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Government - Written by on Friday, July 16, 2010 11:24 - 4 Comments

Thomas Gegenhuber
Time banking: The currency of the social world?

I recently had a look at time banking models in the UK. Without covering the different concepts and applications of time baking, here’s the idea in a nutshell: People receive time credits for voluntary and community activities, instead of receiving money or no reward at all. So for hour of activity, one receives one time credit. One principle of time banking is equality, it makes no difference if a doctor or a homeless person performs tasks to earn credits – every activity has the same time credit value. Time credits can then be exchanged for services from other time bank members, for services of community organizations, or leisure activities like free entrance to a theatre show. A local organization organizes and facilitates the exchange. I summarize the idea in a graph:

Market and Social world

A paper by Gill Seyfang summarizes the intent of the UK government that time banks serve: “the need for informal mutual support, volunteering and community self-help, to grow strong communities and build capacity for regeneration among deprived neighborhoods.” But I was still wondering, why time banking works.

A concept from Daniel Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational” offers some insight. Ariely argues that we live in two worlds simultaneously: The “Market World” where everything is rooted in the exchange of money, goods, competition and cost/benefit analysis; and the next is the “Social World,” where we do favors for other people, volunteer for charity and community organizations. Ariely has a useful example to illustrate what happens when you mix the market world with the social world: A day care center was discontent that parents picked up their children late. They introduced a fine to solve the problem, but instead of reducing the rate of tardy pickups, the rate rose up. Why? By introducing a fine the day care center switched from the “Social World” to the “Market World,” and the parents felt it was ok to pick up their children late because they pay for it.

My experience with Non-Profit Organization has echoed this result: when you start paying volunteers for basic activities, their motivation drops sharply. So, if time credits serve as a currency, do time credits introduce the “Market World” into the volunteering sector? It seems like the contrary is the case, and time banking could serve as an engine for mutual exchange and co-creation of services within the “Social World.”

Goals and Results of time banking

First, time banking recognizes that everyone is equally capable of making valuable contributions to the community. This empowers members of the society who are excluded and feel empowered by sharing their skills, resulting in higher self-confidence and well-being. A study of the University of Wales concludes that time banking lead to increased volunteering and engagement of citizens.

Second, it has a positive effect of “knitting together” community organizations and people. It creates social networks for people and organizations and increases the spectrum of opportunities.

Third, the co-creation of tailored services and help between people and organizations solve problems.

Obstacles and constraints of the model

Seyfang summarizes in her study the obstacles of time banking. People have problems to “getting people to understand the difference between Time Banking and ‘traditional volunteering’ as the coordinator describes it. While members like to give time, they are reluctant to ask for help themselves.” There are not enough spending options, and you need an office and a full time staff to facilitate the time bank. Finally, government regulations, institutions and social policy is sometimes incompatible with the time banking model.

I want to focus on the last point: Time banking may be an instrument to spark interaction within a community that faces social disparity. However it cannot replace social policy like affordable housing. Government needs also to re-think the top down approaches of social policy, which treat citizens like “problem customers.”

To ease the exchanges between people, some cities, like Lower Mainland Vancouver, are using web platforms to facilitate the exchange. Anyhow, I am still skeptical about this idea, but it seems worth observing its development in the future.


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[...] Posted by webmaster en Julio 20, 2010 Original publicado por Thomas Gegenhuber en Wikinomics [...]

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[...] I wrote a short piece about timebanking on the wikinomics blog. You can read it here. [...]

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[...] I wrote a short piece about timebanking on the wikinomics blog. You can read it here. [...]

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[...] via Wikinomics – Time banking: The currency of the social world?. [...]

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