Challenge 2

Governing common resources via digital platforms

Across various policy areas, from medicine to environmental policy, there is a trend towards establishing new digital infrastructures to govern common (pool) resources. This can take the form of establishing of databases of administrative or research data, monitoring infrastructures, data protection measures, as well as creating quality assurance procedures to enhance transparency, sharing and transferring knowledge across parties, and/or coordinating activities. Such digital platforms are often 'clearing house mechanisms' where different stakeholders interact and exchange information. At the same time, because of the emphasis that commons place on collective ownership and control, commons arrangements are increasingly seen as a way to address the power asymmetries between large, state and corporate data users on the one hand, and citizens on the other. These concepts of ownership and control, however, do not always map onto concepts and instruments in the legal domain. The legal concept of ownership, for example, is traditionally linked to a physical object and to data or information as such. As the applicability of ownership principles to data is already disputed, the follow-up question whether these principles need reform is even more contested.

While some authors also see the creation of commons explicitly as a way to resist ‘the prevailing capitalist economy’ (Birkinbine 2018: 291; for overviews see Purtova 2017), it is a fallacy to believe that we can simply transpose the design principles and the instruments and approaches of governance that were developed for physical commons to digital commons (Prainsack 2019). Digital data are multiple in that they can be in several places at the same time, and that typically leave traces even when they are “deleted”. Against this backdrop, what does it mean to build and govern common resources via digital platforms? What kind of digital infrastructures are needed to increase equity in access and use? Do these infrastructures comply with principles of copyright and ownership-protection? How does the governance of common resources through digital commons shape knowledge production, and who should profit from this production? Is it appropriate to exempt infrastructure-providers from liability for illegal content on the platform and if so under which conditions? What are the specificities of different policy areas and how can digital infrastructures account for those differences? What can existing systems of physical commons (e.g. community gardens or other joint spaces in cities) - as instances of “deep democracy” - teach us about the governance of digital commons? In sum, how can commons foster good governance of digital practices, if at all?

Doctoral project 2

Host Department: Political Science @ Faculty of Social Sciences

Supervision: Alice Vadrot & Immanuel Bomze

Pre-doc: Paul Dunshirn

A doctoral student (pre-doc) based in the Department of Political Science will pursue a comparative project on digital platforms across different policy areas, with a specific focus on the commons, understood as a particular form of collaborative governance of shared resources (Purtova 2017; Ostrom 1990; 2010; Bollier 2014). Combining empirical case studies of digital commons governance (including genetic data of living environmental resources, human genome and health data) with conceptual analyses, this project will pay particular attention to socio-economic inequalities and power relations playing out in the design and legal implementation of such platforms. The aim is to understand the specificities of governing common resources through digital infrastructures in different policy areas by comparing different cases and analysing the dynamics in the production and distribution of scientific/administrative knowledge and related benefits. The project will also explore mechanisms and technologies intended to build “digital trust” via technologies such as blockchain (Yeung 2019), as well as practices of trust-building beyond those that require material technological mediation (such as collaborative governance, deliberation, etc; see Morgera 2018; Visbeck 2018, Dietz et al. 2003).