Some critics argue that commons-based peer production and learning only apply in the digital, non-real world (“building websites”, “building online training material”). The concept, they say, is therefore less of interest to international and development cooperation, which focuses on non-digital environments and “hard” topics such as health, energy or agriculture.

Jaime from Bolivia and John from Rwanda are not in the business of building websites. They are in the business of building tube digesters to support local biogas production in rural Bolivia and in rural Rwanda. They live 6,515 miles apart, but they both use the same manual to build the tank. It is one of 822 open online articles packed with practical production know-ledge on the knowledge commons platform energypedia. The platform’s vision is “a world of free knowledge exchange and mutual learning on renewable energies in which everyone has access to sustainable energy sources.”

Building a tube digester based on specific needs of local communities is a concept that dates back to the “appropriate technologies” movement. But now, global and open peer-learning can be unleashed on top of it. Anyone, including Jaime, John, and numerous others, can tinker with and improve the designs of tube digesters.

How peer-to-peer learning advances global transformation

International development cooperation tries to trigger and support sustainable human development by catalyzing transformation processes worldwide. This is often described as “capacity development”. Capacity development is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as “the process whereby people, organisations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time”.

Hence, sustainable learning and transformation is at the core of sustainable capacity development. This is what the learning processes around commons-based peer production are all about. Here we “find evidence of learning in collective action and/or behavioral change in groups rather than a psychological process in individuals” ( 2013: 73).

Such a step-up from simply increasing the knowledge of individuals to action and sustained behavioral change on the level of communities and organizations is one of the thorniest issues inherent in both adult education and capacity development. Learning modes and principles of open, commons-based peer-production therefor have the potential to provide the “gold standard” of enhancing future skills, competencies, connections, capacities of people and their organisations on a global scale. In short: peer-to-peer learning around open, commons-based peer-production is a game changer in international development cooperation.

This becomes clear when looking at the principles of implementing capacity development, which are empowerment, local adaptability, ownership, participation, value creation, scalability, decentralization and sustainability.

Here are some of the reasons why commons-based peer learning and peer-production has the potential to become a key tool to advance core principles of sustainable capacity development 1:


Empowerment, Ownership and Sustainability: Why commons-based peer learning and peer-production can become a key tool to advance core principles of sustainable capacity development


Empowerment and local adaptability: Learners can fully shape and control their learning process, setting and resources, which allows for further change as well as for easy adaption to local circumstances. Producers control their joint production systems. For example, a school IT admin in Uganda is able to localise learning software and learning material and provide it in local language.

Ownership: Learners and their institutions coown the commons-based learning setting and its resources. All of them have equal and free access to learning and support from peers. Likewise, producers own the commons-based production setting. For example, the producers of the biogas production plants mentioned above co-own the technology blueprints with the global community.

Participation: Learners and producers fully participate in a commons-based learning environment. For example, every author of a Wikipedia article is part of a joint and collaborative editing process.

Value creation/Benefit creation: Values created through peer learning and production include knowledge distribution, monetary value, recognition, trust, satisfaction and the personal and social value of the learning process itself. Learners and producers have the freedom to define and shape their metrics of such value creation or benefit creation – according to the rules of the respective commons and according to their core motivations.

Scalability and decentralisation: Learners and providers of peer learning as well as peer-producers have the ability to scale to the global level and at the same time decentralize the learning and production process to the local level. This can be achieved through modular designs, cocreation oriented methods and open licensing. One example are massive open online courses, but also the development of the Linux operating system in different flavors and languages by tens of thousands of software developers.

Sustainability: The availability of the learning process and learning resources as a commons for future learners is one of the key factors that adds to the sustainability of peer learning. Secondly, sustained ‘learning by doing’ in peer communities fosters durable capacities to cope with change. Finally, commons-based models of operation have proven to be quite flexible and robust because of their open and participatory governance options (see Wikipedia). This allows for a perpetuation of decentralized learning and corresponding peer production systems.


Any questions on the issue above? Or answers? Please comment below!


About  ‘learning by sharing’

This blog is part of a series of 10 questions that I have extracted of my article “Learning by Sharing  – „How global communities cultivate skills and capacity through peer-production of knowledge“. The piece has been released in June  as part of the GIZ Online- Series „10 trends in open innovation. How to leverage social media for new forms of cooperation“. It discusses the following issues:  Sustainable human development needs solutions that scale, empower, benefit, and increase ownership. Peer-to-peer learning is a potential game changer: the trick is to build learning processes around open, commons-based peer production. Only then may one achieve more freedom to know, more appropriation of tacit knowledge, more self-sustainability of demand-driven learning systems, and more ownership. In addition, the inherent fairness of an open “knowledge commons” provides opportunities for unfettered open innovation and the scaling up of development solutions. Commons-based peer learning offers a trigger to enhance skills, competencies, connections, capacities, and the agency of people and their organisations on a global scale – from the global peer-to-peer university to the community of biogas digesters producers. It provides the freedom to learn – by sharing the world’s wealth of knowledge.

–> Article on the Alumniportal / Group on “Digital Society”:

–> Article personal blog – Here, you can comment, “like it” or RSS it there as well

Previous Questions:

What makes learning communities self-governed & fun? – Question 4 of 10 on ‚learning by sharing’
How to build learning communities, that work peer-to-peer? – Question 3 of 10 on ‚learning by sharing’
What makes people share knowledge? – Question 2 of 10 on ‚learning by sharing’
– What is commons-based peer learning? – Question 1 of 10 on ‚learning by sharing’

Further readings? Here.

Note: This text was first published on the blog of Balthas Seibold at the Alumniportal Germany ( Check the blog ( register or login first). All blog entries represent the personal views and ideas of Balthas Seibold.

  1. For more, see Seibold 2009: 264-265, Benkler 2006: 60, 112 & „Golden Rules for Successful Partnerships – Design Principles“ of BMZ of 2008 – German original: „Goldene Regeln für eine erfolgreiche Partnerschaft – Die Gestaltungsprinzipien“
  1. pdai says:

    Building that collaboration may be difficult for some people. so the project that will be built will be constrained at that point

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