Unlocking the Power of Digital Commons: Data Cooperatives as a Pathway for Data Sovereign, Innovative and Equitable Digital Communities
1.1. Challenges That Must Be Overcome
1.2. Definitions of Key Concepts
3. Economic, Social, and Environmental Impact of Our Proposal
4. A Path to Transformation—10 Case Studies
4.1. Insights and Lessons from Case Studies: Unraveling the Potential of Data Cooperatives
4.2. Barriers and Shortcomings of Data Cooperatives and Digital Federation Platforms
- Regulatory Barriers: Existing regulations in many countries may not adequately support or even hinder the establishment and operation of data cooperatives and digital federation platforms, limiting their potential impact.
- Limited Resources: Small communities and SMEs often face resource constraints that restrict their ability to develop and implement digital governance structures, open standards, and cooperative models.
- Digital Divide: Unequal access to digital infrastructure, skills, and resources exacerbates existing inequalities, making it more challenging for marginalized communities to participate in and benefit from digital transformation efforts.
- Data Privacy and Security: Ensuring data privacy and security is critical for the success of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives, requiring the development of robust governance frameworks and technical solutions.
5. Data Cooperatives and Their Governance
5.1. Navigating the Data Governance Spectrum
- Multistakeholderism and top-down regulation: While these approaches aim to create a balanced digital ecosystem by integrating various stakeholders or enforcing strict regulations, they often fall short in promoting true data sovereignty. Multistakeholderism risks marginalizing less influential parties in decision-making processes, and top-down regulations can inadvertently stifle innovation and competition. In contrast, data cooperatives ensure that each member has an equal voice, fostering a more democratic governance structure that empowers individuals and communities.
- Technical decentralization: While this approach champions technological solutions for data privacy, it lacks a holistic perspective. Technology alone cannot address the complex social, economic, and political issues associated with data governance. Data cooperatives, however, adopt an integrative approach that couples technological advancements with robust governance mechanisms to address these complex dimensions.
- Digital constitutionalism: Although codifying digital rights into law is a significant step towards safeguarding data sovereignty, these rights remain theoretical unless individuals and communities are empowered to exercise them effectively. Data cooperatives provide the necessary framework for individuals to collectively assert and protect their digital rights, making these constitutional provisions a lived reality.
5.2. Evaluation of Current Policies in the Context of Data Cooperatives
6. Recommendations for Implementation
7. Governments’ Role and Beyond
8. Addressing Key Considerations in Data Cooperative Implementation
8.1. Risks and Limitations of Data Cooperatives
8.2. Interconnected Data Governance
8.3. The Global North–South Divide
8.4. The Role of Political Agency
Conflicts of Interest
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|Market Concentration||The network effects, economies of scale, and lock-in effects experienced by large technology companies have led to an increasing concentration of digital resources and capabilities. This creates a barrier for new entrants, particularly SMEs and small communities, stifling competition, and innovation.|
|Digital Exclusion||Due to the monopolistic nature of the digital landscape, small communities and SMEs often lack affordable and accessible digital infrastructure and resources, leading to digital exclusion and perpetuating inequality.|
|Many small communities and SMEs lack robust data governance structures and open standards, making it difficult for them to harness the full potential of data-driven insights and decision-making.|
|The existing concentration of resources and capabilities in the digital landscape contributes to a skills gap in small communities and SMEs, limiting their ability to participate in the digital economy and adapt to technological advancements.|
|The increasing influence of AI-driven decision-making and the dominance of a few major players in the digital landscape undermine the self-determination of small communities and SMEs, restricting their ability to shape their digital futures through data sovereignty .|
|Case Study 1:|
Mobile Money in Africa
|M-Pesa, a mobile money platform launched in Kenya, revolutionized financial inclusion by providing affordable, accessible, and secure digital financial services to millions of unbanked individuals [60,61,62]. This example illustrates the transformative potential of a digital platform that effectively empowers small communities and businesses. However, the challenge remains to extend the benefits of such platforms to other sectors, including education, healthcare, and supply chain management, by establishing data cooperatives and adopting open standards [63,64].|
|Case Study 2:|
|eKutir [65,66], a social enterprise in India, leverages digital technologies to empower smallholder farmers through data-driven agricultural advice, access to finance, and market linkages. By pooling data and resources from various stakeholders, eKutir demonstrates the potential of a data cooperative to drive sustainable development in rural communities. Yet, scalability and replicability of this model require supportive policies and a robust digital governance framework [67,68]|
|Case Study 3:|
Management in Africa
|Farmerline , a Ghanaian agriculture technology company, provides smallholder farmers with timely and accurate agricultural information through mobile technology. By pooling data from various sources, Farmerline exemplifies the potential of data cooperatives to drive sustainable development and food security in rural areas. To scale and replicate this model, supportive policies and a strong digital governance framework are essential, along with financial support from international partners [69,70].|
|Case Study 4:|
Decentralized Renewable Energy in Asia
|SOLshare , a peer-to-peer energy trading platform in Bangladesh, enables rural communities to access affordable, clean energy by connecting solar home systems in a decentralized network. The platform exemplifies the transformative potential of data cooperatives in promoting sustainable development. Nevertheless, the broader adoption of such models requires the development of open standards, APIs, and legal frameworks that support data sharing and collaboration [72,73].|
|Case Study 5:|
Fintech for Financial
in South America
|Nubank , a Brazilian digital bank, has successfully expanded access to financial services for millions of underserved individuals in the region. By leveraging digital technologies and data-driven solutions, Nubank illustrates the potential of innovative platforms to empower small communities and businesses. Further development of data cooperatives in this sector can facilitate better credit access and risk assessment for SMEs, requiring supportive policies and collaboration between stakeholders .|
|Case Study 6:|
Telemedicine in Asia
|Halodoc , an Indonesian telemedicine platform, connects patients in remote areas with healthcare professionals through digital consultations, improving access to quality healthcare services. This initiative demonstrates the value of digital platforms in addressing critical challenges faced by rural communities. The expansion of such platforms, combined with the establishment of data cooperatives, can empower local communities and healthcare providers to make more informed decisions. However, this requires the development of robust data governance structures and open standards [77,78].|
|Case Study 7:|
Community Networks in Africa (South Africa’s Zenzeleni)
|Zenzeleni [79,80], a community-owned telecommunications network in South Africa, provides affordable internet access to rural communities by leveraging cooperative ownership and management . The initiative highlights the importance of local ownership and collaboration in bridging the digital divide. However, regulatory barriers and limited resources impede the expansion of such initiatives, calling for policy interventions and financial support from G20 countries [82,83].|
|Case Study 8:|
in Bavaria, Germany
|GemeinWerk  proposed the first construction data cooperative in Munich, Germany. The case study of this Bavarian Construction Data Cooperative, which was launched by the Bavarian Construction Industry Association and GemeinWerk Ventures and will be operated by cooperative members, aims to provide small and medium-sized enterprises in the construction industry with access to shared services and construction data via a digital collaborative platform and data cooperative. This platform improves collaboration and organization within the construction value chain. The project primarily targets governance innovations to intensify industry collaboration, enable trust-based data sharing among stakeholders, and create a pre-competitive space of trust that drives productivity and innovation among SMEs through ecosystem collaboration.|
|Case Study 9:|
Smart City Initiatives in Europe
(Barcelona, Spain and Salus Coop, Spain)
|Barcelona’s smart city initiatives [84,85,86] leverage digital technologies and data-driven solutions to improve urban services and enhance the quality of life for its residents. By utilizing data from various sources, such as sensors and citizen feedback, the city has implemented projects related to transportation, waste management, and energy efficiency. This case study demonstrates the potential of data cooperatives and digital federation platforms to facilitate collaboration among stakeholders in urban environments, i.e., Salus Coop [10,20,38,49]. However, the expansion of such initiatives requires the development of open standards, robust data governance structures, and the active involvement of citizens in decision-making processes as the case of Barcelona has shown reverting the technocratic approach to smart city paradigm [87,88,89,90].|
|Case Study 10:|
Ride-hailing platform initiative.
(Driver’s Seat, USA)
|Driver’s Seat Cooperative  is a driver owned cooperative that operates in a number of cities in the US. It enables gig-economy workers working in the ride-hailing sector to collect, pool and analyze data collected on a smartphone whilst undertaking work for ride-hailing platforms such as Uber and Lyft. The pooled data allows insights to be fed back to members so that they can optimize their incomes. The cooperative also sells data and insights to city agencies to enable better policy decisions with the profits from sales being redistributed back to members.|
Encourage the establishment of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives
Develop and harmonize supportive policies and legal frameworks
Develop and harmonize supportive policies and legal frameworks
Facilitate access to funding and resources
Strengthen capacity building
and skills development
Foster international cooperation and knowledge sharing
Establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms
|Policy Harmonization||Encourage member countries to develop and align policies that promote digital inclusion, support the establishment of data cooperatives, and foster a more equitable digital economy. This can include measures such as incentives for SMEs to participate in cooperatives and the adoption of open standards and APIs.|
|Financial Support||Facilitate access to funding for the development and implementation of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives, particularly in regions where resources are scarce. This can include grants, low-interest loans, or other financial instruments that help kickstart these initiatives.|
|Capacity Building||Support capacity building and skills development programs for small communities and SMEs, empowering them to participate in the digital economy and make effective use of digital resources. This may involve collaborating with international organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, and the private sector to develop and deliver relevant training programs. This could include using the existing knowledge in established and flagship co-operative groups (i.e., Mondragon ) to leverage through this organizational model further implementations in the current digital economy and society.|
|Knowledge Sharing||Promote knowledge sharing and the exchange of best practices among member countries regarding the implementation of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives. This can help identify effective models and strategies that can be adapted and scaled across different contexts.|
|International Cooperation||Foster international cooperation and partnerships to support the development of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives, including collaboration with multilateral organizations, regional development banks, and other stakeholders.|
|Monitoring and Evaluation||Establish mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the impact of digital federation platforms and data cooperatives on small communities and SMEs. This can help to identify areas for improvement and ensure that these initiatives are effectively contributing to the achievement of SDGs 8, 9, and 11.|
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© 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Bühler, M.M.; Calzada, I.; Cane, I.; Jelinek, T.; Kapoor, A.; Mannan, M.; Mehta, S.; Mookerje, V.; Nübel, K.; Pentland, A.; et al. Unlocking the Power of Digital Commons: Data Cooperatives as a Pathway for Data Sovereign, Innovative and Equitable Digital Communities. Digital 2023, 3, 146-171. https://doi.org/10.3390/digital3030011
Bühler MM, Calzada I, Cane I, Jelinek T, Kapoor A, Mannan M, Mehta S, Mookerje V, Nübel K, Pentland A, et al. Unlocking the Power of Digital Commons: Data Cooperatives as a Pathway for Data Sovereign, Innovative and Equitable Digital Communities. Digital. 2023; 3(3):146-171. https://doi.org/10.3390/digital3030011Chicago/Turabian Style
Bühler, Michael Max, Igor Calzada, Isabel Cane, Thorsten Jelinek, Astha Kapoor, Morshed Mannan, Sameer Mehta, Vijay Mookerje, Konrad Nübel, Alex Pentland, and et al. 2023. "Unlocking the Power of Digital Commons: Data Cooperatives as a Pathway for Data Sovereign, Innovative and Equitable Digital Communities" Digital 3, no. 3: 146-171. https://doi.org/10.3390/digital3030011