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Zurich, COMPARE symposium on self-organization

At its final gathering the COMPARE project, together with ‘old’ and new friends, organizes an interdisciplinary symposium on self-organization, April 27-30th. We explore three main practices of self-organization: engineering and automation, complementary currencies, and urban cooperatives and self-managed spaces. In various locations in Zurich will take place dedicated workshops on the different topics, guided visits, public events, and time for socialization. Our guests are welcome to participate in any parts of the program that they find interesting: see a map with all important locations.

NEW: The first version of the summary report of the symposium is available here.

Monday, April 27th

Self-organization from an engineering perspective

Location: ETH Zurich, Gloriastrasse 35, Room ETZ E.81

9:30-10:00 Welcome

10:00-10:30 Introduction to the COMPARE project (Ileana Apostol and Panayotis Antoniadis, ETH Zurich and

10:30-11:30 Research on self-organization at the Communications Systems Group (Prof. Bernhard Plattner, Markus Happe, ETH Zurich)

11:30-12:00 Discussion

12:00-13:00 Guided tour to the ETH’s Flying Machine Arena, for a demo of self-organizing UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vechicles)

13:15-14:30 Lunch at ETH Dozentenfoyer

14:30-16:00 Guided tour in the city of Zurich (on history, urban planning and self-organization) by Philipp Klaus (INURA)

Self-organization and cooperatives

Location: Kraftwerk cooperative, Hardturmstrasse 269, 8005 Zürich

17:00-18:00 Guided visit to the Kraftwerk cooperative (introductory material in English is available in pdf by Andreas Wirz and P.M.)

18:00-19:00 Introduction to the cooperative movement and the case of Kraftwerk (Andreas Wirz, Archipel GmbH, Wohnbaugenossenschaften Zürich)

19:00-21:00 Dinner and discussion

Tuesday, April 28th

Full day workshop on complementary currencies

Location: ETH Zurich, Gloriastrasse 35, Room ETZ E.81

09:00-11:00 Panel: Success stories

Presenters: Claudio Gisler (WIR-Bank), Giuseppe Littera (, Isidor Wallimann (BonNetzBon Basel), Goran Jeras (E-Banka)

Discussant: Jens Martignoni (Flexibles)

11:00-11:30 Break

11:30-13:00  Panel: Theory and the big picture

Presenters: Paolo Dini (London School of Economics), Luca Fantacci (Universita Bocconi), Laura Sartori (University of Bologna)

Discussant: Alexandros Kioupkiolis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

13:15-14:15 Lunch at ETH Dozentenfoyer

14:30-16:00 Panel on complementary currencies and cooperatives: combining the elements

Presenters: Jens Martignoni (Flexibles), Lucas Huber (Jeema solutions), Philipp Degens (University of Cologne)

Discussant: Panayotis Antoniadis (ETH Zurich)

16:00-16:30 Break

16:30-18:00 Panel: From grassroots movements to global change

Presenters: Philipp Klaus (INURA), Alexandros Kioupkiolis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Brett Scott (independent activist)

Discussant: Ileana Apostol (ETH Zurich)

20:00 Dinner and the discussion continues :-)

Discussion topics: Key design choices, relevant questions, transfer of knowledge etc.

Wednesday, April 29th

Self-organization and cooperatives (cont’d)

Location: Kalkbreite cooperative, Kalkbreitestrasse 2, 8003 Zurich

10:30-12:30 Guided visit to the Kalkbreite cooperative

12:30-13:30 Lunch at Kalkbreite

13:30-16:30 Panel: Self-managed spaces

Location: Kalkbreite Room Flex 3

Presenters: Vesna Tomse (“Wem gehört Zürich?”), Iva Cukic and Marko Aksentijevic  (Ministry of Space, Belgrade), Marc Neelen (STEALTH.unlimited, Rotterdam), Marc André Angst (Royal Baden)

Discussant: Philipp Klaus (INURA)

16:30-19:00 Free time

19:00-22:00 The COMPARE Assembly

Location: Hohlzke, Hohlstrasse 612, 8048 Zurich (near Zurich Altstetten station), 

The COMPARE assembly is a semi-public event where locals and visitors will form a big circle sharing our experiences on self-organization, discuss some of the relevant questions that arose during the project timeframe, and draw a few policy suggestions. There will be also a dinner-buffet and opportunities for socialization.

Thursday, April 30th

Day of relaxation … and self-organization :-)

List of participants

Alexandros Kioupkiolis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Andreas Wirz, Archipel GmbH, Wohnbaugenossenschaften Zürich,

Bernhard Plattner, ETH Zurich,

Brett Scott, independent activist,

Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich,

Claudio Gisler, WIR,

Fred Frohofer, Neustart Schweiz,

Giuseppe Littera,,

Goran Jeras, Ebanka,

Ileana Apostol, ETH Zurich,

Isidor Wallimann, BonNetzBon/Basel, http://www.maxwell.syr.ed/faculty.aspx?id=36507226572&terms=isidor

Iva Čukić, Ministry of Space, Belgrade,

Jens Martignoni, Flexibles,

Laura Sartori, University of Bologna,

Luca Fantacci, Universita Bocconi,

Lucas Huber, Jeema solutions, Zurich,

Marc André Angst, Royal Baden,

Marc Neelen, STEALTH.unlimited, Rotterdam,

Marko Aksentijevic, Ministry of Space, Belgrade,

Markus Happe, ETH Zurich,

Maximilian Kriegleder, ETH Zurich,

Panayotis Antoniadis, ETH Zurich,

Paolo Dini, London School of Economics,

Philipp Klaus, INURA Zurich Institute,,

Philipp Degens, Cologne University,

Res Keller, manager of the Kalkbreite cooperative, Zurich

Vesna Tomse, Zurich,

Thessaloniki, sharing experiences of self-organization

International symposium, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, October 10th 2014

The report of the symposium and the visits to the local initiatives in Thessaloniki is available here.

Self-organization is a term that evokes images of freedom and independence, and many people place a lot of hope for positive change in the world on bottom-up, grassroots, self-organized movements around the world. However, successful self-organized communities or networks often rely on a common vision and a set of rules; and unfortunately there is not a recipe for success. Sometimes, a charismatic leader, a crisis, and a combination of diverse factors play a key role. There are also many important decisions that need to be taken regarding the position of a self-organized network in relation to the “outside” world in terms of inclusiveness and compatibility.

Both the complexity and the importance of the concept of self-organization have attracted the attention of most scientific disciplines, from biology and physics, to engineering and social sciences. However, it is not always clear whether the scientific study of such initiatives is supportive of their objectives and which should be the limits of scientific enquiry and involvement.

This symposium brings together two small groups of people from Greece and abroad, to share their experiences on self-organization as researchers and/or activists and try to respond to the following questions:

  • Can research and action reinforce each other?
  • Which are the lessons from past and recent examples of self-organization?
  • Can we offer tools, best practices that can facilitate self-organization?
  • Is there a meaningful and useful way to describe the trade-offs between inclusiveness and exclusiveness, alternatives and complements, inside or outside the system?
  • How self-organization structures deal with pressures from mainstream economy and/or authorities?
  • What model(s) of social transformation is proposed in practice by initiatives in the social solidarity economy and how effective can that be under the present conditions of crisis, globalized markets etc.?
  • How self-organization can secure access to public goods which should be available to everyone (adequate food, housing, healthcare, education, etc)?


11h00-11h20 Welcome note and introduction (Alexandros Kioupkiolis)

11h20-11h30 The project COMPARE (Panayotis Antoniadis)

11h30-12h30 Panel: Solidarity economy in Greece (Karolos Kavoulakos, Giorgos Gritzas, Giorgos Agelopoulos)

12h30-13h00 coffee break

13h00-14h00 Panel: Complementary currencies and alternative finance (Irene Sotiropoulou,  Paolo Dini, Brett Scott)

14h00-15h00 Lunch

15h00-16h00 Panel: Self-organization in the city (Philipp Klaus, Iva Čukić)

16h00-18h00 Open discussion

List of participants

Alexandros Kioupkiolis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Athina Vitopoulou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Brett Scott, independent activist,

George Agelopoulos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Giorgos Gritzas, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Ileana Apostol, ETH Zurich,

Irene Sotiropoulou, independent researcher, PhD (Economics department, University of Crete),

Iva Čukić, Ministry of Space, Belgrade,,

Karolos Kavoulakos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,

Panayotis Antoniadis, ETH Zurich,

Paolo Dini, London School of Economics,

Philipp Klaus, INURA Zurich Institute,,


The symposium will be held at room 107, 1st floor of the campus building of the Faculty of Economic and Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, University Campus, 54124, 
Thessaloniki, Greece.

The attendance of the symposium is open and free but please let us know if you plan to come, by sending an e-mail to


This symposium is organized by the project COMPARE, Interdisciplinary explorations of self-organization in practice, which is partially funded by the EINS Network of Excellence on Internet Science, EU FP7 grant 288021.

We are a diverse group of researchers and practitioners including, in alphabetical order, a computer scientist and engineer (Panayotis Antoniadis, ETH Zurich), an architect and urban planner (Ileana Apostol, ETH Zurich), an interdisciplinary scientist (Paolo Dini, London School of Economics), a political theorist (Alexandros Kioupkiolis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), a geographer and artist (Philipp Klaus, INURA), and an activist and entrepreneur (Giuseppe Littera, SARDEX). From our different perspectives, we explore the concept of self-organization through observations, comparisons and reflections on real case studies in Greece, Italy, and Switzerland. Our key objective is to draw lessons for the design of tools and local institutions that build on social values, in order to invent and facilitate alternative urban lifestyles.


Cagliari, an electronic mutual credit system

During the first meeting of the COMPARE project at the SARDEX premises, Giuseppe Littera, one of the co-founders of Sardex offered us a guided visit and many interesting details about the birth and evolution of the Sardex networks. Detailed descriptions and analyses are available at the official report and two complementary publications co-authored by partners of our project (Littera et al. 2014; Dini & Kioupkiolis 2014), which were presented at the Inaugural conference of the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR).

Sardex is an electronic system of mutual credit intended to support mainly B2B interactions between firms on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia has an area of 24,000 square km, or about 8% of the area of Italy, and a population of 1.6m, or about 2.7% of the population of Italy (60m). Sardinia’s GDP of 33b Euro is about 1.8% of Italy’s 1800b Euro. GDP per capita in Sardinia is therefore about 2/3 of the Italian figure (20k vs. 30k Euro). Although we have not looked at economic data beyond the Wikipedia figures cited here, it is plausible to say that the recent economic crisis has hit Sardinia harder than the rest of Italy. For instance, unemployment increased from 8.6% in 2008 to 14.6% in 2012. It was partly in response to this situation that Sardex was instituted. Sardex is the name given to the Sardex credits as a unit of account, where 1 Sardex = 1 Euro, as well as to the company that provides the credit-clearing service.

sardex_meeting1Figure 1: The sticker used in shops accepting the Sardex currency.

Sardex is modelled on the WIR, but uses only an electronic LETS-like system of credit and debt accounting for any size transaction. Rather than charging a fee per transaction it charges a yearly membership fee that varies from 200 Euro for small non-profit ‘social enterprises’ to 3000 Euro for large companies such as the electric utility company (whose Sardinian branch is also a member). For the moment Sardex does not issue large loans such as mortgages. Therefore no interest is applied to any negative or positive balance at all. It is not clear whether this might change in future developments. Unlike the LETS or even WIR systems, in Sardex individual consumers cannot go negative, they need to have a positive credit balance in order to make a purchase. Four years from its founding, the current number of Sardex members is about 2000 companies, out of 146,500 registered VAT numbers in Sardinia, or 1.4% (Crenos Territorio 2014).

sardex_meeting4Figure 2: Sardex mentioned in popular Italian newspapers.

The motivation to create SARDEX arose from the realization by the founders, who at the time were living and working in Germany, of the dire situation of the world economy in or around 2007 and of the repercussions the crisis was going to have on the Sardinian economy. The founders took the WIR as a model that could be replicated in Sardinia. They were attracted by the larger geographical reach and turnover of the WIR relative to other CC examples they had examined, and specifically by the focus on corporate rather than individual membership. A for-profit company was chosen over a non-profit cooperative because the latter are perceived as too cumbersome structure in Sardina, whose politics are even more polarized than in the rest of Italy, and they felt that this could be an obstacle to the joining by average businesses. The Sardex s.r.l. (‘Ltd’) bylaws dictate that all profit be reinvested in the company, which now counts approximately 15 employees.

sardex_meeting3Figure 3: Members of the COMPARE project and guests outside the premises of Sardex, in Serramanna, actually the house of Giuseppe’s grandmother.

As a final point on the founding of Sardex, it is interesting to note that none of the founding members has an economics or engineering/computer science background. They are all humanists.