The project COWERK intends to examine the adoption of cooperative ways of organizing the economy by using the example of open-access labs. The project has the aim of analyzing the adoption of new technological methods in the context of decentralized and community-based production, and relating them to ways of sustainable development.

The network of open access labs acts in this context as a bottom-up coordinated infrastructure, which combines new ways of production and cooperation. In the perspective of this undertaking, real-life laboratories for collaborative work are being analyzed, in which, on the one hand, individuals have the possibility to access production technologies and, on the other hand, experiences and know-how are being shared. The scope ranges from traditional craftsmanship („low tech“) to the use of 3D-printers (“high tech”). Furthermore, open-access labs are experimental places, where social and ecological sustainability – especially in the focus of sufficiency strategies – can be practiced in real life. Especially labs with rather new, technologically advanced profiles, as for example „FabLabs“, „Maker-“ or „Hackerspaces“, are often considered as disruptive elements: the decentralization of digital productivity prospectively seems to finally reach the sphere of materialistic productivity. Corresponding to these dynamics, this undertaking uses a double-analysis strategy, which examines both, sustainability, as well as innovation potentials which are explicitly being evaluated regarding their social and ecological implications. Therefore, the central research questions of the COWERK project address how these new ways of value creation can be ecologically, socially and economically sustainable, how they can be positioned in the society and integrated into existing economic structures in the context of open innovation processes.

Besides answering theoretical questions, the research results shall also provide valuable implications for the practice. This shall be achieved by supporting the set-up, operation and long-term stability of open-access labs on the one hand, and open ways for companies to connect with collaborative production communities in order to increase their potential for sustainability and productivity on the other hand.

The first part will be achieved by creating a Wiki which will act as the window to the research community by transferring the theory into practice. The second part will be achieved by the innovation network „collaborative production“ which represents a new platform for actors in the collaborative economy with the aim of enhancing the transfer of knowledge, as well as advance and stabilize communication and cooperation structures.

Nov 2014 to Oct 2017

Ulrich Petschow, Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (IÖW)