Time Banks are Tools for Coordination


The goal of this post is to start the conversation around Time Banks, as they are one exciting generalizable application type that could be built with Anoma. It is a general concept than can be more specific with applications like Social Obligation NFTs h/t @sxysun1

Overview of Time Banks

Time Banks are not a new concept. There is rich literature to sift through. The concept is simple.

  • Time banks facilitate the trade of time for skills without needing “money” as a medium of exchange
  • Time banks reward community members volunteering with time credits
    • one hour’s work always equals one-time credit, for example
    • These credits can be banked and then spent on services from other members, saved for the future, donated to others, or redeemed for goods donated by a local firm
  • Time Banks employ a service broker who recruits participants and maintains a database of services on offer and the balances of the participants

Time banks allow people to coordinate at a local scale. Individuals sign up to participate and begin “banking time” or earning “time credits” by providing their skills for someone with credits. There are a few different frameworks for time banks including the most popular neighbor to neighbor one just described, which relies on the earning and spending of time credits.

See this paper:


Time banks facilitate the trade of time for skills without needing money as medium of exchange. People trade their time for skills. Time banks arise because the prices of goods and services diverge significantly from their costs in time. Time banks allow people to coordinate at a local scale. Individuals sign up to participate and begin “banking time” or earning “time credits” by providing their skills for someone with credits. There are a few different frameworks for time banks including the most popular neighbor to neighbor one just describe which relies on the earning and spending of time credits.

There exists another model that uses time credits that can be redeemed at a future date. For instance, In some countries like Switzerland there is a program for younger people to volunteer as caretakers for the older generation. They are then able to bank this time and later redeem it when they come of the age to require care taking. Spontaneous community time banks can form in this model as well.

Why Time Banks?

The emergence of time banks into the public consciousness came to light during the previous recessions in 2001, 2010, and 2020. This is when news media began picking up stories about Time banks. As a naive intuition, it appears people who have sought out alternative means of survival during economic down terms have repeatedly turned to time banks. This perhaps suggests an anti-fragile property of this coordination mechanism. The social benefits extend beyond trading skills for time directly. Let’s review a basic example.

Consider a car mechanic, Kosta. He purchases lunch everyday, paying upwards $20 per meal after taxes. If he purchases groceries and expends time on meal prep, he’ll likely bring down his cost to $10 per meal. But then he has to make trips to the grocery store and also burn mental resources and additional time on the preparation. Kosta also eats a healthier diet when he makes food for himself than when he buys lunch. If Kosta could somehow trade his time for a few weeks worth of home cooked meals delivered to him every day at lunch, he may find that appealing. Instead of seeking out a counterparty who is willing to trade their meal preparation skills for Kosta’s labor, Kosta can instead join a time bank and fix cars to earn time credits. He may fix Rosemary’s car as she decides to spend her credits. After accruing credits, Kosta can then spend them however he chooses. And it happens that Rosemary specializes in catering, and she is part of a local time bank which Kosta is also a member of. Kosta decides he wants to use his credits for a week of Rosemary’s cooking, which she is willing to deliver to him every day.

As you can see in this example one of the benefits of Time Banks is the ability for local community members to build closer relationships with one another. There is now more skin in the game for community members. They care about each other as a result of working for one another through mutual cooperation. This closeness can carry over to coordination for political participation in the democratic process.


Anoma can provide services like accounting for a time bank community. Ideally, this application can be accessible through a mobile phone interface, perhaps on an Anoma phone funded by Public Signal where Anoma is the default operating system. The resource model works well here, as does dynamic information flow control regarding information leakage and heterogeneous trust where community members define their trust relationships.

More details need to be worked out. Open to feedback and jamming.


One aspect of the time bank idea which I really like is that it has a very natural “fairness of contribution” property - time spent in an activity which is in service to another member of the community in some way - while still retaining the numerical tracking which allows for differences in contribution (e.g. I may only wish to contribute and “time bank” a few hours each week, while you may wish to time bank several days - and your ability to “request the time” of others would be commensurately larger).

In these existing time banking designs and practices, how is the “accuracy” of issued “time credits” tracked? If I perform a service for you, do you somehow approve that I am authorized to claim “x worth of time credits”? Is there a central authority which enforces this? Is everyone just individually trusted? etc. - I think this is the part which we’d want to think through in implementing this on Anoma, and probably also the part which determines how well this system could scale to different levels of community trust.

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While searching for answers to the above questions, I happened across a relevant paper in the literature with some key insights. The paper first identifies that previous entries in the literature deal in small sample sizes and generally produce inconsistent results with the demographics of the particular location.

On the other hand, this paper is an implicit meta-analysis gathering data from the three largest time banks in the hOurworld time banks network in the US with 3,500+ members, 33,000 completed service exchanges, and a survey of 446 members of over 120 hOurworld time banks.

Unequal Time for Unequal Value: Implications of Differing Motivations for Participation in Time banking

Tensions arise in some time banks for various reasons

  • the concept is not well-understood, leading to members wanting to offer services and not redeem them
  • members that offered skilled services often prefer partial payment in time and fiat.
  • there is a high demand for skilled labor such as medical services or construction but a low demand and high supply of luxury services like massages or Reiki (see chart below)
  • organizers of time banks often have better participation as they do it for ideal reasons (altruism)
  • participants who are not organizers typically drop off at a higher rate if their needs are not met
  • some members are unable to make commitments based on their existing work schedulers which take priority over time banks commitments (they often do not have a far enough look ahead in their job which pays fiat - think Amazon employee).
  • some members who can offer services like gardening are weather dependent
  • rural areas struggle to find enough members to perform services to keep the time bank activity sustainable
  • users who accrue surplus hours of time in networks where it becomes difficult to redeem credits stop participating altogether

Supply and Demand by Service Category


The authors conclude:

We found that the ideal of ‘equal time, equal value’ that is a foundation of timebanking [13] points to a tension between members with instrumental versus those with idealistic and altruistic motivations for participation. We described a framework of motivations for community currencies researchers and system developers to consider when designing future P2P systems. Future systems could incorporate different rewards and incentives such as social recognition to encourage more instrumental users to leverage time banking services for their gain.

While I’m not sure the author’s analysis justifies the claims made in the conclusion, particularly the tensions between members, the paper does raise a good point regarding the fact that users of time banks still do most of their accounting in local fiat currencies.

Seyfang had previously noted that her hope was as more people join time bank networks and they gain mass adoption many of the issues of equal time, equal value and availability of pragmatic goods or services would subside. My conjecture would be that it may be interesting to consider how time banks with scale-free kudos and rpgf mechanisms could encourage participation and availability of pragamtic services.

Next will continue to look for answers to the above questions;

Towards Community-Centered Support for Peer-to-Peer Service Exchange: Rethinking the Timebanking Metaphor

Commercial peer-to-peer service exchange businesses, such as AirBnB, Lyft and TaskRabbit, are expanding rapidly, but their non-profit counterparts are lagging behind. We conducted a field study of the most prominent of these, time banking; a system in which ‘time dollars’ are earned and spent by people providing services for and receiving them from each other. Our study exposed problems with the very metaphor of banking itself, which deter participation. In this paper we discuss how these problems can be tackled with user experience design for systems supporting timebanking. Our design ideas emphasize the personal and social benefits of participation, and avoid such unappealing concepts as debt and neediness that the time banking metaphor falls afoul of

as well as review a case-study of a time bank application on a mobile phone.

It’s Time There Was an App for That Too: A Usability Study of Mobile Timebanking

Timebanking refers to community-based volunteering in which participants provide and receive services in exchange for time credits. Although timebanking takes advantage of web technologies, the lack of flexibility in managing web-based timebanking transactions and the difficulty of attracting younger adults whose contributions would be highly valuable to the community still remain as major challenges. The authors’ design research attempts to address these issues by leveraging the unique affordances of smartphones and their attractiveness to young adults. In this paper, the authors introduce a timebanking smartphone application and present a 5-week user study with 32 young adults. The results highlight the potential of timebanking for young population with an application that facilitates access to communications and transaction-management activities, and strengthens social connection and the sense of community attachment. The authors in particular present new affordances of smartphone technology on timebanking, including (1) transaction time reduction, (2) location and time-sensitive timebanking activity support, and (3) real-time coordination. The authors discuss design challenges and opportunities of smartphone-based time banking