What is a Commons?
A commons consists of a group or community of people (commoners) who collaboratively manage (engage in commoning) of a shared resource or asset (the common resource). Collaborative management means that the responsibilities as well as the benefits of resource use are shared among all members in a way that they agree is fair and equitable. To be a true commons, it is essential that all people who rely on or contribute to a given resource are able to effectively participate in decision-making. It is also important to ensure that the decision-making process be set up in a way that long-term sustainability of resource use receives strong consideration at all times. That can occur, for example, if those people who have a long-term stake in the common resource or asset have important roles to play in the commons (for example, the communities actually living in and around a forest need to have a central role in the management of those forests, as opposed to logging companies based somewhere else).
When resources are controlled only by a few people through exclusionary property arrangements, it is likely that all others are forced to work hard for little benefit, while the few amass disproportionate wealth – this is at the basis of social inequality. Furthermore, those few people often have no interest in the long-term health of the assets they own, because they can easily sell them off and buy new property elsewhere – this leads to unsustainable resource use. Therefore, we consider the creation of strong commons as essential for both equity and ecological sustainability.
Examples of what we consider commons at the Commons Abundance Network include:
- a fishery collectively managed by the fishers who fish there
- an area of grazing land under the common control of the herders of that area
- a community garden where all can cultivate organic vegetables
- a food coop
- a worker cooperative (a business which is managed and operated by the workers and all share equitably in decision making and the benefits)
- a co-housing group (where a group of households reduce housing costs through shared facilities and ownership)
- community-based conservation program
- a community-development program
- increasing energy security by installing renewable energy infrastructure in low-income communities, while making sure that those people obtain ownership
- a credit union
- a ride-sharing or p2p car-sharing program (where people rent out their own cars)
- an online center where people from different parts of the world can share cultural traditions, information, or best practices
- sharing design, hardware or software or artistic creations under free/libre or open licenses
- better methods of conflict resolution
- a cooperative currency that promotes collaboration among the people of a community
Commonopolis German-language commons network.
CommonSpark: A collective of commons activators.
Silke Helfrich. Commons Blog: Fundsachen von der Allmendewiese. Blog in German and English.
Medialab Prado: What are the Commons? written text in English, video in Spanish.
Bollier, David, and Silke Helfrich (eds.). 2012. The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State. Amherst, Massachusetts: Levellers Press. For German version of this book, see under Silke Helfrich below.
Bromley, Daniel, and David Feeny (eds.). 1992. Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice and Policy. San Francisco: ICS Press.
Cole, Daniel, and Elinor Ostrom (eds.). 2012. Property in Land and Other Resources. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Dolsak, Nives, and Elinor Ostrom (eds.). 2003. The Commons in the New Millennium: Challenges and Adaptation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Helfrich, Silke, und Heinrich Böll Stiftung (eds). 2012. Für eine neue Politik jenseits von Markt und Staat. Transcript Verlag. For the English version of this book, see David Bollier and Silke Helfrich above.
Ostrom, Elinor (ed.). 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Poteete, Amy, Marco Janssen, and Elinor Ostrom. 2010. Working Together: Collective action, the commons, and multiple methods in practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press.