From our autumn 2014 issue
By Davie Philip
Sharing with others and working together is hard-wired into our very being. Today, however, the dominant social and economic systems we depend on are actually working against our ability to collaborate but a fresh approach for taking care of our shared resources is emerging. ‘Commons’ originally referred to land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community. The old idea of the commons, which has been around since the start of human history, is now being supercharged with new ideas from the open-source software community and the cooperative movement. These may offer an egalitarian and collaborative approach to a more just and sustainable future.
The commons is a social practice for meeting our needs outside of the market. It is estimated that there are 2 billion people around the world who are currently managing land, forests, fisheries, water, seeds and creative knowledge as commons. In doing so, these commoners are not only the users and beneficiaries, but also the co-creators and stewards of these shared resources.
What is important is the process of commoning. A commons is not so much about resources themselves but more about how we work together and relate to each other. It’s a conversation about who we are and how we act. It involves taking your life into your own hands, rather than being dependent on markets to sell you what you need. Commoning allows people to make decisions and take action to shape the future of their own communities.
There is no blueprint for building and maintaining a commons as each place and community varies so much. Although all are unique, certain principles underpin all commons; participation, fairness, inclusiveness, transparency, co-operation, stewardship and concern for the common good. With these principles commoners negotiate their own rules of usage, assign responsibilities and entitlements, set up monitoring systems and introduce penalties to prevent abuse of the commons.
There is a lot of commoning going on these days, from Transition Town initiatives, land trusts, co-housing, community farms to community energy projects. Open-source software communities have created the infrastructure that allows the Internet to work, which is itself now one of the great enablers of the commons. Open source has spread from software to hardware and new sets of technologies have emerged from this culture of collaboration and sharing. There are open-source plans for everything from cola drinks to cars. Open source hardware utilises the digital fabrication machines of FabLabs (small-scale workshops offering digital fabrication) to allow us to make almost anything.
To really address the many social, economic and environmental challenges we face, more of us will have to act like commoners and be involved in the art of commoning. If we are to make the changes that we need to make to adapt to climate change, or to connect with each other in deeper ways and strengthen our resilience, we may need to rethink the commons.
If you want to be part of rethinking this topic, ‘WeCreate’, the FabLab and co-working space in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, is organising a series of events this September in Dublin, Limerick and Cloughjordan based on the question, “How can a commons-based collaborative economy strengthen the resilience of our communities?” and will feature international thinkers to bring us some to some new insights. openeverything.ie
Davie Philip is a facilitator and trainer who manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning. He is based at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage and is a board member of GIY Ireland. firstname.lastname@example.org