Communities of creation and Digital Knowledge Commons


This article focuses on collective and voluntary practices of online knowledge production, called by participants and researchers “digital knowledge commons”, or “communities of creation” [1]. The term “commons” borrows from the work of E. Ostrom [2], dedicated to the analysis of institutional structures of collective governance which allows to maintain the use of renewable but limited goods such as natural resources. The “commons” is here transposed to knowledge, produced online. The use of this term is not insignificant: it underlines a renewal in the capacity of individual, non-professional actors to engage in these projects and to produce, organize and manage collective actions of production, comparable in quality and volume to the productions of traditional organizations, universities or companies [3]. Wikipedia, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021, has been able to produce encyclopedias in more than 50 languages, and, for the most widely used languages, with 10 to 40 times more articles available than in traditional encyclopedias, with comparable quality. But does the word commons used in digital commons mean the same thing as when used to means a classic commons? If not, why this analogy? If so, what do the knowledge commons and the classical commons studied by Ostrom have in common?

P. Dardot and C. Laval [5] defend the idea that these “new commons” are chosen communities (in the sense of Proudhon’s “commune” [6] and of the opposition that Tonnies [7] makes between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft), which can be liberating and the basis of a political action of construction of the society beyond the State-Market duopoly [4], and that it is precisely their interest, even their “revolution”.

But it is difficult to understand whether these modern commons and the ancient commons share beyond a name, and perhaps similarities in the way their governance is organized, as emphasized by institutional economics [8], notably in E. Ostrom’s works on “traditional” commons and on their extension to knowledge commons [9,10]. As Laval himself points out (end of §7 of [11]), the “analogical gesture, which has found its scientific legitimacy in the work of economists, jurists and political scientists, the most famous of whom is without question Elinor Ostrom”, is not explained.

We will recall first what a classic commons is and why this definition does not a priori apply well to creative communities (part 2). In order to overcome this paradox, it is necessary to better define what “lies at the origin of what a ‘commons’ is: the qualification of things, the co-obligation between individuals, the formation of a collective” ([12], §6). In other words: the objectives and activities of the projects and its participants (part 3), in order to understand what is the rare and rival resource that is managed by these projects, and why we can indeed speak of a digital knowledge commons (part 4). We will then be able to ask the question of the specificity of the knowledge commons and the impact of digital on commons (part 5). In conclusion, we will emphasize that these coordination mechanisms, essentially virtual, or more precisely based on IT (information technologies), build the governance structure and the different roles, and thus the boundaries between those who are part of the group, and those who are excluded, in other words what the “community” is1 in a community of creation.

The commons as the management by a small collective of a rare and rival resource

A classical commons is defined by: institutional arrangements (based on uses, customs, in addition to law), physical or material resources (e.g. software, technical monitoring devices), which allow the construction of exclusionary of access and rare or rival resource exploitation mechanisms [2]. The project is to have a sustainable exploitation of this resource, thus to manage collectively the withdrawals on the resource.

Being able to collectively manage a resource is remarkable, and this is what makes the commons attractive as an organizational model. Indeed, individual interest can go against collective interest. If a resource consumption level is defined within a group and distributed between the members of the group, and if everyone respects their allocation level, the consumption is sustainable. But even a small individual increase can have disastrous collective consequences. And it may be in one’s interest to default, because, at least in the short run, one earns more. This is illustrated by the prisoner’s dilemma, where, if everyone respects the rule, everyone wins, but if one is the only one not to respect it, one can win even more, to the detriment of others… If there are few “free-riders”, the impact on the others can be small, but if few respect the rule, everyone loses (Table 1).

PayoffContributor 1
matrixRespects the withdrawal levelWithdraws a bit more
ContributorRespects the withdrawal level3/32/4
2Withdraws a bit more4/20/0
Table 1: An example of a prisoner dilemma in the case of rival resource consumption

Based on this, Olson [13] argued that it was extremely difficult for a collective to successfully manage a common resource, and that it was necessary for participants to be able to monitor each other, so that defection would be detected and punished so quickly that it was ineffective. Above all, he argued that the larger the group, the more tempting defection was, because individuals were less easily observed (it is costly to observe everyone and the impact of defection, which is smaller in relation to total consumption, is less easily detected).

What E. Ostrom has shown is that a small group was quite capable of organizing cooperation and regulation mechanisms. This is consistent with what Olson says, who calls these small groups “privileged” groups. Above all, she studied the fundamental principles of such collective regulation2.

The majority of the population are simple “users”, who have the right to enjoy the existence of the resource (e.g. walking in a park, a forest), not to consume it (cutting wood). This is the privilege of the smaller group mentioned before, the “consumers”. To supervise the application of the rights, and to sanction, are additional rights, granted to only a sub-part of the consumers. The articulation of rights and the powers that certain individuals have to enforce them, or “bundles of rights” [14] (and duties), organize the governance of this group [15]. These powers are derived from the law (property rights, for example), from usage, or from the control of technologies (barriers, surveillance systems). Finally, as much as the public of users may have weakly defined and porous boundaries (anyone may be allowed to cross a natural park, or a stretch of sea), the consumers are specified. The “community” (in the etymological sense, the group that shares a thing) is therefore the group of people who has an interest in the thing, because they can both exploit it (consume the rare resource) and manage it. This group remains of small size.

At first sight, the community of creation does not fit this description: if we understand well why a physical resource must be preserved and perpetuated, it is less obvious for a piece of knowledge that has been “codified”, i.e. made explicit in a “code” transmissible because understood by others (a description realized in a written or oral speech, a computer code…) This piece can be shared without rivalry, and, with digital technology, at low cost. Non-exclusivity and non-rivalry define what economists call a “public good”, and with it a new difficulty: in classical economic theory, the users of the (public) good have no individual incentive to participate in the production of this good, and we find ourselves in another prisoner’s dilemma when no one is going to produce knowledge, waiting for the others to make the production effort. The consequence are the same: the resource is not sustainable.

The communities of creation’s success appears all the more remarkable: the largest projects coordinate hundreds (Linux) or even thousands of contributors (Wikipedia), who, moreover, are not necessarily identified, or only by a pseudonym, which can be changed. This, a priori, seems closer to Olson’s “latent” groups, very large groups where the defection of one does not affect the others enough to make them react.

If one has to admit their success, one does not see how these projects correspond to the classical definition of a commons: a group that would collectively organize the regulation of the consumption of a rare, rival resource. To do this, we must first dispel the myth of the “free rider”, who would wait for others to produce and make available pieces of knowledge in order to use them.

Contribution to knowledge production projects

Communities of creation are intended to organize the production (or, more precisely, what we have called the “codification”) of elements of knowledge articulated between them. The more the stock grows, the richer and more interesting it is for the users (more functionality for a software, more domains covered by an encyclopedia, more scientific knowledge disseminated). But as the work on the knowledge economy [16] has shown, this stock must constantly be updated, because needs, scientific knowledge, or technologies evolve. The production of new knowledge (what we will call the “flow”) must constantly improve, update, or simply maintain the “stock”. In the classical system of the knowledge economy, and of intellectual property law, a property right is given to the producers of the flow, who can control the access to the stock and are remunerated by charging for this access. It is because they anticipate that they will be able to draw remuneration from a toll on access to the stock that the producers invest in the production of the flow.

We can reformulate the communities of creation’s challenge by asking why contributors are willing to work to maintain the flow of knowledge without being paid for access. Research has shown, over the last fifteen years, that there are benefits to contributing to the production of the flow [17].

In software development projects, the intellectual challenge (solving a complex problem, comparing oneself to one’s peers) and the need to modify software to meet one’s own needs explain the contribution [18,19]. The motivations to contribute to Wikipedia are, in addition to the intellectual challenge, the access to peers to deepen one’s knowledge, or the possibility to see one’s productions exposed on such a popular platform [20,21]. Finally, in online forums, the access to expertise incites to ask questions. The use of a platform as a place to organize one’s knowledge (to build structured answers), in addition to the intellectual challenge, and, sometimes, the idea of being visible in an arena that is not without a link to a potential professional market (community of professional practices) explain why some people respond [22,23]. Finally, it seems that for the most active participants, and the most senior ones, especially those who are in charge of regulating contributions, the attachment to the project [23,24], and the social interactions they find there [25] are at the heart of the motivation to participate.

In other words, and to take up Deci and Ryan’s model [26], intrinsic motivations (to be efficient in these tasks, to do challenging things, and to be recognized by one’s peers) are enough to explain the contribution, even if the motivations differ according to the tasks. Regular contributors seem to have a particular profile [27,24], different from simple users, because they need specific skills (technical, in particular, but also in relation to the capacity to produce knowledge and to formalize it, to know the “codes” of the project, see [28] for free software, [27] for Wikipedia). But beyond that, there is also the interest, the pleasure of contributing, which we have recalled above and which is not shared by all simple users. If a project that is just starting out can have difficulties in attracting contributors, successful projects, on the contrary, have difficulties in managing contributors who propose content that is not aligned with the interest of the project, that does not respect its”rules”. One has to arbitrate between sometimes contradictory individual interests [29]. Thus, the history of Wikipedia is the history of a growth of rules, of criteria defining what is a good contribution [30]. But all communities of creation have systems to regulate contribution [31,28,32].

In summary, the problem is not so much the incentive to contribute as to contribute well. The free rider is not the one who does not contribute, but those who, by acting only in their own interest (trying to impose their vision of knowledge), harm the collective interest (to propose a coherent stock of knowledge). It is precisely this will to contribute that corresponds to the consumption of scarce resources and that must be regulated…

The commons of the communities of creation

Indeed, access to the writing of an article and to the exposure of one’s work, one’s ideas, and access to the peer group, to the interaction that produces learning, are two scarce and competing resources [17]. To make this explicit, we can use a famous expression from the platform economy: at any given moment, the peers’ available brain time is not extensible. In forums, questions need to be regulated so that experts can focus on the unanswered ones, often those that present the most important challenge. Similarly, a topic, an article name in Wikipedia, or a package, a software layout in Debian, are unique (there is only one article for the name “World War II”, even though more specialized articles may exist, only one Firefox package). Finally, a scientific journal only produces a certain number of articles per year, mainly because the resource “reviewers” is scarce. If one wants one’s contribution, responding to one’s vision of knowledge, to be taken into account, discussed and improved, one must have access to this unique resource. One must propose something new, or something better than what already exists within the framework of this project, of this community of creation. The example of scientific journals helps to illustrate that sometimes several communities of creation have the same goal and that therefore access to the rare resource can be more or less difficult… But also that the very success of a project, because it makes it more visible, makes the contribution to this community of creation more interesting and reinforces all the more the need for regulation of access to the rival resource. The regulation of access to these resources is indeed at the center of the functioning of these collectives, of the “governance structure that ensures the long-term reproduction of the resource and the community that governs it”, to use the words of B. Coriat [33]. From the point of view of the project, it is a question of regulating individual interests based on intrinsic motivations in order to make them accept its obligations, its collective rules [34].

To summarize, the activity in the production of a knowledge commons is the construction – the writing – of a shared common corpus (the stock) through negotiation, where each member tries to put forward his or her vision of the concepts and submits a codification of them (the contribution, the knowledge flow).

The users, defined by the fact that they have “the right to enjoy the non-subtractive benefits” [35] of the commons, are then those who access the knowledge stock. Guaranteeing its access may be costly or require regulations, for questions of congestion (it is necessary to finance its availability, the servers and Internet access), and several business models may be used to do so (advertising based, donation based). The consumers are those who have the right to participate in the production of the flow of knowledge, to access various rare resources (publication spaces, peer feedback). As in a classical commons, there are different types of “consumers” who have different powers over these resources. Here again, the powers come from the law (intellectual property rights, in particular), from usage, or from the control of digital technologies: the platform that manages contributions, thus the editing system (the MediaWiki software for Wikipedia, for example, the GitHub platform for many free software projects), but also from tools for monitoring contributors, such as algorithms for automatic analysis of contributions [36]. They build hierarchical roles (Table 2).



Project leader/ Administrator

Moderator/ responsible of an article / package owner




Access to the stock of knowledge






Right to:

Access to the production device






Manage Contribution





Exclude a contributor




Alienate (code, mark, server, etc.)



Table 2: Bundles of rights associated with the position (role), in the case of digital collective projects. Adapted from [17].

The knowledge commons do not therefore call into question the classic, Ostrom’s definition of the commons, often taken up by research [37,33,38], or by practitioners: “The commons, or simply the commons, are resources, managed collectively by a community, which establishes rules and governance with the aim of preserving and perpetuating these resources”3. Simply, regulation has shifted because consumption has shifted, from a right to take to a right to solicit (from a publication space, from a peer…) This shift, but also the specificity of the digital world, explain why the communities of creation have been able to overcome the difficulties of latent groups raised by Olson.

The digital spaces of knowledge contribution

It is not easier to initiate such projects than classical commons projects, for two reasons: their cumulative, incremental aspect [39], and the greater ease of reaching people who are very interested in the project, thanks to the Internet [40].

Each increment of Wikipedia, or of a forum (article, question-answer pair), each scientific article has a value in itself. There is no imperative to reach a certain level of achievement, as soon as the platform that allows the contribution exists, the project can be initiated. It is therefore not necessary to convince a certain number of contributors ex-ante, or to meet a certain sum, nor to wait for the realization to be completed (e.g. a bridge). The most interested ones start and, as the project grows, it gains interest from new contributors, generating an increasing return on adoption effect. The situation is a bit different for software, which requires a minimal level of functionality to be usable. But this suits the user-developers behind the FOSS projects, who are willing to collaborate to develop a new product, because it is better suited to their needs [41,42]. And, secondly, the creation of specialized exchange spaces on the Internet [40], favors the start of such communities. It is easier to reach a group of potential contributors who are interested in a platform project, as Linus Torvalds did when he initiated Linux and recruited contributors from a list in the Usenet forum. On the other hand, it may be difficult to convince new contributors beyond the core group of early adopters (ibid), who may have different preferences than other potential contributors [43]. There may also be competition between different similar projects on the objectives pursued (this is almost classic platform economics). If the project succeeds in attracting these first “adopters”, and still following the model of [39], it enters a phase of expansion, which will require setting up a regulatory organization. But the incremental and above all modular nature of the production also allows the general project to be segmented into different sub-projects (different articles, different portals, different software files, different discussion forums, etc.) A “participation architecture” [44] is built, which also facilitates the entry of new contributors [45], because they can concentrate on the part that interests them. The regulation is first done in these contribution spaces, as close as possible to the task ([46,47] in the case of Wikipedia, [48] in the case of free software). Discussing the task can lead to discussing the rules regulating the task, and thus the project, and advance one’s vision of the contribution, and of the project [49,50], to such an extent that the most invested contributors, notably the meta-contributors, spend much more time managing the project, negotiating and monitoring it than contributing knowledge [47,51]. Contributors also tend to specialize on tasks, roles that interest them and that lead to various positions in the project [19,52,53].

There is a “career” (in the sense [54]), in the contribution [49,23,1,24]: one must first prove oneself in the task of editing [55], which goes beyond the contribution of knowledge, but which includes the capacity to negotiate the co-construction of this knowledge with experienced participants, and in particular meta-contributors [49,56], before being able to take on control responsibilities, in other words, before having rights that go beyond the simple right to contribute.

The digital world seems to favor a posteriori regulation of the consumption of the rare resource because one must contribute in order to be able to access to the peers’ feedback, whereas in the classical commons, the individuals with the right to consume the resource are selected a priori. Neither the rules nor the spaces for negotiation are immediately perceived by the individuals [57,28], notably because there is not necessarily human support for the first contributions. Thanks to digital technology and the development of algorithmic tools for analyzing contributions and an infrastructure for managing collaboration [58,36], the monitoring of contributions and the coordination of the various sub-projects is highly automated. It is notably this that ensures coherence between all the sub-projects in a global project. It is therefore more difficult to achieve consumer status. But, on the other hand, rule-based regulation, managed more or less automatically by artificial intelligence tools (bots), offers the possibility of learning these rules, which are made explicit, and which can be tested several times (trial and error). It is thus possible to learn, and nobody is excluded a priori from this role. For this reason, online knowledge production can be more welcoming to the diversity of profiles than other classic commons, but at the cost of a greater effort to become a contributor, but also of more classical knowledge production projects, where status plays a big role in the right to produce (see the work on epistemic communities, notably: [59])

Conclusion: regulation and community

The governance of such projects is based on different hierarchical spaces, governed by different rules of operation, different conventions, which make it possible to regulate the different objectives of the project and of the sub-groups. We can speak of different “cities”, in the sense of the economy of worth [60]. The control and the selection of the contributions (of the “production” part of the project) are based on the principles of the industrial city (efficiency, science), thus according to their respect of the rules (of substance and form). The control is procedural [47], and the supervision panoptic, in the sense of Foucault [61], which is strongly favored by the digital which allows to develop automatic tools, creating an organization of control, in the sense of G. Deleuze [62]. This functioning is not very different from that of private platforms (for a study of the regulation in these platforms: [63]). The consumers (the contributors) who remain in the project are those who have made the individual effort to learn and integrate these uses, these rules, these norms of the project [34]. Nevertheless, control can always be challenged via discussion spaces, especially if the rule has been misapplied, or in the case of a rule conflict. But it is always up to the contributors to prove their good faith, to negotiate the rule within the project city. There are also coordination discussions on production tasks (of the authors of an article, of the contributors to a software program), which can also lead to more general discussions on the overall project, but not always [64,65], notably because the meta-contributors discuss the rules of the project among themselves, in spaces that are specific to them: Le Bistrot, for example, for the FrenchWikipédia, the discussion lists of the contributors in an open source software project), and which are not necessarily known to the simple contributors (ibid). These spaces are more or less open, in some projects only by invitation, but in all cases only those who have shown their capacity to contribute, and their interest in the project, who have accepted and are ready to defend the common interest, are listened to, or accepted. In other words, the roles of meta-contributor, of “policy-maker” as Ostrom would say, or of “commoners” [33] are granted by the actions of individuals, and are always contestable if one knows where the discussion spaces are, and in the discussion spaces of the project. These spaces are managed as what [60] name “cities of project”, whose aim is to propose ideas to develop the project, to make its rules evolve, and where creativity and the capacity to organize the collective through discussions are recognized. We are no longer in the control, the “power over” of Deleuze, but in the “power with”, as described by [66], based on the work of M. P. Follett [67]. This is a major difference with private platforms, whose owners alone decide the rules of operation. As explained by M. P. Follett, these “power with” activities develop feelings of belonging to the project and the group [23,24]. The participants in the city of project city thus form a “community”, i.e. a closed group interacting with the outside world, with a boundary between those who participate and are recognized in it, and the others [68], in this case the simple contributors and especially the users. It is a chosen community, by newcomers who have made the effort to be accepted, and by the old ones who have accepted them. Its borders are porous, otherwise the community disappears in the more or less long term, but at each moment the “members” of the community are able to identify whether a contributor is part of it or not.


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1This presentation relies on the reading of [8] of what a common is.

2The 8 main “rules” for managing the commons are presented here.

The digitization of complementary local currencies in Brittany: debates, controversies and feedback.

The digitization of complementary local currencies in Brittany: debates, controversies and feedback.

François Coldefy1, Karine Roudaut2,4, Valérie Deruelle1, Nicolas Jullien3,4, Jorge Muñoz2,4


At the end of 2020, nine of the 12 existing complementary & citizen local currencies (CCLCs) in Brittany announced their decision to converge towards a common regional digital currency by 20225. Their goal is to pool the efforts and costs of digitization, to allow exchanges with the same currency between several living areas (especially for professionals) and to extend the use to territories not yet covered by associations. However, the evolution of local currencies towards a digital version is not self-evident. The article’s objective is to study the controversies and the impacts of this digitization movement in the Breton context.

CCLCs are “units of account put into circulation as a complement to the national currency, on the initiative of groups of citizens gathered within a limited territory and whose rules of operation are defined by them” (Derudder, 2012 : 72). Since 2014 in France, CCLCs fall under the Hamon law, which stipulates that local currency securities can only be issued by legal entities under private law that must be constituted in the form of cooperatives, mutual insurance companies or unions under the mutual insurance code, foundations or 1901 associations, or commercial companies with the status of Social and Solidarity Economy companies. These local currencies, backed by the euro, are part of the history of alternative currencies that can be traced back to the years of economic crises (the Wörgl, 1932 in the Austrian Tyrol or the Wir in Switzerland, 1934). The CCLC projects display strong values of solidarity and relocation of production and exchange within a circumscribed territory. Some associations have established “entry” criteria for professionals (non-membership in large-scale distribution, transition to the production or distribution of organic products) to direct consumers towards providers favorable to local development and ecological and socially responsible practices (Martin, 2018). In addition, the aim is to regain control over the social institution that is money, its role and its governance, which would then become democratic. In this sense, these CCLC projects are close to the “real utopias” analyzed by E. O. Wright (2020), i.e. “practical cases of institutional innovations […] that embody emancipatory alternatives to dominant social organizations” and that can be “built here and now”.

The literature review highlights the various tensions generated by digital technology, the difficulty of mastering it for active members of associations, and the renewed questioning of the relationship between money and territory. Of the 83 existing local currency projects in France, only a little more than a dozen circulate a digital currency (including one in Brittany), in addition to a paper currency (Sol, 2021). The results show that digital technology is indeed a test for these “real utopias”, forcing the project’s bearer groups to reexamine their own situation and to develop the desired compromise between capacity, control and ambition, which for the actors corresponds to a process of inquiry in the sense of Dewey (1993, 2010).

Methodology and Fields of study

Data Collection and Analysis

Our survey material is made up of about 15 semi-structured interviews with members of nine local currency projects in Brittany (7 active currencies, 1 in the process of being launched, 1 not yet constituted as an association) and two interrupted projects. We interviewed them about their CCLC project and about the importance or lack of attraction that the digitization of the currency had for their association.

This material was processed using lexical analysis tools (Alceste-Iramuteq), in order to highlight the different semantic universes mobilized by the actors (Paraponaris and Rohr, 2020). This brief exploratory analysis was enriched by an in-depth reading of interviews and “official” documents such as the charters of the currencies and the minutes of the general assembly.

Elements of Context

The 11 Breton local currencies studied are presented in Table 1 and Figure 1. Galleco, in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine, could not be included in our study. In addition, we contacted an actor from the Bigaille, an aborted project in the Saint-Brieuc area, as well as a person from the Cornouaille project, which has not yet been created in the Quimper area.

Name of the CurrencyProject start dateAssociation Creation DateCurrency launch DataStateArea of distributionPopulation concerned (approx.)
Héol June 2015January 2012existing, with a digitized versionPays de Brest400,000
la SardineEnd of 2011Dec. 2012December 2012Project stoppedConcarneau30,000
la Maillette July 2012May 2014ExistingPays de Rance290,000
le Galais2013May 2015November 2015Existing, digital version stoppedPays de Ploërmel40,000
Le Buzuk20132013October 2016Existing, Digital version forecast in 2021Pays de Morlaix130,000
La Bizh June 2015January 2016ExistingPays de Vannes200,000
Le Ségal January 2015january 2018ExistingPays de Lorient270,000
L’Ourse 2017September 2018ExistingPays de Basse Vilaine30,000
Le PezhEnd of 2018April 2019June 2021Existing, Digital version plannedTrégor-Goëlo110,000

Table 1: The presentation of the Breton CCLC projects studied

Figure 1: The geographical distribution of the Breton CCLC projects studied

Résults: a real utopia tested by the digitization

Digitization, one test among others

The textual analysis, a syntactic proximity study of the words, revealed four semantic universes mobilized by the actors (Fig. 2): 1) the collective or the organization around the project, the association, its functioning (class 1 = 29%, in red); 2) “the currency” as a tool-project integrated into a local economic, a social and solidarity project, on a local territory (class 2 = 26% in green); 3) the currencies and their network (class 3 = 28% in blue); 4) digitization (class 4 in purple), which represents only 17% of the classified text segments. Digitization appears to be a rather peripheral topic to the project as a whole, seen a priori as a tool or a simple means of increasing critical mass and reaching other populations.

Figure 2 : the analysis of the 15 interview corpus

The project: to build a local action through money

Local currencies associations actors’ motivations were and are the re-integration of the economic into the political and social, by taking back the hand on the currency, by a democratic governance registered in the statutes, and by promoting its circulation and its uses on the scale of a territory which they defined. Integrating the objectives of the Social and Solidarity Economy, they aim to strengthen social ties and revitalize local production and exchanges, often with an ecological focus.

Digital does not play a role in the initial motivations of the associations, but rather later, once the currency has been created, even if for Heol or Galais, the subject comes up “fairly quickly”. The Breton CCLCs interviewed are all confronted with what they consider to be an insufficient circulation of the local currency: the network of individuals and professionals is limited. Digitalization appears as a possible solution that is explored and questioned at different stages: first as an hypothesis, then as a series of choices to be made (choice of technical solution, financing method, etc.) and as an implementation action. The exploration is nourished by the experiences of other local currencies in France, and by observation and exchanges between Breton projects.

Confronted to the monetary circulation problem, the digital hypothesis

Informing, distributing and convincing users of the currency takes time, as does organizing exchanges and conversions, when volunteer resources are limited. The digitization, total or partial, of exchanges, because it reduces these “transaction costs” appears to be an almost “obvious” solution.

A “solution” to be experimented…

The arguments put forward are threefold: internal, on the management of exchange operations, and external, on the diffusion of local currency (the number of users), and on its speed of circulation (the number of transactions per local currency unit in circulation).

In the discourses, digitization would simplify the management of the supply of local currency to individuals for volunteers and increase its availability. Some respondents develop an argument in favor of a common Breton digital currency, which would make it possible to cover “white zones” in the region, where no association has yet been formed. The interviewees also point to a general context of increasing dematerialization of everyday money (contactless payment, payment cards, etc.) accentuated by the health crisis period. A digital currency would make it possible to “reach a younger audience” while providing an alternative to bank cards, thus avoiding the potential uses of purchasing habit tracking. A third objective, they unanimously advocated is to simplify and facilitate the circulation between professionals “via the online account and the mobile application”. Indeed, the payment of suppliers in paper money is not well adapted to the professional activity for legal and practical reasons (important amount of payments). Finally, the networks of effective circulation of products question the articulation of the different territorial scales: area of living and trading area.

Despite all these advantages, and the initial enthusiasm, the experimentation raises as many problems as it solves.

… which generates a new series of problems and questions about the project

For Heol, as was the case for the Galais experiment, the results fall short of expectations: there are not so many new structures joining because of the digitization, nor is there a significant increase in payments between professionals. The attraction seems to be a little stronger among individuals, new members seduced by the digital version. But many volunteers are aware that beyond the technical implementation, a lot of work remains to be done “with communities or with individual members or associations so that the currency actually circulates on the territory”. The Eusko’s digitization experience has already stressed the importance of this diffusion support (Sol 2021), and this experience remains a model for many Breton projects, and a reference for all (the Eusko is the currency of the French Basque Country and Europe’s leading CCLC in terms of monetary mass).

Digital currency implies new commitments for volunteers (preparation of an application for administrative authorization from the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution, search for financing to purchase and adapt the solution), which exceed the personal investment initially anticipated in the project: the hiring of a salaried employee is then envisaged, a source of additional responsibility.

The idea of simplification through digital technology is then challenged: the technical nature of digital money is beyond the initial skills of many volunteers. The risk is, according to them, that they will lose the quality and the control of decision-making to an external third party (the supplier of the IT solution, the host, etc.) Finally, several respondents emphasize that dematerialization reinforces the encouragement to consume by facilitating the act, and has a significant environmental impact, two elements that are contradictory to the association’s primary objectives.

The digitization project would therefore require financial and human resources disproportionate to the means of the associations and the volume of currency in circulation. Within the association, it calls into question the trade-off between autonomy and the desired social impact. A currency such as Héol has thus entered into a closer relationship with the Brest Métropole local authority, which is financing this development over three years (2019-2021); Buzuk and Pezh have chosen to rely on a European Leader grant over three years for the conduct of the digitization project. The Galais has retained its autonomy but has not been able to overcome the failure of its digital solution’s technical supplier. The Segal has been opposed to digitization in order to maintain its independence.

However, all the respondents noted the essential role of local authorities in the development and dissemination of the currency in the territory, in terms of awareness and legitimacy. They would like to see local governments become partners to accelerate the circulation of the currency (e.g., accepting payments in local currency for municipal services). This partnership seems a prerequisit to initiate a change of scale to be able to invest in the dissemination of the currency to a larger number of members and thus intensify its circulation (Pinos 2020). The place of the local currency and of the association in the public space is then a matter of negotiation with the local authority representatives. And the Breton CCLCs have so far failed to establish sufficient partnerships with them, who are often indifferent to their project.

Is digitization a “solution” to the problem of circulation for a CCLC? The digital issue, like other concrete actions before it, questions the adequacy of the collective’s current capacities  with the new ambitions that are emerging and being debated.

Discussion and Conclusion

Wheras the Eusko was conceived from the beginning as one means among others to pursue a social and economic policy that had been pursued by associations and the private sector for several decades, and that was backed by a proven discourse that had already been widely disseminated (Edme-Sandurjo et al. 2020), the Breton projects focused on the currency that the associations thought would unite them by itself. They discovered that they had to build and adapt a political discourse to convince and bring on board each one of the individual, private, associative and public actors.

Digitization underlines the lack of resources essential to the life of the association, a problem that was already there for other areas of development, such as extending the network of service providers. It re-challenges the projects and their bearers on three dimensions: 1/ Which actors (notably institutions) should be involved? 2/ How should they be involved and what risk does this entail for the autonomy of the project? 3/ Between the economic reality of the exchanges and the definition of a place to live, what is the relevant territory?

The project, through its trials and tribulations, of which digitization is a part, leads to experimentation and learning that disrupt and transform the experience of the people who lead it. Some volunteers leave, some new ones arrive, but most of them keep their membership in the association. Even if the paths of the different CCLC associations are similar, as are the trials they go through and the problems they face, it is always a singular, different collective that experiences them. This explains why, despite a real sharing of experience between the associations, the trials are repeated from one territory to another. Experimentation, in fact, does not consist in applying a “knowledge” and a “doing” to an object that would be given and constituted in advance. It is constitutive of the process of “investigation” according to Dewey and is at the foundation of the exercise of democracy. This approach articulates daily activities and the learning of knowledge and skills, both theoretical and practical, which makes the CCLCs part of a practice claimed to be popular education.

Our work allows us to better understand the announcement of the Breton currency, in a process of investigation that is prolonged and renewed at the same time. New issues, new hypotheses and a new experimentation are envisaged: the need for a double level of circulation of the currency (local for individuals, and on a larger territory, even regional for professionals), the desire to pool the costs of digitization, and that of obtaining greater legitimacy from the various public, local, departmental and regional institutions.

The question of defining the “right” scale is a challenge, a “trial” in the sociological sense, for the functioning of the projects. This resolutely original mode of extension is opposed to the “Winner Takes All” model commonly observed in digital contexts, which would have it that a digital actor can only survive by conquering a sufficiently large geographical space, even internationally. In the case of these local currencies, it is the very idea of the project that is intended to spread, but in no case is it envisaged or conceivable that one association could take precedence over the others.This re-questioning of scale and territory and the “solution” found are classic issues of collective action. In their technical dimension, they refer to the creation of “solutions”, of cooperative platforms that make users less dependent on large technological platforms6. Their governance dimension echoes the question of the dynamics of collective action, as formalized by Marwell and Oliver (1993): can such a project be built little by little, or does it require a significant initial investment to generate support and create a self-sustaining collective dynamic? Is there not a risk that dilution will diminish the interest of the project for its initial initiators, causing them to leave? If the project is a success, are the volunteers of the various associations ready or able to commit even more of their time to a project that could end up slipping away from them? This underlines the tension, which can be found in particular in the management of commons, between adequacy to the objectives of a restricted group that is at its service, and growth, which leads to institutionalization and negotiation of more heterogeneous objectives, a governance that becomes more complex and that can go as far as to lose sight of the objectives of the initiators and de facto exclude them.


Derudder P. 2012. Les monnaies locales complémentaires : pourquoi, comment ? Éditions Yves Michel.

Dewey J. 1993. Logique. La Théorie de l’enquête , PUF, L’interrogation philosophique.

Dewey J. 2010. Le public et ses problèmes, Essai poche, Folio.

Edme-Sanjurjo, D., Fois-Duclerc, M., Lung, Y., Milanesi, J. & Pinos F. 2020 ‘The Eusko’s trajectory. Hypotheses to understand the success of the complementary local currency of the Northern Basque Country’, International Journal of Community Currency Research Volume 24 : 14-29

Lung, Y. & Montalban, M. 2020. La résilience de l’écosystème des monnaies locales en France face à la transition numérique. RECMA, 4(4), 39-52.

Martin B. 2018. Le numérique au secours des monnaies locales et complémentaires, Netcom 32-1/2, pp. 163-182.

Marwell, G., & Oliver, P. 1993. The critical mass in collective action. Cambridge University Press.

Paraponaris, C., & Rohr, A. 2020. Une analyse de la régulation des communs scientifiques à partir des conventions et des imaginaires linguistiques. Innovations, (3), 39-67.

Pinos, F. 2020. La monnaie locale Eusko, une démarche stratégique dédiée à la création de valeur publique territoriale. RECMA, 1(1), 28-46.

Sol 2021 Monnaies locales : Monnaies d’intérêt général. Étude sur l’utilité sociale des monnaies locales complémentaires. Enquête réalisée par le Mouvement Sol auprès des associations de monnaies locales.

Wright E.O., trad. fr. 2020 [2010]. Utopies réelles. Éditions La Découverte, La Découverte poche.

                 Orange labs, Lannion, {prenom.nom}

                 Labers, UBO, {prenom.nom}

                 LEGO, IMT Atlantique,


                        See the announce (in French) here:

 See, for example, the “platforms in common” initiative, led by the coop des communs (In French).

[:en]Do contributors care more than the others ? Let’s ask Wikipedia (users).[:]


Or what happens when 13,000 Wikipedia users play the Dictator Game (DG)…

Article Written by Godefroy Dang Nguyen, Sylvain Dejean and Nicolas Jullien

In those days, the « sharing economy », or the « uberization » of the behaviors and of the economy are quite central in the social and political agenda. The idea that the digitalization of the economy allows people to share and collaborate more easily to reach their goal is actually appealing.

When Mancur Olson wrote the logic of collective action (1965) he couldn’t have imagined the size reached by some online public goods.

Among them, Wikipedia is probably the most emblematic, as in 15 years and only on the basis of voluntary contributions, this platform has produced the most important corpus of knowledge ever assembled. Hence, there is now a large body of literature dedicated to understanding the motivations of contributors who foiled Olson’s paradox.

A first step towards explaining this evidence, might be the existence of prosocial preferences among contributors1: altruism, inequality aversion, reciprocity and social norms are alternatively used. People don’t bother that most users do not contribute, because they are altruists, or because they feel they have more knowledge than others and have to share it, or simply because they feel compelled to do this.

Is it enough to call those who give their time to participate in such project good Samaritans? Do they care more than the average about the others, do they have more pro-social behavior, do they care more than the simple users?

To address these questions, and thanks to the French Wikimédia Foundation and the Wikipédia project,  Godefroy Dang Nguyen, Sylvain Dejean, and I designed a large scale experiment to determine whether or not prosocial preferences explain cooperation in a large digital community, Wikipedia.

How did we do that?

Through a click, this gave to the respondents, an access to a questionnaire dealing with habits, contributions and perception of the platform.

We invited the responders to our questionnaire, to participate also (again through the questionnaire), to a simulation exercise of a dictator game.

During this period almost 30,000 Wikipedia users started the survey and 16,879 finished it. Among those who reached the end of the survey, 13,528 played the DG. For the rest of the article and in our analyses, we will consider as respondents only those 13,528 who completed the whole survey and the DG.

The dictator game

You receive a sum of € 10 you have to share with another person (which, in our case is another person who answered the questionnaire). How do you keep?”
This game is very simple, there is no strategic interaction, so it is easy to implement online and not prone to biases of understanding.

What does the literature say on the responses to this game? Below is the result of Engel’s meta-analysis, which lists 328 treatments and more than 20,000 players.

35% of the people gave nothing, and are generally treated as rational and selfish individuals, non-zero responses being treated as prosocial behaviors like altruism or preference for equality.

What did we found (over 13,000 answer to our questionnaire)?

Our results show that respondents have overwhelmingly selected the equal split (fifty/fifty) in the DG (66% of the sample)!

notre enquete DG

According to the research in experimental economics and psychology, this result suggests the existence of a strong social norm inside the Wikipedia community. So people are much more prosocial than expected, and than in “normal life”.

Is the involvement in Wikipedia responsible for the pervasiveness of this norm? And which kind of involvement; contribution to Wikipedia, usage?

Contributors are not more pro-social.

As reported in the literature review, most papers studied the prosocial attitude of Wikipedia contributors.

But our results show no significant difference between these two populations of contributors and mere users: in both cases the usage and the preference for the platform is associated with an increasing probability of choosing the equal split in the DG.

It seems that even if prosocial motivation may be a necessary condition for the contribution, it is a not a sufficient one: knowledge, time, self-confidence, ability to use a wiki and learning process inside the community (Dejean et Jullien, 2015) are others determinants of the contribution. But in any case, many more people than the only contributors inside the Wikipedia community are driven by similar social motivations.

Involvement in (the usage of or the contribution in) Wikipédia leads to equal split.

The foregoing result leads us to investigate whether the involvement in Wikipedia is the best explanatory variable for the massive choice of the equal split.

We considered three measures of the individual involvement in Wikipédia. The first is a proxy for the intensity of usages of the encyclopedia, The second variable is a proxy for the attachment to Wikipédia, the third variable is the seniority in the community, which can be both considered as a proxy for the involvement in Wikipédia, but also of the ability to progressively integrate norms and prosocial behavior claimed by the Wikipedia community.

The commitment to Wikipedia is associated with the equal giving: the intensity of uses and the declared attachment to the platform, are both associated with an increase in the likelihood of choosing the equal split.

The seniority in Wikipedia is only associated with the equal split when it’s the only independent variable. This means that this variable is strongly colinear with others covariates (as for instance the age of respondents), in particular the other measures of involvement. Indeed, the declared preference for Wikipedia, as well as the propensity to use it in different contexts, is probably increasing with the time spent on the platform.

Personal involvement favors equal split, professional one, no

In the survey, we also asked to the respondents whether they use Wikipedia “for your professional activities”. While personal motive of using Wikipedia is associated with an increase in the propensity to choose the equal split in the DG, this is not the case for professional usages.

People who have an extrinsic motivation to use the encyclopedia (being asked by their boss), are less prosocial, less prone to adopt the focal point of 50/50 split.

What does that mean?

One possible explanation is that the 50/50 choice in the DG manifests a preference for reciprocity amongst Wikipedia users, and this preference has been also highlighted in the work of Algan et al (2013), but only among contributors. Our result calls for considering reciprocity in an extended context gathering both contributors and readers in Wikipedia. The former give time to write and discuss article for readers and the readers give attention and audience to the contributors. This attention is the basis of social benefits exhibited by Zhang et Zhu (2011) in their natural experiment and encourages to consider the importance of non contributors in the dynamic leading to the provision of the public good.

Another explanation may be that the involvement in Wikipedia, either as contributors or as mere but committed users, provides a feeling of belonging to a community, in the spirit of Akerlof and Kramton. This feeling may lead to consider others as “peers”. It may thus be “natural” to share half of a gift with a “peer” when this is possible. This attitude is reinforced because the community being large and people belonging to it being anonymous, there is no way to make distinction among them and to adjust a gift to one of their features. The only in “common” is the common, Wikipedia, and it is that the attachment to Wikipedia, and probably to its valors which makes them worthy to get half of the pie (try to make the Uber users play the same dictator game, we bet that you will not reach the same level of fifty/fifty share!)

1 Among the most comprehensive survey see Meier (2006), Camerer (2003), Gintis and al. (2003).


New: 50/50 Norm in Massive Online Public Good: The Case of Wikipedia

This paper exhibits the existence of a strong social norm in a massive online public good, revealed by the choice of the equal split in the dictator game. With the help of the French Wikimédia Foundation, we have invited Wikipedia community to participate (through the questionnaire), to a simulation exercise of a dictator game (DG). This procedure, standard in the experimental economics literature, has been conducted here on a very large scale, since the number of persons who completed the whole questionnaire amounts to more than 13,000. This has provided us with a huge sample, and has given statistically relevant evidence on the way people abide or not by some sorts of social norms. We have also shown that both contributors and non contributors adhere to this norm, and that it is correlated to the “patronage” of Wikipedia, as those who often use the encyclopedia, or have been using it for several years, or declare a strong attachment to it, are more willing to choose the 50/50 split …
Source: Publications document de travail

REVISION: The Rise and Fall of an Online Project. Is Bureaucracy Killing Efficiency in Open Knowledge Production?

We evaluate the efficiency of an online knowledge production project and identify factors that affect efficiency. To assess efficiency, we used the Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) modelling methodology. We apply DEA to data from more than 30 Wikipedia language projects over three years. We show that the main Wikipedia projects were indeed less efficient that smaller ones, an effect that can be attributed in part to decreasing returns to scale.
Source: Publications document de travail

REVISION: Big From the Beginning. Assessing Online Contributors' Behavior by Their First Contribution.

This paper aims at investigating the process of involvement in open online communities producing knowledge, via the link between the first contribution and the level of contribution reached. While most studies look at the career of contribution after the first contribution, we focus on what happened before and during the first contribution. We challenge the fact that becoming a core member starts with peripheral contributive activities and results from a continuous learning process, as explained by the theory of community of practice. On the contrary, and coherent with epistemic community theory, our results, based on 13,000 answers to a survey on the use and contributions to Wikipédia, show that the future level of users’ involvement depends on the time between the discovery of Wikipedia and the first contribution (negatively), and of the effort made in the first contribution (positively). Implications for management are also discussed.
Source: Publications document de travail