Exploring the Catalan Integral Cooperative as an organizational model for the transition to a commons-oriented economy

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The proposed research aims to contribute to our understanding of the organizational structures which are conducive to the development of a collaborative economy based on the principles of the commons, of peer production and cooperativism. In specific, we propose to carry out a descriptive study of the organizational model and institutions of governance evolved by the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) in the region of Catalonia in Spain, using ethnographic data collected through the method of participant observation.


The proposed research constitutes an initiative in the context of the strategic partnership which was established in 2014 between the CIC and the P2P Foundation with the aim of developing a ‘Commons Transition Plan’, meaning a set of organizational practices and guidelines that cooperatives could adopt as enabling mechanisms for the transition to a commons-oriented collaborative economy (Catalan Integral Cooperative 2014, 2015). Essentially, therefore, the purpose of the Commons Transition Plan is to serve as a set of ‘best practices’ enabling and empowering cooperatives and civil society organizations to become more actively engaged in the productive ecosystem of the commons. Having this strategic goal as its point of departure, the research will explore: (a) the way in which the CIC has implemented the cooperative model and adapted it to the needs of its members; (b) how the principles of the commons are being implemented in the context of the organization and operation of the CIC; and (c) whether a set of ‘best practices’ - which can form the backbone of the development of such a Commons Transition Plan - can be drawn from the cooperative model of organization of the CIC.

Previous work

The CIC is one of the most interesting examples of civil society initiatives which sprung up during the current economic crisis in Europe (Sbeih, 2014). Based in the region of Catalonia in Spain, where it was founded in 2010, the CIC is a network of cooperatives and self-managed projects with the aim of functioning as an alternative economic system for the satisfaction of the totality of the needs of its hundreds of members. To fulfil the purpose it has set itself, the CIC is engaged in an impressive spectrum of activities: in addition to the development of projects in social housing, collective transportation, sustainable agriculture and distributed energy, it has bootstrapped infrastructures as diverse as barter markets, common stores, an alternative currency called ‘eco’ and a basic income programme for remunerating members for their work. In this way, the CIC aspires to be an organizational platform for the development from below of a self-sufficient economy that is autonomous from the state and the capitalist market (Catalan Integral Cooperative, undated).

In light of its radical vision, it should come as no surprise that the CIC has attracted the attention of the popular and radical press, being praised as a very promising prototype of the kind of socio-economic structures and institutions that the so-called milieu of ‘social and solidarity economy’ is building in order to antagonize the dominant economic system (e.g. Manrique, 2011; Schneider, 2015; Shareable, 2014; Troncoso, 2014). However, all these reports, though interesting, have a serious limitation: they do not go into much depth in their portrait of the CIC and so do not provide a precise and thorough overview of its activities and its mode of organization. That is why we are proposing this research project: if the example of the cooperative model of the CIC holds lessons that extend beyond the region of Catalonia, as it has been argued (e.g. Bauwens, 2014; Shareable, 2014), then an in-depth study capable of elucidating the activities of the network and their mode of organization is imperatively needed.

Research methodology

The research will use the method of participant observation (Spradley, 1980) to collect information about the activities of the CIC and its mode of organization. In practical terms, this means that a member of the Commons Transition research group will go to the Catalonia region in Spain, where he will stay for a time-period of about two months in order to observe and participate directly in the activities of the CIC as well as to conduct a series of personal in-depth interviews with the relevant organizational actors. This period of fieldwork is intended to allow the researcher to get a better grasp of the operation of the CIC and of its environment than it would have been otherwise possible.

Expected results and deliverables

In the context of the research project, a member of the Commons Transition research group (Dr. George Dafermos) will travel to Spain to conduct field research on the CIC network, its activities and its mode of organization. The outcome of this fieldwork will be an in-depth case-study on the CIC, which will be documented in the following deliverables:

1. A report (10000 words max.) describing the background of the CIC, its vision, its organizational model and the activities it is currently engaged in. More specifically, it will include descriptions of:

  • The CIC projects and activities
  • The CIC organizational and economic model
  • The CIC governance and decision-making model
  • The organizational and economic challenges the CIC is confronted with

2. A set of commons-oriented organizational recommendations (3000 words max.), which the CIC could adopt in order (a) to achieve its strategic goals and tackle the organizational and economic issues that it is confronted with, (b) to more effectively reach out to the international P2P/Commons movement and participate in it and (c) to progressively produce open documentation about its productive activities.

A preliminary version of these recommendations will be ‘open-sourced’ for feedback by a) Commons Transition researchers, b) CIC members and c) commoners and interested parties. These contributions will then be integrated into the final version of the recommendations, which will also provide suggestions on how the collaboration between the CIC and the Commons Transition can be sustained in the future.

3: A ‘pop-science’ blog post (3000 words max.) describing the fieldwork experience, the research conclusions and organizational recommendations (as well as their reception by the CIC) and suggestions/ideas for follow-up work.

Time-frame of activities

March-April 2016 Fieldwork in Catalonia, Spain July 2016 Delivery of report

August 2016 Delivery of organizational recommendations (first version)

September 2016 Delivery of organizational recommendations (final version)

November 2016 “Pop-science” blog post summing up the experience of conducting field-research at the CIC