What is timebanking?
Timebanking is a means of exchange used to organise people and organisations around a purpose, where time is the principal currency. For every hour participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank, perhaps by giving practical help and support to others, they are able to ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they themselves are in need. In each case the participant decides what they can offer. Everyone’s time is equal, so one hour of my time is equal to one hour of your time, irrespective of whatever we choose to exchange. Because timebanks are just systems of exchange, they can be used in an almost endless variety of settings.
Traditionally these settings have been divided into three categories:
These might be ‘standalone’ timebanks, perhaps in a local community, where residents might organise social action using the principles of an hour for an hour. This might typically see a timebank member earning a time credit by doing the shopping for an elderly member of the timebank, and then spending that time credit on getting somebody else to provide baby-sitting support at a time when they are busy.
This model might see organisations using timebanking as a tool for achieving their own outcomes and goals. In this instance, the timebank might be interwoven into the fabric of the organisation, so that their own activities can be organised through a system of time exchange. For example, a hospital might wish to provide a home-care service for patients who have left the acute care setting but are still in need of support –perhaps somebody with a broken leg for example. The hospital would then organise the informal support needed, such as help with cooking meals, doing shopping or running basic errands, using a timebank to incentivise the giving of help rather than paying professionals in the traditional manner.
Timebanks can also work between organisations, as a system for trading assets and resources. Organisations, such as local businesses or public sector agencies, might place access to some of their resources into the timebank. This might be the use of a minibus or sports hall, or particular skills that they have such as graphic design or legal advice. Organisations in the timebank can then share, trade and exchange resources based on the hour for an hour principle.
A false distinction?
In reality however, timebanks are most sustainble when these artificial boundaries are withdrawn, and the three models are brought together. In that way, people, organisations and public services can be brought together in timbanking marketplaces where skills, support and physical assets can be exchanged in an equitable manner.