the changing shape of public ownership

As a community organiser working for a public services union it won’t surprise you to read that I’m an advocate of public ownership of services that benefit us. Every day I see evidence of good quality, innovative, and compassionate work done by workers in publicly owned and controlled services whether in education, healthcare, or local government.

However there are multiple models of collective ownership, and different ones suit different products and services in different environments.

In the UK it has never really seemed to make sense for retail or restaurants and bars to be run by central or local governments. But worker and consumer cooperatives and mutuals have provided some excellent examples of this type of business.

Meanwhile the new economy and new technology are bringing in new forms of shared ownership. A market where entrepreneurial groups of innovators can develop the products they would like to see and then open them up to the rest of the populace to use, develop and expand. The open source revolution has only really just got going on any meaningful scale – this article on Sharable looks at Team Open and their mission to collect and spread powerful and compelling stories from the world of Creative Commons.

I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of this form of shared ownership and the next wave of the internet “the internet of things” has the potential to push this idea even further. A world where a doctor in Mali can download the template to 3-D print a prosthetic leg using recycled rubbish as the raw feedstock. A world where school pupils can download a free textbook from Mozilla, rather than one sponsored by Microsoft.

That’s not to argue that this will become the only form of public/shared ownership but it will become a significant one – and in a time when we don’t seem to be seeing the global wave towards increasing privatisation of tradtional public services it will be an important one.

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