Enabling Citizen-Power into the Circular Textiles Sector – an interview with Lynn Foster

“The Amsterdam pilot team has given some thought to the question of narratives for citizens. One is to do a simple calculation of what CO2 was saved by a citizen donating used textiles into the circular economy, and display this to the citizen in the application, understanding that citizens do care. Another is the use of tokens as rewards for donations, understanding that material incentives can also be useful in raising consciousness. So an additional framing is that spending the tokens in neighborhood businesses encourages local awareness and more cycles of local economic activity, an ‘economic multiplier‘ which increases local resilience and decreases energy use,” says Lynn Foster in our interview which is part of an ongoing “DLT4EU Interview Series”.

We speak about the DLT4EU Virtual Field Lab project where Lynn Foster and her collaborative network together with the City of Amsterdam developed an application that involves citizens donating used textiles at neighborhood drop-off sites whereupon the application calculates tokens to be given to the citizen, based on formulas configured by the administrators of the program, as well as CO2 saved by the citizen.

The DLT4EU programme stimulates cutting-edge distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) for public and social good by connecting the expertise of leading entrepreneurs and developers with real-world challenges and beneficiaries.

DLT4EU is led by a consortium comprised of MetabolicDigital Catapult and Ideas for Change, with direct support and advice of the European Commission’s Joint Research Center.

Lynn Foster is a retired software developer and analyst with 40 years experience in the field. In this DLT4EU Virtual Field Lab she coordinates the team and related efforts, gathering user requirements, providing developer specifications, and consulting related to interoperability with the Reflow application and use of the Valueflows vocabulary.

Sebastian Klemm: Which deep economic reforms do we need to tackle, in order to arrive at regenerative & intragenerationally just societies that manage to live within planetary boundaries?

Lynn Foster: They will be deep! Serious work to conform to Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” is a great place to start. It is encouraging in this regard to see efforts such as the Reflow circular economy pilot project in Amsterdam and other municipalities.

We need to decisively remove the existing excessive wealth inequality, and the innate tendency towards wealth inequality within capitalism.  This includes within the Global North, and between the Global North and Global South. We need to actually take seriously the boundaries documented by climate scientists, which also points back to the inequality problem.

Sebastian Klemm: What are the societal and environmental challenges that your particular DLT4EU Virtual Field Lab project called “Enabling Citizen-Power into the Circular Textiles Sectoraddresses?

Lynn Foster: The challenges are actively creating sustainable circular economies, and specifically enabling and encouraging citizen participation in these.

The application we designed with the users involves citizens donating used textiles at neighborhood drop-off sites like second hand shops. The person at the site receives the textiles, logs the quantity and quality of the donations, whereupon the application calculates tokens to be given to the citizen, based on formulas configured by the administrators of the program, as well as CO2 saved by the citizen.

Future functionality will involve integrating actual tokens, physical or electronic, and the ability to spend them at local shops.  This app should also support a potential plan to have scheduled cargo bike pickup at citizen residences.

The following diagram shows the economic activities designed as a circular economy of textile production and consumption, as defined by the Amsterdam pilot for the Reflow project. We have added “You are here” to show where encouraging citizens to participate fits in:

In order to move from a linear to a circular textile flow, Waag have documented different focus points while working on a overarching roadmap for the upcoming years in this article, quote: “Since a lot of textiles are trashed in the normal bin, the clothing and textiles go straight to incineration. The amount of correctly collected textiles needs to be increased (without people buying and trashing more) to provide feedstock for the recycling industry to, ultimately, supply all of us with products that contain recycled fibers.”

Sebastian Klemm: How do you apply distributed ledger technologies in your project to help solve these challenges for the public good?

Lynn Foster: We are building an enhancement to the EU-funded Reflow project, which is built on top of a non-blockchain distributed ledger ecosystem called the “fediverse”, for “federated universe”. It is an ensemble of federated servers which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other server-to-server using standard vocabularies and protocols.

It currently is focused on social networking using the ActivityPub standard, and other projects are enhancing it for economic networking using the ValueFlows standard so that it can be used to support coordination of circular economies, as well as other kinds of economic networks.  

For the geeky among us, the following diagrams are borrowed from the Reflow technical documentation done by dyne.org: Using this actor model and federation, the actor at the left can interact with any other actor anywhere on a federated site:

The following diagram shows details of the Reflow version of the federated architecture:

Click here to go to ReflowOS website.

Sebastian Klemm: Could you elaborate on how you apply your non-blockchain distributed ledger ecosystem to enable citizen power into the circular textiles sector?

Lynn Foster: As mentioned above, we are adding a feature into the Reflow project (which is addressing circular economies in 6 pilot municipalities). So we are using the federated architecture already created for Reflow. This makes our feature something that can be added into Reflow, or installed as a stand-alone application.

In either case, people using it can interact with people elsewhere who are using Reflow, or the new feature, or any other applications written for the “fediverse”. So for example, the other municipalities involved can use this feature with their circular economy applications.

One can picture how networked and circular economies of any size could interact with each other, in a fractal manner, if their respective software implements standard federation. And future efforts can plug in to already existing economic networks, creating more cooperation and coordination.

Sebastian Klemm: How exactly does your solution enable citizen participation into the circular textiles sector, indeed? How may this particular citizen empowerment be transferred to circular economies of other industries?

Lynn Foster: The application aims to be specific to the donation activity, but generic as to industry.  So it could potentially be used in the other Reflow pilots, as well as in other projects that involve citizen donations into a circular economy stream.  This is accomplished by making the “type” or “knowledge” information all configurable by the user group.  This includes the types of resources, units of measure, and the formulas for calculating tokens or any other user defined reward for donations.  This “knowledge layer” is specified in Valueflows, making specification and classifications of resources, production recipes, exchange patterns, and other similar information configurable.

Sebastian Klemm: Which approaches from your vast collaborative resources of i.a. the DisCO.coop, Mikorizal, Valueflows, and Bonfire have you applied in this Virtual Field Lab of the DLT4EU programme?

Lynn Foster: It is a lot of fun to work in a collaborative network. And yes, we strive to create the same kinds of networks for the software infrastructure creators as are being created for users of this kind of software.

This project is an interesting example, since originally DisCO.coop was awarded with this project. We at Mikorizal have worked with the people who formed DisCO.coop for some years. When it became apparent that there was not a clear path forward on that original bid, they selflessly suggested that we take a look to see if we or others could address the project in a way that better fit the Challenge Owner’s immediate needs. 

Valueflows became the connecting thread in this case. Since we had consulted with Reflow to implement Valueflows, and the Bonfire developers have the ActivityPub and Valueflows experience, all the knowledge was in place to make this a productive endeavor.

Interestingly, we are also now working with the DisCOs to implement a separate Valueflows-based application for their needs. Some of the software we created in this project can be used for them, just as a lot of software created for Reflow and other Valueflows-based projects was used for this project.

Also, other user stories discussed but not implemented for Amsterdam can use pieces of software created for this project. For example, several organizations could go in together to purchase equipment for processing textiles, which can then be shared by all of them as well as others who would pay by the use. That doesn’t immediately sound like the same thing, but could be accomplished by the same software with small additions. One technique to achieve this is that the “backend” economic software is being written very generically, while the “frontend” software is tailored specifically for the needed user experience. This way, eventually there will be a fairly complete “backend” that many applications can take advantage of, only needing to add or modify a user interface.

Sebastian Klemm: Why do you participate in the DLT4EU programme?

Lynn Foster: The DLT4EU programme is an opportunity to help organizations working towards actual circular economies, and at the same time it helps build the ecosystem of software infrastructure being developed for the commons. The latter can be used by other organizations internally and to develop economic networks that can better address the deep reforms that we talked about in your first question.

We believe that we can only do this kind of work by forming working collaborations between groups on the ground doing the necessary organizational and operational work, and people who can provide the necessary software infrastructure.

Sebastian Klemm: In a previous interview, Dr. Martin Wainstein, executive director at the Open Earth Foundation, says: “Currently, intellectual and financial capital is still the primary means for corporate valuation,but more and more we will start realizing this falls short since new companies will showcase value growth and impact through collaboration, open source and a growing network effect from shared purpose. The challenge is to capture this and find creative ways to translate this into financial capital, albeit a more enlightned version of financial capital.”

In how far do you see the ability of being able to add value by collaborating effectively with others become a new business imperative from your experience in collaborative networks? In how far does collaborative capital enable reimagination of economies and may even not need to be translated into financial capital at all?

Lynn Foster:  There could be a lot to explore on this topic, especially around collaboration around a shared purpose being far more effective than competition in creating equitable outcomes, as well as creating the possibility for planetary survival; and I completely agree with Martin Wainstein on that. I have a lot of respect for his thinking and his highly effective organizing work on climate, but I don’t know that we can expect anything like a more enlightened version of financial capital, if I understand what he means.

I fully expect that the solutions we need will find ways to skip anything that would be considered financial capital, with its implication of private investment and expectation of profit from that investment. There are many small creative experiments going on around the world on how to collaborate in production, how to trade with each other, how to pool resources to start new ventures, all as peers.  Sometimes currency is involved, sometimes mutual credit, sometimes direct provisioning without money.

Since Valueflows does not make any assumptions about the kinds of resources that are floating through the economic networks, software using the Valueflows model can support these experiments without imposing assumptions and impediments.

Sebastian Klemm: What particular qualities of the DLT4EU accelerator distinguish this programme in your opinion?

Lynn Foster:  The program’s focus on the most pressing challenges of our time in conjunction with creating real world pilot solutions, are key. I also appreciate that focusing on distributed technologies is a technical match to the distributed and networked peer organizational structures that are needed for the future.

And to cite some specifics beyond those general qualities: I experienced an unusual amount of flexibility and creativity from the programme, as well as commitment towards a result. For example, Metabolic was able to bring their experience with related projects to bear, and spot a useful enhancement that could fill a hole. They worked closely with us to craft something that was not only useful in its own right, but will integrate with  larger efforts.

Sebastian Klemm: In our preceding interview about DLT4EU, Alice MacNeil says: “One of my favourite experiences was with the Venture Teams as part of a Storytelling Masterclass by Hayley Bagnall of Altus Impact, as part of the Barcelona Bootcamp in November. It was rewarding to see how the teams shifted their narrative about what they were doing, from a technology-first perspective to a more social, impact-driven focus. Not only was it fun, but we learned a lot about how to tell the story of your project and the power of storytelling. DLT can be quite niche, and this kind of approach allows us to tell a better story to a wider audience, to connect DLT4EU to a more public and democratic space.

What have been inspiring moments to you personally during both your work together as a Virtual Field Lab team & within the overall DLT4EU programme so far?

Lynn Foster:  I agree with Alice, the assistance Hayley Bagnall provided was very inspirational. Another big inspiration for me has been working with our Amsterdam user team and with Metabolic to detail out the user needs and options for solving some of these. The core group ended up being a small cohort of women who all are focused on finding the best solutions, with lots of give and take, and very little ego. It was a pleasure.

Sebastian Klemm: Concerned with collaborative reuse of digital devices to reduce premature recycling, Natalia Moreno, David Franquesa and Carles Peidró Garcia apply numerous phrases and counts in our previous interview to highlight the value-creation benefits of circular economy practices, such as: extended device lifetime and durability, number of devices saved, amounts of resources saved, savings per refurbished device, number of devices reused.

Which new narratives and framings do you find helpful to support wider transition to a citizen powered circular textiles sector?

Lynn Foster: Very inspiring work. And their data indicates that citizens do want to do the right thing, for example repair rather than replace.

Every year in Amsterdam, 14,000 tonnes of textiles are discarded into the waste stream. The Amsterdam pilot team has given some thought to the question of narratives for citizens. One is to do a simple calculation of what CO2 was saved by a citizen donating used textiles into the circular economy, and display this to the citizen in the application, understanding that citizens do care. Another is the use of tokens as rewards for donations, understanding that material incentives can also be useful in raising consciousness. So an additional framing is that spending the tokens in neighborhood businesses encourages local awareness and more cycles of local economic activity, an “economic multiplier” which increases local resilience and decreases energy use. 

Sebastian Klemm: How will you sustain your engagement and project development beyond the final presentations at the European Commission in March 2021?

Lynn Foster:  Personally, I am committed to continuing to help create open source economic software that can help us as a civilization with creating a more fair and sustainable future. I do this as part of a growing network of software projects and people, where I play my small role.

I am quite happy to have met all the people involved with this DLT4EU project, and hope to maintain those relationships into the future. The developers at Bonfire have also expressed eagerness to continue this work, appreciating its focus on sustainability and on growing collaborative economic networks.

Further readings:

Mikorizal Website

Valueflows Website

DLT4EU Website

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