2. In a complementary currency ecosystem

2.4. Historical evolution and current situation

2.4.4. Life cycle characterization

The body of experience available from a number of complementary currency projects indicates that the useful life of such initiatives is typically short. It is clearly the case with initiatives such as LETS in the UK and local currencies in the USA. Evaluations of LETS in the UK, for example, have demonstrated their potential, but have also identified the internal and external barriers that prevent them from achieving the desired impact. These initiatives, though effective, have produced only marginal benefits, and have therefore disappointed those hoping that complementary currencies could have a significant impact if implemented on a broader basis. In this respect, we could be witnessing the natural life cycle of experimental initiatives developed in the community: good ideas attract attention in the early stages, increasing numbers of users show an interest and, provided it has the funding to create networks and train users, the project grows. Subsequently, unable to achieve the critical mass required for its wider implementation, the project stagnates, gradually declining as participants leave to join another initiative that seems to hold more promise. Lifespans typically do not exceed four or five years.

Some initiatives remain in a state of permanent evolution or growth, however, sometimes for years, as is the case of the Swiss Wir. It would therefore be wrong to conclude that all complementary currencies must follow the typical ‘boom – bust’ trajectory. Some systems have even recovered after a decline, as with the Argentine Trueque. It is also true that the recent growth of these initiatives is partly in response to the world economic crisis we have been suffering the effects of since 2008, and partly thanks to the adoption of new online platforms that make management of some systems easier, more secure and more agile. It is interesting to note that some of these contemporary systems are visibly distancing themselves from purely alternative cultures and lifestyles, presenting themselves as models for mainstream initiatives to achieve sustainability policy goals. This is the case with the kind of transition currencies that have emerged mainly in the UK. While these are small projects still in the expansion phase, emergent complementary currency experiments are likely to follow their example, rather than that of the old models associated with radical social movements and groups opposed to the current system.