Open Infrastructures for water management

We are witnessing the outstanding emergence of a new economic model, the collaborative commons, which some have already stated as the End of the Capitalist Era. One of the first analysts shedding light on the importance of these phenomena was Yochai Benkler in  his book The Wealth of Networks. Few years ago I had the honour of being part of the translator team of this book into Spanish within the @Commontrad  project. Leaded by professor Florencio Cabello, it consisted on translating this theoretical essay on the current economic production through collaborative practices by producing a book through a collaborative practice on PiratePad (rarely known tool at that time). Through this amazing experience, I immediately understood that common value generation is so efficient, democratic and socially valuable that would sooner or later supersede current economic model based on close standards and private property. In other words, this is a new reality that will prevail.

The economy of the collaborative commons is burgeoning at incredible pace through the OpenEverything practices.  This presentation of Michel Bauwens is certainly very inspiring and well structured in a path of 9 steps from the new value system that already emerged through P2P networks towards the Rise of the Open Society. A key step is the development of Open Infrastructures: platforms for collaboration where peer communities can share knowledge, code, data and software and thus produce new goods and services based on open standards.

Open Infrastructures have to be developed for all needs of life, but it is more easily applicable to none-material needs. Material needs, like water or food, are not (only) an economic asset but a common pool resource which needs to be managed for its sustainable and socially just use.  Probably the most advance institutional implementation of these pioneer ideas to material goods is the FLOK society project in Ecuador, supported by the government, where the most advance Open practices of the world on such different fields like Knowledge and Software but also Biodiversity, Agriculture and Technical Infrastructures are being systematized as public policy proposals in a wiki.

Water has always been considered either a public good (in most cases) or a private one when it is appropriated to generate economic value, for instance in bottled water. Only at very local scales, water users communities have created institutions that manage water as a common pool resource as has been extensively documented by the work of Elinor Ostrom. The basic problem with water is that it is, by nature, a multi-scale resource: water is used for many purposes and managed at many different levels (local, regional, national, international). It is also multidimensional, its management requires dealing with social, economic, hydrological and climatic data, which is difficult to collect and usually not shared and coordinated among different institutions and scales.

So, what could an Open Infrastructure for water management look like? I will draw some initial ideas that will for sure be further developed in the International Conference on Information and Knowledge for Water Governance in the Network Society next June in Sevilla (@WaterP2P).

As a basic legal requirement, water should be declared a common resource (not public neither private) implying a co-reponsability of users (and by users I refer to any citizen that drinks water everyday) and managers. Its governance regime should be based on the principles of Openness as stated in Michel Bauwens presentation, with a real:

  • Public participation. Decision-making processes should be clearly design and explicitly approved by law involving real participation in them
  • Transparency on all data and information used in decision-making processes
  • Access and Shareability of all type of datasets, models and derived information required for participation

Open Water Infrastructures could be developed as means to coordinate the different water management institutions operating at different scales (irrigation communities, urban areas, river basins, regional governments, etc.). These platforms could be a means to enable what many current water management organizations lack:

  • Polycentric data collection and harmonization in databases
  • Forkability of hydrological, economic and socio-ecological models used in the planning process, thus generating a positive feedback over the information used for decision-making
  • Tools for public participation (discussions, wikis, voting, etc.) enabling coordination at higher scales than the local, like the river basin

This requires of course a new way of understanding management of natural resources based on open standards and collaboration between citizens, researchers and managers. These platforms could be hubs for these different actors engaging in collaborative governance regimes that could improve both efficiency and democratic practices of water management organizations.

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