The NORA Knowledge Base is intended to help people build a commons-based economy of abundance, in a similar way as people used to build settlements, by organic growth rather than by a blueprint.
What makes unplanned pre-industrial settlements, from Siena in Italy to Old Delhi in India, from Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany to a village in the Trobriand Islands, so beautiful? What makes them so alive, and such attractions for tourists? You can find more detailed answers to these questions in the work of Christopher Alexander, but part of the answer is that the people building each house built it for their own purposes, but with awareness of how it fit into its neighborhood. A single plan for the village or town would not have allowed for the diversity of needs and would have created a dead uniformity, or variations and ornaments that seem arbitrary and uncalled-for (as we see in too many of the planned settlements of today). But lack of awareness of the larger whole creates an ugly agglomeration of structures with no synergies between them.
NORA is supposed to help people design their own methods to suit their needs, while raising their awareness of the multitude of interactions between their own projects and those of others. With proper attention to those interactions, we can all make our work more effective by fostering positive synergies. For example, a project oriented to community health may also, as a side effect, contribute to the creation of beautiful outdoor spaces that foster participation in the affairs of the community and to better nutrition. To make those synergies work, we must be aware of possible complementarities, and then talk with people involved in complementary initiatives in order to ensure that our efforts support each other rather than detract from each other.
NORA can give no directives as to how this is to be done. It relies on the initiative of individuals and groups for this to happen. However, it can offer tools and perspectives that help make synergies happen. Here, then, are three possible scenarios for making use of NORA. Bear in mind, though, that NORA is in a very early stage of development, and so is not yet fully useable in the ways indicated here!
If you are new to the tasks of creating a better world, but are simply concerned about how to use a particular resource sustainably, or how to address a particular need, then the best thing is to simply look for a particular approach toward creating greater abundance.
For example, if you are concerned about lack of access to good food in your neighborhood:
- Find the page on the need for food.
- Use the table of contents to go straight to the section “approaches toward creating greater abundance.” Look through this list and find something that appeals to you, such as for example urban farming. Read that page do get a sense of what it is all about, and if you're interested, explore some of the listed links to learn more.
- Check whether there is a “member publications and links” section. If there is, you can contact a CAN member with experience in this area to learn more, and hopefully to get started in this kind of activity.
Note that most pages on specific approaches toward abundance are not there yet, so this method of using NORA is still in an early stage of development!
If you are already actively engaged in an initiative that works toward greater abundance in some way, think about the needs you are serving, the resources you are using, and the organizational form of your initiative. Read the relevant pages on NORA, especially the sections on “understanding patterns of abundance and scarcity.” Think about how well your initiative is doing in reducing scarcities talked about on those pages. Think about where it might do better. Then use links within NORA (both in the “Context within NORA” and the “Approaches toward creating greater abundance” sections) to find out more about initiatives with which you might collaborate or coordinate, and links outside of NORA to deepen your knowledge about them.
For example, if you are involved in a worker cooperative making furniture, you may find that:
- You are addressing the needs for housing/shelter, for being at home, and for participation in economic and political decision-making.
- The resources you are using include living things (the trees that supply the wood, the cotton plants that supply the cotton fiber, and so on), intangible knowledge, the land on which your cooperative stands, energy to run machine tools, as well as physical, human-made assets (such as the machinery that you are using and the factory or workshop building). The furniture you are constructing also falls in the category of physical, human-made assets.
- The organizational form of you cooperative falls within the individual sales cluster, and since you are selling things for money, you are also in the currencies and markets cluster. You may be involved in a supportive network of cooperatives, and involved in relationships of community solidarity within the larger community.
- Exploring those pages in NORA, you may read about cooperative currencies in the currencies and markets page. These are not your core business (about which NORA will probably not provide you much help), but perhaps the linked pages will tell you about particular kinds of cooperative currency that could help you either in your buying or your selling activities. Or maybe you have experienced some internal conflicts within the cooperative, then reading the page on participation in decision-making may give you some ideas about better decision-making processes that could facilitate that process. If there is a section on member links and publications, that may lead you to people who can advise you how to do that.
If you are involved in some area of policy, anywhere from the local to the international level, think about the most important needs you are seeking to address, and which resources are needed to satisfy those needs. Also consider what organizational forms exist to help satisfy those needs or utilize and manage those resources. Read the pages on all these needs, organizational forms and resources, particularly the sections on “understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity,” and consider how they are all interlinked via the “context within NORA” sections. Consider whether the policies you are promoting address the most important causes of scarcity discussed on those pages (you can also refer to the post on "Rethinking Sustainable Development in Terms of Commons" as a lens on these issues). If you are missing out on some of the important policy areas, consider who is working on those so that you can build a coalition with them, and develop a combined platform. Within the pages on the needs you are primarily concerned with, look for approaches toward satisfying those needs that you have not considered before, and think about how the policies you advocate might affect people involved in these efforts; here there is also a potential for building new coalitions that you had not considered before.
For example, if you are advocating for the preservation of natural habitat in your country, you will find:
- You are addressing the needs of living things for being at home (habitat), while also having implications for health, opportunities to learn, and participation in decision-making.
- You are involved in issues of managing the land (specifically land for nature preservation) and living things, as well as water resources.
- Organizational forms involved include natural resource management, but may also include coercion and denial of choice (if people are forcibly kept away from wilderness areas), community solidarity (if nature preservation is done in and by communities), and committed services or sales (where there is a conservation agency that has a long-term relationship to resource users). Many of the activities involved are certain to involve currencies and markets. Many of the people involved in converting land from natural habitat to other uses are involved in individual sales, but many of them may also be engaging in self-provisioning.
- Reading all these pages, you will find that they are interlinked in numerous ways (with more pages than just listed). You will also find that certain approaches toward creating greater abundance are listed not just on one, but on a number of pages – these may be critical for creating productive synergies. Maybe there are some approaches that you had never thought of in the context of nature preservation, but that might help you in your efforts. So use these ideas for coalition-building. Where there are sections on member links and publications, you may also get in touch with CAN members who can give good advice.