements use digital technology to develop innovative use of such resources.

###3.2.4 Further marginal types
Other type were identified but were deemed marginal in the sample or with little value within the frame of this paper. Nevertheless, it may serve to mention some of them. 10 maps were clustered under the peer-to-peer map type: a map serving as an interface to connect individual users to each. These are typically used for sharing items (e.g. a drilling machine, a costume…) and are well known in the sharing economy communities. Many for-profit sharing economy platforms also use maps for matching their users. Other maps in the Transformap atlas are displaying data with particular relevance to sustainability or alternative economies. Another noticeable, mapping initiative is ESS Global: an effort to develop guidelines for the solidarity economy communities to streamline the way they produces maps across the world . The goal is to allow then aggregation and comparability. Researchers have been involved. This endeavor to use the potential of linked open data is also integrated in the location-based civic participation platform Communecter. The initiative enables citizens to register any kind of initiatives . All data is licensed under an open license to encourage cross-use. This initiative is at an early stage of its public use, but federates multiple actors in France that have been involved in mapping grassroots initiatives. It may be a significant source of data about local initiatives in the near future.

Last but not least, a real type could have been described around the practice of collaborative semantic mapping. Indeed, the mapping of alternative economies always implies the (co-)production of semantic categories to describe the complex realities that are represented in maps. While this process is more or less participative according to designs elicited by the mapping facilitators, collaborative tools for semantic mappings have recently emerged. Metamaps is one of them, allowing anyone to start, or duplicate a semantic map and engage others in the effort[1]. Each user has the possibility to reuse existing semantic nodes from other maps resulting in networked mapping dynamics. The tool is being increasingly used by communities exploring new forms of digital collaboration and can provide opportunities for action researchers looking for tools to engage in the participative mapping of discourses from and about alternative economies. The work of the Real Economy Lab prefigures how this can be done [2].

[1], accessed on 23/09/2016
[2], accessed 23/09/2016

##3.3 Ideal types of mapping processes
While interviewing mapping initiatives, but also being a participant of the Transformap collective and interacting with dozens of mappers, it clearly appeared there were a few distinct ways to design the process of producing and maintaining a map. Because often, various processes may be intertwined, there are here presented as ideal-types that may or may not be found in that purity state in the field, but mental images that help the observer to navigate the seeming chaos of the subject.

###3.3.1 The survey
The survey is a traditional method of collecting data and also the most commonly used by the maps we have observed. It consists in a person or an organization collecting data from initiatives in order to populate the map. Not surprisingly, the survey itself may be realized through various media: e.g. telephone, online survey tools, emails. The survey may be a one-off effort, but in the case where an organization runs it in order to produce (and maintain) a directory, it tends to be repeated over time in order to update data. Often, in particular in the case of membership directories, this updating phase is informal, with an administrator inputting data as it comes due to interaction with the initiatives.
This ideal type is facing two types of issues. On the one hand, obviously, the survey requires maintenance in order to stay up to date. Researchers sometimes produce such surveys, accumulating rich data, but do not have the resources, or interest, to follow up over time. On the other hand, surveys are very top down. The respondents do not have much agency in the process, from the definition of scope, to the frequency of updates or the choice of license applied to the data.

###3.3.2 Crowdsourcing
In this ideal-type the collection of data is left open to anyone who is willing to contribute to the mapping exercise. While data is collected by a large number of people, data ontologies (the categories structuring the data to be harvested) are usually defined by a smaller number of people – usually the initiators – who retain privileges in order to maintain homogeneity and comparability of the data. To be successful, the number of participants matters: usually, the more, the better the data (e.g. up-to-date). An example of such is Mundraub, in Germany, a map of fruit-trees where over 40 000 participants use and contribute to the map of over 24 000 points of interests (POIs) .

The main dilemma with crowdsourcing is the question of data quality. Various strategies exist to deal with it. In the Mundraub case, users are often encouraged to login to improve the quality of the data edits, but this isn’t a systematic practice. Other maps such as allow editing without requiring users to login as a strategy to lower the barrier to participation. In any situation administrators may also take unilateral action to remove inappropriate content, automatic spamming. “Map defacing” as in Ballatore {Ballatore 2014 #2812 /yearonly} was not a significant issue for the maps observed, issues are more related to ensuring that new entries fit the scope of the map which is often difficult in the case of maps such as Karte von Morgen or the Colibris map where it is defined in very broad and normative terms (e.g. “transformation”, “fair”, etc.). Thus, the Colibris movement map allows users only to suggest new entries, further filtering them.

###3.3.3 Digitally mediated participatory mapping

Figure 6 The Sharing Berlin map: The result of a Map Jam

The practice of participatory mapping has been used for a long time as a method to generate collective knowledge among specific groups through the use of cartography. Here we describe an ideal type that relies on the same dynamic, but partly mediated by digital equipment (e.g. shared spreadsheet, Google Maps, uMap, etc.). Despite digital mediation, the results of the field investigation show that face-to-face interaction is crucial for such process that relies on a significant amount of exchange around the definition of the final collective product (the map), the digital tools blending within and prolonging the physical meeting(s). In addition, a participatory mapping is time-bound, often only a day or two (for map jams). It therefore requires facilitation and preparation. Facilitators are usually initiating the mapping, framing it, and ensuring it reaches its objectives. While facilitators of participatory mapping have traditionally been researchers, the present empirical observation shows that the method has been adopted by activists alike. In the field considered, the most representative case of such process are Shareable’s Map Jams where sharing activists have collaboratively produced over 70 city maps of the sharing economy . Maps jams are seen as a way to catalyze the sharing scene in a city or region. Results from field observations (interviews, action research) tend to confirm this. Further research, though, would be needed to generalize and/or deepen those findings.

As in traditional participatory mapping, the main dilemma that occurs with this ideal type is about how much room is left by the facilitators for participants to define the scope of the exercise. What is to be mapped? Resources or initiatives? How to display the results? Which categories? Etc. This issue is well known from practitioners and researchers: the more participation, the more challenging it is to produce such a map at the end of the process. It is observed that with Map Jams, the facilitators use material prepared by Shareable, reducing the agency of individual facilitators and participants, but making it manageable enough for often unexperienced facilitators. Another issue lies in the follow-up. From this investigation, when participatory mappings have been facilitated by an organization, the map is then being maintained and further developed. Otherwise, it is usually slowly forgotten. In our observations, in only one occurrence (out of over 70), have such processes been a part of a research project.

###3.3.4 Remixing and building upon open data
The increase of availability of open data opens opportunities in mapping alternative economies. Datasets of associations, or businesses, specific features of the urban environment may be used for producing novel maps. This ideal-type implies the identification of relevant datasets, their filtering (only subsets may be useful), refining (data may not always be accurate or sufficient), their combination, and enriching. In the case of Falling Fruit, activists regularly import datasets of trees, usually from municipalities, filtered for edible sorts into a central database which is then completed by the crowd making it the largest global database of edible trees that we know of. In the case of 596 Acres, open data was built upon (verified, updated, expanded) and was then brought into the physical urban space in a format– individual posters put up on vacant land lots – that is legible for anyone living in the neighborhood in order to spark action .
One central dilemma with using open data is licensing. Aggregating datasets that are licensed under different terms can be problematic. Some licenses may not allow the publication of modified datasets. However the generalization of the Open Database License (ODbL) is lifting such barriers. The second issue with this mapping process is the question of data update. When datasets are aggregated and modified, one cannot rely on updates made by the initial publisher without more complex synchronization setup that are usually not within the skillset and resource budget of grassroots or small research teams.

##3.4 Ideal types of producers
Similarly with mapping processes, theses ideal types intend to provide abstractions to help distinguishing the different types of actors and their motivations that are key in the production of maps. Again reality may show that behind a mapping initiatives are (individual or collective) hybrids of those ideal types.

###3.4.1 The practice network administrator
Many of the maps studied have been produced by an organization (formal or not) whose mission if the promotion of a specific translocal practice (e.g. community gardening, repair cafés, hacker spaces…). Its motivation is to make the practice more visible to the outside, but also to serve as a networking tool for initiatives themselves that are often far from each other. The practice network administrator has usually no particular mapping or data management skills. It learns by doing, but mapping is not necessarily its main focus so time invested has to pay off and usually goes at odds with the mapper activist.

###3.4.2 The mapper activist
The mapper activist believes maps are a very powerful medium for the diffusion of alternative practices. He (rarely a female) is fiercely defending open source software solutions as well as open data licenses; which he sees as an essential part of the transformation embodied by the various alternative practices that are mapped. For him the way the map is produced is as important as the final product. The mapper activist has sometimes difficulty in being understood by other actors willing to make a map.

###3.4.3 The researcher
Researchers are not a very visible actor in the field observed. They usually use existing maps for their purpose. In some cases, they may start an own mapping initiatives and generally communicate about the map only if it serves the aim of collecting data using crowdsourcing.

###3.4.4 The anonymous mapper
From the material considered, the anonymous mappers are hard to pin down. They contribute with a few entries to a map they recently discovered. Their motivation is to share initiatives they are enthusiastic about. They may never return to the map after editing once. They are often hard to engage with, but when given the right conditions (simple interface, clear instructions) they may provide large amount of data: they are really what is understood as the “crowd”.

###3.4.5 The initiative holder
Initiative holders are a coveted contributor to a map. They are those with the primary data. Apart from the case when they are commercially driven, it is hard to provide them with the right incentives to maintain their data directly. They often see digital technologies as a burden.

###3.4.6 The action researcher
The action researcher is the most seldom actor to be encountered. It sees its own research as part of its object of study. Often a PhD student who has enough time to engage in action on the ground, the action researcher is often a connector, bridging academia and practitioners, but also different communities of practice (e.g. open source software with community supported agriculture).

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Community Report #8 (October 6th)
(Adrien Labaeye) #2

a quote that I find very helpful to conceptualize what the role of researchers within Transformap (as an idea not a brand) can be:

Empirical research “suggest that the future of alternative economies research within economic geography might revolve around reconceptualizing research as a process of performatively enacting community economies. Activist researchers could engage in disseminating and replicating such experiments in forming [or mapping] community economies, recognizing the powerful role these efforts might play in demonstrating how another economy might be possible.”

Page 343 in Healy, S. 2009. “Economies, Alternative.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 338–44: Elsevier.

I find this helpful to explain in scientific terms (jargon) what Tranformap is about: it seeks to support the mapping of alternative economies, because the basic assumption is that mapping, like discourse, is performative: i.e. it creates the reality it tries to represent.

ping @almereyda

Just found out that this Stephen Healy with his helpful research is actually one of the academic that has been working on the US mapping of the solidarity economy with Craig Borowiak (see this post where I was by the way suggesting to describe different mapping methodologies [ideal types/patterns…]

(Adrien Labaeye) #3

That guy made a few years ago the argument @almereyda made from the beginning
#Maps Narratives and Trails: Performativity, Maps Narratives and Trails Hodology and Distributed nowledges in Complex Adaptive Systems – an Approach to Emergent Mapping

Full article:
If maps are conceived as representations of reality or as spatially referenced data assemblages, a dilemma is raised by the nature of Indigenous knowledge traditions and multiple ontologies. How can differing knowledge traditions, differing ways of mapping be enabled to work together without subsumption into one common or universal ontology? The paper explores one way of handling this dilemma by reconceiving mapping and knowing performatively and hodologically. It is argued that one way in which differing knowledge traditions can interact and be mutually interrogated is by creating a database structured as distributed knowledge and emulating a complex adaptive system. Through focusing on the encounters, tensions and cooperations between traditions and utilising the concept of cognitive trails- the creation of knowledge by movement through the natural and intellectual environment – the socially distributed performative dimensions of differing modes of spatially organised knowledges can then be held in a dialogical tension that enables emergent mapping.

(Oona Morrrow) #4

Yes - this US solidarity economy map could be a great resource for you all. Stephen and Craig are friends and colleagues of mine :). The map from Solidarity NYC is also really great. The other researchers on this project are Maliha Safri, Olivia Geiger, and Marianna Pavlovskaya.

(Adrien Labaeye) #5

Yes I know the Solidarity NYC mapping.
What is the status of the project? Is there any publication planned? What about Stephen Healy? Is he part of it (I read that on his uni page)?

(Jon Richter) #6

Is the same as Solidarity NYC? Else I would like to add a link for the latter as a

(Adrien Labaeye) #7

everything is already there:

(Jon Richter) #8

Like here?