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How to Regain Control of the Digital Economy: International Conference on Cooperative Online Platforms Comes to Berlin

Some of the speakers at #TheNewCommonSense

The Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC), the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center host the annual PCC conference #TheNewCommonSense – Forging the Cooperative Digital Economy from November 12 to 18, 2021. 

The conference brings together more than 80 scholars and practitioners from over twenty countries for a two-day in-person event at Humboldt University of Berlin on November 12 and 13. The conference concludes with a series of online sessions from November 15 to 18. Over the course of seven days, we will examine how platform cooperatives have responded to the pandemic, analyze favorable and inhibiting regulations, and explore contemporary experiments with data cooperatives, token systems, and feminist digital infrastructures.

The pandemic has plunged the planet into disarray. One significant shift has been the ever-greater emphasis on the internet in our daily lives. As users, we are rendered more and more dependent on large platform corporations that perpetuate exploitative working conditions, commercialize our data, and dictate the rules of our online interactions. 

How can we regain control of our relationship with the Internet and the myriad of services it mediates? How can we build online platforms that contribute to the commons, rather than corporate profits? A growing movement has dedicated itself to forging a cooperative digital economy, joining forces in the Platform Cooperativism Consortium. At a time when European policymakers debate how to more strongly regulate platform corporations, the annual conference of this international network is coming to Europe for the first time. 

Building cooperatively owned platforms

“Now is the time to organize and solidify the still fragile and marginal global digital-first ecosystem of cooperatives. To rectify this, we must concentrate our efforts on research, legislative initiatives, bottom-up participation in governance, the quest for effective sectoral models for platform cooperatives, funding, and technological experimentation”, says Professor R. Trebor Scholz, the founding director of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium and community-engaged scholar at The New School in New York City. “Gig workers may benefit from platform co-ops today, when major platform corporations refuse to listen to them or when politicians regulate large digital platforms too slowly.”

An increasing number of startups and initiatives are developing platforms that are collectively owned and governed, also called platform co-ops. “When workers own the platform themselves, for example in the form of cooperatives, they don’t have to accept the rules that the big platform corporations set. Rather, they can make these rules themselves”, says Jonas Pentzien, researcher at IÖW and member of the conference's organizing committee. “With platform co-ops, our data, the most important currency in today’s online economy, can be used to increase sustainability, not the profits of the platform capitalists. This is what the future of the digital economy must look like.”

Strengthening cooperative governance in the digital economy worldwide

At this year’s conference, cooperative pioneers, workers, trade unionists, political decision-makers, researchers, designers and activists will come together to exchange ideas about how cooperative governance in the digital economy can become common sense – in Europe and beyond. “We want to develop this network further and create linkages between platform co-ops from very different parts of the world”, says Christine Gerber from the WZB. “To this end, we are discussing how geographically dispersed users in a platform society can manage digital platforms themselves. And we examine which sectors benefit most from platform cooperatives and what role unions can play in supporting this movement.”

Registration for the online events of the conference now open

The conference’s representative opening event on November 12, 2021 will be livestreamed. In addition, between November 15 and 18, 2021, a set of eight online sessions will take place that are similarly open to the public. Registration for the livestream and the online workshops is now open. Participation is free. The conference is held with the financial support of the Governing Mayor of Berlin – Senate Chancellery Higher Education and Research.

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More information on the format and the program

Click here to register

About the Annual Conference of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium:

The conference of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium has been held annually since 2016. After editions in New York City (2016, 2017, 2019) and Hong Kong (2018) and a corona-related break in 2020, Berlin will become the center of the cooperative digital economy in 2021. Interest in platform cooperatives is growing steadily. The 2019 edition of the annual PCC conference in NYC featured 130 speakers and over 700 attendees hailing from over 30 countries. Through both in-person and online guests, all PCC events combined so far have attracted over twenty thousand participants.