The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
The FLOK doctrine image

By Xabier E. Barandiaran and David Vila-Viñas

FLOK stands for Free/Libre Open Knowledge. The name is a generalised abstraction, towards the knowledge society understood as a whole, made upon the acronym of Free/Libre Open Source Software; a movement that has inspired (and made possible, through the development of digital infrastructures and legal devices) a myriad of other expanding movements, from Free Culture to Open Science, from Open Educational Resources to Free Hardware, from Open Source Seeds in agriculture to Open Source Design. The FLOK society is already here, but it is not as a unified nation, territory or state ruled as an economically and politically closed totality. We inhabit the FLOK society in a somewhat fragmented manner, as a precarious but resilient network of projects, infrastructures, communities and resources that conflict (sometimes politically, often economically, always symbolically) with the inherited view of how economy and society should be organised. Under the name FLOK Society, a collaborative research and participatory social and political project started almost two years ago in Ecuador (triggered by an open document authored by Xabier E. Barandiaran and Daniel Vázquez, who then became the director of the project). Its goal was to bring together this FLOK network that would expand and coordinate its vision of contributing to the bootstrapping of a new political economy in Ecuador (immersed in the project to transform its productive matrix). The Chilean edition of Le Monde Diplomatique captured, under the following phrase, the scope of the project and the historical opportunity it prefigures: “Neoliberalism has come to impose the shock doctrine for decades (taking advantage of catastrophes so as to intensify the capitalist system). From now on, the world has readily available an Ecuadorian recipe for changing the productive matrix and overcoming the economic crisis: the FLOK doctrine” (Espinoza 2014).

The term “doctrine”, despite its contemporary religious or even fundamentalist connotations, did not originally appeal to a set of articles of faith. The term (of which “decent” and “doctor” are family members), comes from classical Latin’s docere:

‘to show, teach, cause to know,’ originally ‘make to appear right,’ causative of decere ‘be seemly, fitting’ [1]

It is this “making to appear right” that the FLOK doctrine brings forth, in opposition to the abusive propaganda that tries to turn “sharing” into “pirating”, “improving programmes” into “terrorist hacking”, or “community driven software development” into “hobbyist amateur attempts to write code” (to mention but a few of the widespread stigmas faced by models of the collaborative and distributed economy). It is also to the credit of the FLOK Society project that it made explicit the “fitting” of the new modes of production to the context of Latin American economies and political projects, and, more broadly, to the potential that the last (and lasting) crisis of global capitalism has opened for traditional community-centred modes of production and for collaboration and sharing that new communication technologies make possible today.

The FLOK Society project has been a collaborative research and participatory design process that directly involved up to 1,500 people to promote and create proposals for a social economy of open knowledge commons, focusing on Ecuador but open to the region and the world. The project has made it possible to articulate and define a detailed model of collaborative society whose productive matrix is based on the cognitive commons, shared knowledge and traditional community practices. The culmination of nearly two years of participatory research and design are 25 public policy documents (of which this special issue publishes five, with an additional paper written by Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis). These documents have both scaffolded the collective intelligence and have finally embodied the results of the project. They discuss forms of exploitation and accumulation of cognitive capitalism at different layers of the knowledge society and they also propose viable alternatives to finally extract general principles of public policy making based on a selection of successful and sustainable case studies. Different versions of these documents, at different stages of development, could (and still can) be accessed online, commented on, discussed and reused with free licenses. Most of them are now coming together in a book published in spanish. We are glad to introduce here the Journal of Peer Production’s compilation of some of the best policy papers of the FLOK Society project, in the form of papers that have been peer-reviewed and re-elaborated so as to provide a broader vision beyond the specific Ecuadorian context in which they were originally conceived.

We want to take the opportunity to put the following papers in the wider perspective of the multi-scale transformations that were envisioned along the FLOK Society project, its research plan, and the Cumbre del Buen Conocer (Summit of Good Knowledge) that took place in Quito in May 2014. One of the earliest tasks of the project was to define the public policy landscape and the scope of the research. A journey that flowed into the the summit and made it possible to share the experience of experts and local explorers into this landscape, to draw a cartography of open challenges and to design a collective and institutional route: How should a “FLOK doctrine” be structured? Which are the layers that compose the knowledge society and hold the potential to contribute to new forms of popular and distributed economic development?

The first public presentation of the project (on 2 September 2013) opened these questions to public scrutiny and answers were elaborated in two working groups composed of researchers, activists, public servants and community members. A list of common topics came out of that meeting, which was later systematised by the research team leader, Michel Bauwens, and then reformulated again with the entire research team in January 2014; followed by a final reshaping for the publication of the book. This systematisation of research and policy papers, far from a mere academic or administrative exercise, provides a general overview of the revolutionary landscape that lies ahead. This landscape was shaped by four major streams that pave the way towards the flourishing of the FLOK Society. We briefly picture this general landscape along the lines of the discussions, contributions and the collective systematisation that was done before and during the summit.

The first stream, Human Capabilities, covers the empowerment of collective intelligence, which constitutes the real productive engine of a social economy of open and communal knowledge. First, it is critical to maximise access to education as a common good through the development of so-called open educational resources. These make possible the empowering dynamics of educational innovation, they guarantee access to educational material and open the possibility for resource adaptation to different educational contexts and needs, ages and rhythms, thus favouring autonomous self-directed and community-driven learning. A critical mass of open educational resources is already available in different online platforms, such as OpenStax with more than 20,000 free and open source learning modules available. Secondly, we find science as one of the the most significant human institutions of the commons, a network of communities that (despite its historical commitment to knowledge sharing, universal access and public scrutiny) is now increasingly suffering the performance and penetration of cognitive capitalism. While the scientific publishing industry benefits from free peer-review and scientific production, whose estimated cost in 2008 was around 198 billion USD (CEPA 2008), it increased the cost of access to academic publication to over 260% between 1986 and 2003 (well above the inflation rate of 68% for the same period) giving rise to what is known as “the serials crisis” by which public research and academic institutions find themselves incapable to pay for access to scientific literature, even if they are the main producers (Panitch & Machalak 2005). This is but one example of how intellectual property-driven corporations commodify knowledge and exploit the knowledge commons. However, under the labels of Open Science, e-Science or Science 2.0, alternatives to capitalist enclosure are rapidly increasing; providing computing and communication infrastructures, publication platforms and forms of productive social organisation that make it possible to consolidate open and collaborative research, with strong citizen participation on scientific data-gathering, hypothesis development and the management of laboratories themselves. Free software solutions exist for almost any type of scientific computing need, while the registry of Open Access repositories has catalogued more than 3,792 repositories with more than 12 million documents that can be accessed without legal, technological or economic barriers. Third, culture faces the challenge of the emerging cultural industries that spread homogenising values and symbols, creating semiotic enclosures that preclude re-appropriation, adaptation and re-signification by users and communities. Under the fast development of sustainable free culture alternatives (mostly framed under the Creative Commons set of licences) strategies to make open culture and community culture the source of social life and new modes of economy are becoming available. According to the last Creative Commons report, there are already more than a billion free cultural works that provide an unprecedented substrate for an ever increasing free and open cultural ecosystem. New models of production and the distribution of culture, from music to literature, from art to cinema, are growing worldwide. The FLOK model emphasises the increasing role that free and open cultural commons can play in those economies (like that of Ecuador) that still have production of cultural goods and services as a field in expansion, open for participation and for distributed benefit.

The second stream focuses on Commons-oriented Productive Capacities, it covers the potential that free and open knowledge affords for primary and secondary sectors: natural resources, agriculture and manufacturing. (Most of the content of this research stream is included in this special issue). Despite the sufficiency of global resources, agricultural production and feeding are becoming increasing challenges of the global economy, mostly due to the set of constraints and inequalities in which the current capitalist model is based. The FLOK model for an agrifood system considers the possibility and consequences of defining feeding as a commons, in contrast to a model of agro-business that makes small producers dependent on privatised knowledge, like patents on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and other production inputs. Community struggles against big biotechnological corporations have recovered and re-opened the commons of agricultural knowledge and resources with increasing potential to reorganise food production, distribution and consumption. Alongside agricultural production, biodiversity plays a central role in public policy making regarding the intersection between knowledge and biological commons. The biological diversity of Ecuador (and of many other countries) is being explored and exploited by big corporations to extend patenting into natural resources, to be later used by the pharmaceutical industry (and other forms of industrial commodification of biological knowledge) that imposes huge royalties upon consumers and creates obstacles for further research. Governmental restrictions on access to biological samples is shown to be of little value for avoiding this kind of exploitation, where sampling is practically impossible to control and bio-knowledge already flows on a global scale as information (and not in the form of material samples). Instead, regulatory models of open research access and community-based collaborative management of resources and research procedures can be promoted to foster research acceleration together with the community benefiting. Open design and distributed manufacturing is quickly spreading as an alternative to an industrial model of cognitive capitalism that boosts private benefit of large corporations via accumulation of large patent stocks at the cost of reducing effective innovation and social benefit. The quick spread of 3D printing manufacturing and open collaborative design is offering sustainable alternatives. Finally, and despite the considerable lowering of the energy costs associated with digitalisation in knowledge societies, none of the above transformations would be possible without a sustainable model for energy production and distribution. The currently dominant model is open to big vulnerabilities, centralised power struggles, global geopolitical dominance and ecological exploitation. Alternative energy structures balance demand through increased presence of knowledge and citizen management, together with the proliferation of local energy production solutions based on free knowledge and distributed networks.

The third stream covers Institutions, Communities and Society, and focuses on the new models of institutionalisation, governance, community management, legal architectures for the cooperative social economy and the demands of traditional indigenous communities for the preservation and development of their wisdom. The institutional structure of the social and solidarity economy (one of the papers of the special issue is devoted to this topic) demands an exhaustive analysis to foster the possibilities of this sector, to unlock the potential of the social economy in the emerging knowledge economy, to trigger the potential for innovation in the delivery of social services and to define the role of a partner state capable of promoting and protecting these forms of economy. Originary, traditional and popular knowledge deserve special attention for they are the basis of the social economy but face the challenges and threats of the colonisation of knowledge more generally, and risk the reproduction of subalternisation in the new social, open and commons-based knowledge economy. But the FLOK model presents a number of opportunities to protect and empower these types of knowledge (and their associated economies and community lives) and to reverse their situation. In this sense, unlike software communities (for example), traditional knowledge displays a degree of social and ecological integration and embodiment that puts protection and community management of the natural environment at the centre of the associated knowledge economies. Furthermore, originary communities demand a self-steered autonomy on their management of the dialogues and exchanges with the global knowledge economy that deserves careful attention if we are not to reproduce previous forms of domination that restrain, impoverish and homogenise the knowledge commons. Finally, the knowledge society (particularly its capitalist form) finds its productive centres, its new factories, embedded within urban hubs of creativity, cultural production and consumption, technological innovation and trend adoption, together with metropolitan symbolic capital accumulation and the new orderings of social life. It is therefore a critical task for the FLOK doctrine to provide a decent alternative to the increasing threads of the smart city as a new (and potentially totalitarian) enclosure of social life, and to some capitalist forms of the collaborative economy that span almost all dimensions of metropolitan life (from transport to town-hall governance, from the Internet of Things to social communication). In parallel with the increasing penetration of corporate power and commodification into metropolitan life, the FLOK alternatives are providing forms of effective community building and collective management of urban resources (from co-working spaces to political participation, from the design and use of public space, like parks and squares, to the co-housing and car sharing). How organised society and public institutions can balance and preclude the commodification and centralisation of metropolitan human collaboration is still an open issue, but local governance makes possible the success and expansion of forms of direct democracy and collective management that are harder to implement at the global scale.

The fourth and last stream, Open Technical Infrastructures, covers all the free and open technical solutions that are nowadays available to sustain and articulate the transition to a social economy of open and common knowledge. Connectivity stands out as a critical infrastructural right for the commons of knowledge and its social economy. The problems of telecommunication oligopolies, the centralisation of information flows (particularly of telecommunications in vast parts of Latin America that pass through the USA even for local connections), the widespread mechanisms of mass surveillance and the huge socio-geographic inequalities in access to the Internet are some of the most urgent obstacles to be solved. Successful alternative models, like the free wireless network in Catalonia (with more than 27,000 nodes) or inter-institutional fibre optic consortia are but some examples of how to guarantee connectivity without centralised control. The increasing potential of open hardware is providing new production models based on shared knowledge and social collaboration. The extension and potential of open hardware solutions are still limited compared to the big hardware corporations (whose industrial complexes are difficult to substitute), but boost social innovation, DIY and do-it-together solutions that satisfy many of the needs for local and distributed economies, providing great flexibility and freedom together with the distributed design intelligence and the development of support for online communities. But it is at the layer of software where Free/Libre Open Source infrastructures provide the highest potential nowadays to almost completely substitute proprietary and capitalist modes of production and management. Both as an economic sector in itself and, most importantly, as an infrastructure provider, FLOSS is the flagship of the FLOK society model. It has shown the potential for free and open knowledge production and distribution together with community governance. Part of its potential lies in the recursive nature of software production: the creation of tools for making more tools. When this recursive power is free and open, it is almost inevitable that prosumer communities emerge around projects and make use of these tools to communicate and organise themselves. Moreover, all these tools and the social know-how of collaborative production and governance hold the potential to spread to all the layers of the FLOK society we just outlined above. Despite the lobbying and economic and social pressure from big software corporations, the success of FLOSS is global, undeniable and almost irreversible. A few bytes of raw data can provide enough insight into the contemporary strength of the free software revolution: (a) the total production cost of the 419,776,604 lines of code that compose the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux amounts to 19 billion USD,[2] (b) 98% of the supercomputers and 81% of the web servers in the world use free software,[3] and (c) the estimated savings of using free software infrastructure in the EU economy amount to 114 billion Euros per year (Daffara et al. 2013). All this is possible without the mediation of intellectual property as a form of commodification of knowledge and is possible without centralised control of knowledge resources or distribution and it is often made possible precisely thanks to radically democratic communities (like Debian).

The picture that emerges from the streams and topics we just covered is the landscape of a powerful social economy of open and common knowledge based on the principles of reciprocity, mutuality and common good, which are also the foundations of a civil society and the social and solidarity economy, adding the potential of knowledge as a resource that is virtually inexhaustible and whose marginal (reproductive) cost tends towards zero. However, the full flourishing of the FLOK landscape demands the removal of guarded fences and obstacles that are both natural, or rather naturalised, and artificial. As we saw, the emerging alternative ecosystem demands the liberation of open and common knowledge from multiple forms of enclosure and privatisation (from biotechnology patents of nature to proprietary software installed on computers around us).

The paths ahead also prefigure important struggles in the domain of social and political organisation. Deep transformations of institutional forms of government in combination with new models of governance and collective management are already struggling for hegemony against neoliberal and corporate powers. The adoption of new social, economic, political, technological, democratic and decentralised models face the concentration of power into market-state complexes within capitalist knowledge economies and their combined resistance to change. It is only through the deepening into more democratic societies that the flourishing of the FLOK society can take place. This requires, in turn, the deployment of open, free and collectively-managed infrastructures, together with legal and socio-cultural frameworks geared towards the promotion and protection of the right of access to knowledge. The struggles for corporate and governmental transparency and accountability, the demands for a deeper and genuine citizen participation and the urge for cultural and technological sovereignty are also ongoing struggles that remain critical to the success of the FLOK society.

In this context, it is worth noting that the value of the FLOK Society project, and its doctrine, lies not only in its research or policy content, but also, and importantly, on the form of its development, on the dynamics of the underlying collaborative research, on the institutional innovations that made it possible and the massive participatory involvement that nurtured it. The authors of this special issue stand among the most active researchers that bootstrapped and facilitated a great part of the collaborative production that resulted from almost two years of networked activity. But we don’t stand alone.

Not without difficulties and despite the wide margin for improvement on the challenges faced by a project of this scale and scope, an estimated 1,500 people (from more than 15 countries) have taken part throughout the development of the project, some 500 of which have made tangible direct contributions to the generated knowledge. Citizen participation workshops were conducted in each of the Ecuadorian provinces, international mailing lists have connected researchers of multiple fields and working groups, and dozens of research meetings brought together stakeholders, community leaders, citizens, public servants and academics alike into a networked conversation. The main goal of the FLOK Society project has been the articulation of a process that made possible the contributions of vast sectors of the population that have long been excluded by the dynamic of cognitive capitalism from the knowledge economy and from the political life altogether. New regimes of knowledge production and distribution can be the key, not just for a necessary economic transition, but also for a radically democratic one. From the Ecuadorian context, the FLOK doctrine has sought to learn and contribute to the virtuous circle of knowledge↔governance that lies at the heart of our next democratic revolution.


[3] and


CEPA (2008) Activities, costs and funding flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK. Research Information Network. Retrieved from

Daffara, C., Velardo, M., Ramsamy, P., & Domínguez, M. (2013) Impacto de la reutilización del software de fuentes abiertas en la Economía (Dossier). CENATIC.

Espinoza, C. (2014) “Ecuador quiere convertirse en un ’paraíso del conocimiento libre’ y orientar su economía hacia el bien común”. Le Monde Diplomatique. Retrieved from

Panitch, J. M., & Machalak, S. (2005) The serials crisis. White Paper for the UNC-Chapel Hill Scholarly Communications Convocation. January. Retrieved from