Fourth sector

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A set of principles, rules and economic models that lead to a legal framework to legitimize p2p, open and collaborative socioeconomic practices.

The 4th sector is proposed in continuity with the development of the public, private and the social (or solidarity) sectors.


Organizations that are designed to function without the need of the State to support their existence and without the need the Market for their subsistence. In other words, contrary to 3rd sector organizations, who really on the help of the state (funding, relations, etc.), 4th sector organizations are started and supported by individual members or affiliates. Moreover, 4th sector organizations do not need to generate profit to thrive, they don't need to offer goods of services.

4th Sector Organizations are designed to deal with complexity.


The term was proposed by Sensorica during their effort to create a legal framework for the collaborative economy in Quebec, Canada. Sensorica published the 4th Sector Rationale document to inform this initiative. This was done in the context of the NOICE initiative.

The NOICE project's main goal was to create a special economic zone in Montreal, Canada, to explore and experiment with p2p practices, collaborative economy, commons-based peer production.

The term 4th sector was strategically chosen by sensoricans to relate to the past development of the 3th sector in Quebec and make it easier for politicians to digest. It provided a roadmap based on the historical achievements of Le Chantier de l'Economie Sociale, a Quebec advocacy group that help institutionalize the social economy in Quebec and throughout Canada. This lead to the creation of social economy ministries at the provincial and the federal level.

4th Sector vs the 3rd Sector

The p2p, open and collaborative economy cannot be subsumed to the social economy. The legal forms created to channel efforts in the social economy are not adequate for open network type organizations that are prevalent in the p2p sphere. Moreover, the governance and economic models used in the p2p economy do not fully map into the social economy.