A digital framework towards building online community of purpose for rural producers

Conceptual foundations

The conceptual foundations of the framework that we propose here to cultivate online communities of purpose for rural producers are primarily derived from two industry trends of the 21st century, driven by social technologies: the sharing economy as a form of platform economy and virtual enterprises.

4.1.1 Industry trend 1: The sharing economy as a form of platform economy

The flow of value in the traditional pipeline business model is linear from a producer to a consumer, and this is the model of the industrial era where supply-chain practices in industries have followed the pipeline structure. “Pipeline businesses create value by controlling a linear series of activities—the classic value-chain model. Inputs at one end of the chain (say, materials from suppliers) undergo a series of steps that transform them into an output that’s worth more” (Alstyne et ah, 2016, p. 4).

With the advent of the internet and mobile technologies, a new economic model has emerged that is having a profound impact on the existing business models: it is called the platform economy (Figure 12.2). A platform presents the digital infrastructure and rules for a marketplace that connect producers and consumers. Examples are Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and similar companies that disrupted the markets. The main asset of a platform is its network of producers and consumers. In contrast to pipeline strategies, “resource orchestration is more important than resource control, and facilitating interactions and managing relationships have a higher priority than internal optimization” (Alstyne & Parker, 2017; Cui et ah, 2017; Parker et ah, 2016; Parker et ah, 2017).

Platform businesses create an ecosystem comprised of four components:

  • Owners of the platform (controller and arbiter; for example, Uber owns the Uber platform but not the cars).
  • Providers who serve as the platform’s interface (e.g., the mobile device running Uber apps).
  • Producers who create their offerings (e.g., a car with drivers in Uber).
  • Consumers who use those offerings (e.g., the passengers who hire the car as and when needed).
From pipeline to platform economy

Figure 12.2 From pipeline to platform economy

This notion of platform economy also brings about the concept of a sharing/ collaborative economy, which includes shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods, services and ideas by different people and organizations. The motivation and philosophy behind the collaborative building of value that results from sharing goods and services is termed “shar- ism”. Billions of connected individuals can now actively participate in social development and they collectively have the capacity to solve social problems. Sharing economy may be defined as “any marketplace that brings together distributed networks of individuals to share or exchange otherwise underutilised assets” (Koopman et al., 2015, p. 4). Extant research on the sharing economy (SE) has posited that SE-based ventures have four commonalities between them: focus on resource sharing, both tangible (for example, physical resource) and non-tangible (e.g., knowledge resource); belief in the commons; trust between strangers; and critical mass (Botsman & Rogers, 2010). Researchers believe the use of social technologies, especially mobile apps and web 2.0, has ushered in a new era of crowd-based capitalism that could enable marginal producers to enter the mainstream economy through collaborative efforts (Sundararajan, 2016).

The framework of our communities of purpose is derived from platform economy in general and sharing economy in particular. Whereas the decentralized resource mobilization of our framework is based on the principles of platform economy, the peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and work norm in the community is derived from sharing economy principles.

4.1.2 Industry trend 2: Virtual enterprises

Collaboration can be understood as the act of working together to produce outputs that may be beneficial for all the participating actors/entities. Information and communication technology (ICT) in general, and social technologies in particular, facilitate the flow of information to support collaborative work organizing. In this context, extant research has defined e-collaboration as: “business-to-business interactions facilitated by the Internet” (Johnson & Whang, 2002, p. 8). It may be noted that these interactions are beyond simple market transactions and can be better described as relationships. They could include activities such as information and knowledge sharing, process sharing, decision sharing and resource sharing (DeMattos &c Laurindo, 2015). Researchers have indicated that, in a supply-chain context, “e-collaboration facilitates coordination of various decisions and activities beyond transactions among supply-chain partners” (Lee & Han, 2009, p. 1).

One of the outcomes of e-collaboration in the manufacturing space is the emergence of the notion of a virtual enterprise (VE). A VE may be defined as “a series of co-operating ‘nodes’ of core competence which form into a supply-chain in order to address a specific opportunity in the market place” (Camarinha- Matos et ah, 1998, p. 1). Essentially it is a temporary association of independent agents that may act as suppliers, logistics firms, producers and others to share risks, costs and benefits to satisfy a business opportunity (Pires et ah, 2001). Each of the agents within a VE is an autonomous entity that joins the same to cater to a specific business opportunity (or a set of similar ones) and is free to exit the VE on completion of the same (Camarinha-Matos Sc Pantoja-Lima, 2001). However, from a customer perspective, a VE appears as a single organizational entity wherein the different entities are physically distributed but the management of which is logically coordinated (Camarinha-Matos et ah, 1998).

Extant research on VEs has identified seven distinguishing characteristics of the same: its customer-centric focus, wherein the consortium appears as a single entity; the VE itself owns very little, with resources mostly owned by individual entities; use of ICT to manage geographically dispersed entities; each participating entity contributing its core competency; temporary lifetime, with it being dissolved after the completion of the business opportunity; partner equality, wherein each entity has equal responsibility to ensure success of the VE; and dynamic and changing partners according to the type of opportunity (Hao et ah, 2016).

Based on the conceptual foundations of the proposed digital framework discussed above, we will now focus on the operational dynamics of the same, which will highlight how the framework supports mobilization of communitarian members in the process of forming purposive community among rural urban entities.

Operationalizing the framework: Mobilizing rural–urban community towards purposive collaboration

The facilitating of purposive exchange by multiple rural and urban actors, connected through the digital platform (as shown in Figure 12.3), results in the

A digital framework to cultivate online community of purpose

Figure 123 A digital framework to cultivate online community of purpose

formation of online community of purpose. Collaborative connections of rural producers with other agencies (urban consumers, mentors/trainers, logistics providers, raw material suppliers and government agencies, including micro- financers) through social technologies undoubtedly contribute in enhancing the efficiency of rural production.

Six enablers are needed for successful operationalization of the proposed framework of online communities of purpose. They are:

  • Social - Social factors, such as social conventions, norms and regulations immensely hinder rural producers in carrying out profitable and efficient production. For example, social conventions, significantly discriminating along gender lines, make it additionally difficult for female rural producers to freely participate in market affairs. Virtual community of purpose can offer innovative prospects for these marginalized producers. This highlights that we need a supportive social environment to optimally operationalize community of purpose between rural and urban entities.
  • Economic — Flexible economic parameters are required to operationalize community of purpose. Community of purpose, promoting purposive collaboration between rural—urban agents, has to be supported by a market condition, which has the potential to monetize the skill set of rural producers and generate lucrative demand of the same.
  • Political - Rural setting is stricken with the presence of exploitative middlemen, who hinder rural producers’ profitable ventures. By now, the class of middlemen has become so prominent that they are indispensable in most of the market ties that rural producers share with urban transaction sites. In order to cultivate community of purpose, there is a need for a local governance structure, which would contribute in securing active participation of rural members by bypassing exploitative intermediaries.
  • CAvic — Cultivation of community of purpose, derivative of optimal mobilization of rural-urban entities, can only be achieved in the presence of a supportive civic structure. Contextual policies to support rural—urban collaboration, coupled with developmental initiatives undertaken to achieve communitarian participation in the rural sphere, serve to be crucial enablers in the said context.
  • Infrastructure — We have proposed an inter-connected digital infrastructure to support cultivation of online community of purpose. Contemporary digital technologies have immense reach to incorporate remote places within the parameters of virtual networking. Such an enabling e-infrastructure is required to cultivate and sustain online community of purpose among rural urban entities.
  • Psychological — The psychological dimension, referring to the attitudes and motivation levels of individual members in the community, is a decisive factor in not only cultivating, but also sustaining, community of purpose. It is the voluntary participation of the members from which community of purpose derives its life. This highlights the need to cultivate conducive psychological dimensions of social actors in order to secure their participation in the cultivated community of purpose.

Cultivating online community of purpose attempts to bridge the different

dimensions of market separation faced by rural producers as follows:

  • Spatial separation - The separation rural producers face from market agents significantly contributes to deteriorating market performance. Cultivation of community of purpose among rural-urban communities has the potential to trigger effective multi-agent collaborations, therefore nullifying the hindrances faced due to spatial separation. Contemporary digital technologies act as a potential medium in this context, virtually connecting geographically isolated rural producers with relevant market agents and facilitating effective collaboration among them.
  • Financial separation - The financial separation of rural producers significantly restricts their production capacities. Direct linkage to diverse agents, such as government agencies and micro-financers, financially empowers rural producers through formation of community of purpose. This linkage gives them easy access to financial resources and financial advisory services, crucial to boosting their market performance.
  • Informational separation - Lack of access to adequate information has been cited by many as an important factor in sustaining marginalization of rural producers. Purposive exchange of information and knowledge triggered through cultivated community of purpose immensely contributes in enhancing the awareness level of rural producers by equipping them with relevant information and knowledge, which subsequently enhance the market performance of these marginalized producers.
  • Temporal separation — The time difference between production and consumption, referred to as temporal separation, hinders rural producers in participating in speedy market affairs. Purposive collaborations triggered through online community of purpose can act as an effective compensating force for poor rural infrastructure. Active participation of rural producers and urban customers in the process of collaborative creation, derivative of cultivating community of purpose, significantly equips rural producers to offer on-demand delivery of products, thus reducing the negative effects caused by temporal separation.
  • Capacity separation - Purposive intra- and inter-group collaboration facilitated through cultivating community of purpose between rural—urban entities contributes in enhancing the capacity of rural producers, thereby making them better suited to cater to bulk market orders, without compromising on quality.
  • Capability separation — Purposive collaboration not only enables rural producers to have enhanced market performance but also has the capacity to enhance overall capability of rural producers through facilitating necessary knowledge exchange between urban experts and rural producers. Enhancement of capability, leading to innovative production, therefore has a direct impact in boosting rural producers’ production capacities.

It is only the dynamic collaboration supported by online community of purpose that has the potential to bridge the above-mentioned market separations faced by rural producers. Articulating the multi-faceted issues faced by rural producers solely along economic terms will be a typically reductionist understanding. This proves the inadequacy of conventional economic incentive schemes adopted for rural producers to improve market performance. Although existing promotional schemes, including e-commerce sites, attempt to provide rural producers with enhanced market prospects, they remain ineffective in rural context because of their lack of emphasis in purposive community formation. It is only the dynamic interpersonal exchange, facilitated by community of purpose, that has the potential to economically empower rural producers on a holistic scale.

While this section explicitly narrates the conceptual foundations and operational dynamics of a digital platform needed to cultivate online community of purpose for rural producers, the following section bears explicit reference as to how this digital platform is realized or implemented in real-life. In Chapter 8

we showed how community of purpose is a product of social knowledge management. In the next section w'e wall demonstrate the architecture of an integrated social knowledge management platform, NCoRe, which has the capacity to cultivate online community of purpose among rural—urban communities to ensure active participation of rural producers in the process of market transactions. In other words, we will now' expand the notion of digital platform, as depicted in Figure 12.3, into a social knowdedge management platform, driven by social technology.

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