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Natural Awakenings

Four Degrees of Sharing

Jun 30, 2011 10:48AM ● By Janelle Orsi

Sharing to the First Degree: Requires Cooperation + Minimal Planning

At the most basic level, sharing arrangements require little planning, time or money. They can start or stop almost any time, sometimes quite spontaneously. Many of us already share at these levels.

• Carpooling
• Potlucks or meal exchanges with neighbors or coworkers
• Borrowing and lending goods
• Babysitting exchanges
• Dog-walking exchanges
• Harvesting and sharing fruit from neighborhood trees
• Sharing free computer software or content

Sharing to the Second Degree: Requires Cooperation + More Extensive Planning

These arrangements generally involve a larger number of people and/or sharing things with more value. They entail a higher degree of cooperation and planning and a greater investment of time or money, as well as some administrative detail work, and likely a written agreement among sharers.

• Car ownership
• In-home care provider for children, elders or people with disabilities
• Rental housing or ownership of a single-family home
• Yard space for food cultivation
• Babysitting co-op with multiple families
• Neighborhood tool lending “library” (perhaps shared shed storage or a list of tools each neighbor owns and is willing to lend)
• Food-buying club
• Neighborhood home repair group

Sharing to the Third Degree: Requires Cooperation + Extensive Planning + Infrastructure

At the third degree of sharing, participants will probably adopt systems for communicating, making decisions, managing money and keeping records. They will probably adopt some technologies, like an online calendar for shared scheduling. They may even create a small non-profit or limited liability company (LLC).

As a result of creating such infrastructure, third-degree sharing arrangements often have an identity independent of their individual members. In other words, even as members come and go and there is complete turnover, the sharing arrangement remains and becomes a lasting community institution.

• Car-sharing club
• Cohousing communities and housing cooperatives
• Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs
• Cooperative groceries
• Parent-run cooperative preschools
• Offices, studios, commercial kitchens and other workspaces shared among multiple entrepreneurs
• Communitywide tool lending libraries
• Cooperatives that facilitate sharing of resources and collective bargaining by businesses

Sharing to the Fourth Degree: Requires Cooperation + Extensive Planning + Infrastructure + Communitywide Restructuring and Mobilization

More formalized community participation, whether publicly or privately managed, involves significant investment of time and resources and a more complex system of administration. Taking sharing to the fourth degree might requires getting government buy-in, mobilizing multiple players (legislators, investors, banks, developers, planners) or even restructuring how a community collaborates.

• Communitywide car-sharing program
• Official designation of casual carpooling parking lots and pickup spots
• Citywide bike-sharing programs
• Dedication of public land to community gardening plots
• Expansion of public library systems to include lending of tools, equipment and other goods
• Planning of neighborhoods and housing designs to facilitate extensive common areas and community interaction
• Citywide WiFi programs


Janelle Orsi is the co-author of The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community. Her legal practice in Berkeley, California, specializes in nonprofit, cooperative, small business, real estate and the new field of sharing law for sustainable communities. She blogs at Shareable.net and SharingSolution.com.

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