A lesson in the wealth of the commons… June 2, 2013

On the 16th March I attended a one day workshop organised by Prof Shelly Sacks from the Social Sculpture Research Unit (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/studying-at-brookes/courses/postgraduate/2013/social-sculpture/) at Oxford Brookes University and run by one of the editors of the new book: The wealth of the Commons: a world beyond a market state, Silke Helfrich.

Elinor Ostrom was introduced as one of the most influential writers on the commons for Silke and her own writing.

It was a fantastic day and before we departed Silke left us with a few golden rules for collective management with a caveat that there are really no rules, but that they are more guiding principles.  The more people who participate in the commons and who respect these principles the higher the probability of a fair and inclusive commons.

  1. Boundaries – set clear limits between legitimate users and non users. These must be clear boundaries between a specific common pool resource and a larger social ecological system.
  2. Congruence with local conditions – appropriation rules are congruent with provision rules ie. Distribution of costs is proportional to distribution of benefits.  Therefore if you contribute to the pool you have the right to take back something when you need it.
  3. Collective choice arrangements – rules work best if they have been co-created by the users. There needs to be a flexibility in the rules – collective decision making enables constant change.
  4. Monitoring through users or individuals accountable to users – of appropriation & provision levels of resource condition
  5. Graduated sanctions for rule violations – start low and become stronger if repeated violation. Must be decided by the users themselves and should not be threatening for people – therefore you can’t lose your rights, job, living conditions through the punishment.  People accept this better if it’s been co-decided.
  6. You need rapid, low cost, local conflict resolution mechanisms
  7. You must have minimal recognition of rights and rules of local users by the government

and then she recommended some principles of commoning itself:

  1. Ubuntu – relationality – I am because we are!
  2. Who takes from the commons has to contribute to the commons.
  3. Diversity of collective ownership/possession – In the commons the most important thing is the possession – if I use it I possess it!
  4. Use instead of exchange – decoupling money, use money to pool a resource or share a risk instead of buy a product.  Use value instead of exchange value!
  5. Principle of consensus – better to agree that anyone against agrees to step back and not block the decision being taken
  6. Diversity – a basic requirement for resilience
  7. Iteration – takes time – constant repetition to fix the bugs, seeds evolve through evolution

I have decided to sign up for the London School of Commoning’s (http://www.schoolofcommoning.com/) newsletter and look forward to learning more…perhaps even run next year’s design studio focussing on the commons…Seems like a brilliant alternative to the current life we are all leading!

Melissa Kinnear




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