the social value of shared resources

Brett Frischmann Faculty Candidate Talk
Brett Frischmann
Faculty Candidate Talk
 (Photo credit: joebeone)
One thing lacking in deep structural change is a vision of where we are going. Schools as learning services centers that provide neighborhood hubs but are also in networks could be managed very differently than how we do it now. If we can transition from credential manufacture to providing services, which in a time of climate change, may well mean having neighborhood centers for communities, schools could be managed as a commons by the people who use them. We ripped out the trolley tracks relying on automobiles, the latest new thing. Do we really want to privatize education and let schools decay while we chase the next new thing? Is this what they are calling innovation?

Will parents and families actually be able to participate in managing a commons that they use?
Oxford University Press: Infrastructure: Brett M. Frischmann (from the Oxford website):  "Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources devotes much needed attention to understanding how society benefits from infrastructure resources and how management decisions affect a wide variety of interests. The book links infrastructure, a particular set of resources defined in terms of the manner in which they create value, with commons, a resource management principle by which a resource is shared within a community. The infrastructure commons ideas have broad implications for scholarship and public policy across many fields ranging from traditional infrastructure like roads to environmental economics to intellectual property to Internet policy."
 And these two excerpts are from the Conclusion of the book:
"Shared infrastructures shape our lives, our relationships with each other, the opportunities we enjoy, and the environment we share. Infrastructure commons are ubiquitous and essential to our social and economic systems. Yet we take them for granted, and frankly, we are paying the price for our lack of vision and understanding. Our shared infrastructures -- the lifeblood of our economy and modern society -- are crumbling. The ASCE Report Card for America's Infrastructure is only one of many indicators. Our shortsighted, piecemeal approach to infrastructure policy must change. We need a more systemic, long-term vision that better accounts for how infrastructure commons contribute to social welfare. 
 ..and this:
"This book develops a more critical, demand-focused theoretic approach. It links infrastructure, a particular set of resources defined functionally in terms of the manner in which the resources create value, with commons, a resource management principle by which a resource is available to all within a community on nondiscriminatory terms. ... While much of the book's discussion is framed in economics, the book persistently emphasizes the relevance and importance of values not well accounted for by conventional economics. "
And one more quote:
...managing infrastructure as a common good may be a more effective means for supporting the production of public and social goods than targeted subsidies.  Commons management is not a direct subsidy to infrastructure users who produce public or social goods, but it effectively creates cross-subsidies and eliminates the need to rely on either the market or the government to "pick winners"  --- that is, to prioritize or rank infrastructure-dependent users worthy of access or support." page 111
 Symposium at Concurring Opinions
Author Brett Frischmann has posted links to the symposia posts at the Center for Internet and Society. Commentary on Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources | Center for Internet and Society 
Posts include all sorts of topics but there is one on education, a topic not addressed within the book.  Author of this education post, Devan Desi, points out several things:
"One way to think about any work is whether it helps understand a range of problems. Brett Frischmann’sInfrastructure does precisely that…. As a good theory and framework should do, Frischmann’s work digs into several areas and cries out for future work. One example that comes to mind is education. 
"Education has been a crisis issue in the past several decades; Frischmann’s Infrastructure sorts major questions that I believe society misses in this area. An assumption is that education is a public good. Yet, I think we are straying from how we manage such goods. As education seems to be failing, the United States has turned to market solutions. The somewhat standard cry of government mistakes, lack of competition, etc. fit into one model of managing the issue. Yet, as Frischmann explains, education may be understood as a merit good and as such there is a demand side problem: “systematic undervaluation of the merit good in market settings.” (p. 45) I would add that mistakes in proper valuation of education as infrastructure lead to the creation of an education aristocracy that leads to problems of the so-called One Percent type many decry today (but are unwilling to address with tax reform). 

Recent evidence from Finland shows that taking an infrastructural approach leads to outcomes that we would want, but currently fail to reach. As the article describes:
"Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity. Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality. … "
This approach strikes me as a good example of how thinking in terms of infrastructure, social goods, and externalities (p. 49) allows us to recognize different ways of managing complex societal issues. Furthermore, this example has data behind it. Finland is persistently in the top of PISA scores on language, math, and science. And if one wishes to say that Finland is homogenous, different than the U.S etc. there is a control. Norway went with the American model and did much less well. As the article points out, education is a state policy in the U.S. Some states are smaller and more homogenous than Finland. I suggest that a truly innovative state program would look at such an investment to allow the state a competitive advantage. 
elinor ostrom and our educational commons

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