Commons Transition Primer – short version

You are not likely to encounter a more welcoming set of texts and infographics to introduce the commons and peer production than the Commons Transition Primer website!

The new site features four types of materials suited different levels of interest: short Q&A-style articles with illustrations; longer, in-depth articles for the more serious reader; a library of downloaded PDF versions of research publications by the P2P Foundation; and a collection of videos, audio interviews and links to other content.

The website does a great service in introducing topics that are sometimes elusive or abstract, giving them a solid explanation and lots of working examples. Go check it out!

Start with a series of Short Articles that addresses such questions as “What is a commons transition?” and “What is distributed manufacturing?” Then browse the Longer Articles section and read “10 ways to accelerate the Peer to Peer and Commons Economy,” a visionary piece on the movement to design global and manufacture locally.

The Library contains a number of major reports on how to embark upon a commons transition. The organizational study of Catalan Integral Cooperative as a post-capitalist model is fascinating. Check out the new conceptualizations of value in a commons economy, and the two-part report on the impact of peer production on energy use, thermodynamics, and the natural world.

There is also a wonderful overview of some leading commons, especially tech-oriented ones, in a collection of fifteen case studies. These explore such projects as Wikihouse, Farm Hack, L’Atelier Paysan, Mutual Aid Networks, Spain’s Municipalist Coalitions, and the Ghent’s urban commons (in Belgium).

Elena Martinez Vicente has produced a number of fantastic infographics that really help demystify some abstract ideas (the new ecosystem of value creation, patterns of open coops, cosmo-local production). Mercè Moreno Tarrés did the dazzling original art for the site, which helps make the material so engaging.

The Commons Transition Primer was produced by the Peer to Peer Foundation and P2P Labs with support from the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Kudos to Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel for conceptualizing the project and preparing much of the material, and to Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis for their contributions to the text.

What is a Commons Transition?

In this website, we explain the meaning of and relationship between the Commons and peer-to-peer (P2P) frameworks, and detail how a growing movement for a Commons transition is poised to reinvigorate labor, politics, production, and carework from both interpersonal and environmental perspectives. But to bring about such a transition we first need a clear understanding of our present social and cultural value systems, and how P2P and the Commons could transcend these to co-create a more egalitarian and environmentally conscious planetary culture.

We use the phrase Commons Transition to describe a series of ongoing actions that reflect the needs and creative input of civil society. What are the components of such a transition, and how do they turn into concrete actions?

What is the aim of a Commons Transition? — To create a deeply democratic society where everyone matters and has a say; an inclusive representation of class, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, andor immigration status. In fact, the proposals we share go beyond rhetoric. They are inspired by active, successful, self-organized working communities that sustain themselves and their environments.

A Commons Transition also requires strategies that create common value and enable open, participatory input across society. These strategies should prioritize the needs of the people (and circumstances) affected by policy decisions over purely market-based or bureaucratic considerations. As we will see in the following entries, the Commons, together with P2P systems, represent a third mode of societal organization that evolves away from the competitive market-state and obsolete, centrally-planned systems. This post-capitalist framework is based on the practices and needs of civil society at the local, regional, national and global levels.

What is the background for the Commons Transition? — Growth, as an evolutionary process of natural systems, is understood to be necessary. But past adolescence, organisms must either stabilize (through interfacing with their environments) or die off. In observing our economic systems, we can see that there is an unquestioned agreement (if not a self-replicating obsession) on the need for accumulation and growth. A closer look at the supposedly healthy metric of economic growth confronts us with exponential surges in other, far less healthy indicators: gross economic inequality, loss of topsoil and biodiversity, species extinction, carbon emissions, energy use, biosphere degradation, to name just a few.

Top-down command and control systems, now reaching what we call peak hierarchy, remain dominant, yet are structurally inadequate to deal with these urgent failures and losses.

  • Treating what is naturally abundant and easily reproducible — knowledge — as a commodity, and enclosing it behind intellectual property restrictions such as paywalls, has created severe problems.
  • Overexploitation of natural resources continues to increase.
  • The negative consequences of overuse are treated as externalities, avoiding accountability.

An important tool against these effects is open access to socially productive knowledge. However, free access to knowledge is only possible if artificial restrictions imposed by intellectual property licensing are lifted, allowing people to build on open knowledge and create countermeasures to the exploitation of resources. This primer has a wealth of case studies showing exactly this process in action.

P2P and the Commons are reflected in the logic of networks, characterized by openness, reciprocity, pooling and stewardship. Together these stand as more mature and stable systems compared with peak hierarchy, and can help break its self-replicating pattern of destruction.

The Commons and P2P systems can help transition to more stable systems, but not all P2P systems are the same. The difference lies in the intent: is the system driven by profit, hierarchy and growth, or by a desire to collaborate in the construction of social and environmental value? Examples of the former include monopolistic social media platforms, the so-called “sharing” economy as disfigured by Silicon Valley, and the digital economy’s mega-players. Here we see how overabundant practical value is created through P2P dynamics in the front end, while all the monetary value is absorbed by centralized platforms. The result is a series of increasingly invasive, undemocratic monopolies which mediate our relationships and create more inequality at an accelerated rate.

On the other hand, when value created in P2P systems is distributed back to the value creators, and when the entire process is decided on by peers and directed towards encouraging shared resources, the outcomes are radically different. This describes the underlying logic of the Commons Transition. A social process more than an ideological destination, it applies the wealth of networks toward community-enabled capacity building, beginning where we live and work.

Useful examples of local level, commons-oriented P2P systems include transition towns, municipalism, permaculture, local currencies, self-managed squats, occupied spaces and related social centers. Local forms of change like these are indispensable, but our challenges are global in nature, driven by an obsolete neoliberal economic logic that knows no borders. Commons-oriented P2P systems that are transnational by design will be necessary for building economic and political counterpower. Models exist that could be developed to higher levels of complexity. We will explore this further in the following entries.

‘Commons Transition’ describes proposals for action that prioritize civil society’s needs, towards a more democratic and environmentally conscious culture. Constant economic growth produces negative impacts and the capture (enclosure) of scarce physical resources for private financial gain while abundant resources, such as information and culture, are made artificially scarce through legal limitations. A Commons Transition recommends P2P practices and networks for sharing what’s abundant, and protecting what’s scarce. Peer decision-making at many scales, and the emergence of municipalist political movements, are part of this transition.

Commons can be understood from different perspectives, but several principles are mainstays.

Author David Bollier describes Commons as a shared resource, co-governed by its user community according to the community’s rules and norms. Things that can be managed as a commons include natural resources (land, water, air), and created assets (culture, knowledge), and can be either inherited or human-made, but “The Commons” refers to the process as a whole — the synergy between the elements of a community, a resource and the rules for its co-governance.

The following four perspectives, according to commons scholar and activist Silke Helfrich, offer ways to both perceive and interact with Commons, which can be seen as:

  1. Collectively managed resources, both material and immaterial, which need protection and require a lot of knowledge and know-how.
  2. Social processes that foster and deepen thriving relationships. These form part of complex socio-ecological systems which must be consistently stewarded, reproduced, protected and expanded through commoning.
  3. A new mode of production focused on new productive logics and processes.
  4. A paradigm shift, that sees commons and the act of commoning as a worldview.

It is said, “There is no commons without commoning”. This means that resources (or “gifts”) by themselves do not constitute a Commons. These must be activated by community action and governance.

Again, the Commons is neither the resource, the community that gathers around it, nor the protocols for its stewardship, but the dynamic interaction between all these elements.

An example is Wikipedia: there is a resource (encyclopedic entries), a community (the authors and editors) and a set of community-harvested rules and protocols (Wikipedia’s content and editing guidelines). The Wikimedia Commons emerges from of all three. Another example, but in a radically different context, is the Siuslaw National Forest, in Oregon, USA. Managed as a commons, we also find a resource (the forest), a community (loggers, environmental scientists and forest rangers comprising its ‘watershed council’) and a set of rules and bylaws (the charter for sustainably co-managing the forest).

No master inventory of commons exists, as they arise whenever a community decides to manage a resource collectively. The Commons as a whole thrives on the vast diversity of individual commons worldwide, ranging from fisheries to urban spaces, and many other forms of shared wealth.

If “commons” is the “what”, “P2P” could be considered the “how”.

P2P —“peer to peer”, “people to people”, or “person to person”— is a relational dynamic through which people (“peers”) freely collaborate with one another to create value in the form of shared resources, circulated in the form of commons.

Computers in a network can interact with each other; these consensual connections between “peers” in computing systems is perhaps the first well known description of P2P. For example, audio and video file sharing came to be popularly known as P2P file sharing. Similarly, some parts of the Internet’s infrastructure, like data transmission, have also been called P2P.

Let’s assume there are human users behind those computers. These users have a technological tool allowing them to interact with each other easily, even globally, person to person.

So, there are at least two types of relationships described as P2P, potentially causing confusion of definitions and terms, which we would like to clarify. There is an interdependence of the technological infrastructure (computers communicating) and the human relational dynamic (people communicating). But a technological infrastructure does not necessarily need to be fully P2P in order to facilitate P2P human relationships. Let’s explore some examples.

Compare Facebook or Bitcoin with Wikipedia, or other free/open source software projects. They all use P2P dynamics but in different ways, and with different political orientations.

P2P systems are generally open to all contributors and contributions, and permissionless, meaning that a contributor doesn’t need permission from someone else to contribute. The quality and inclusion of work is usually determined after the fact by a layer of editors and maintainers (e.g. Wikipedia).

In summary, P2P networks of interconnected computers used by people collaborating can provide vital, shared functionalities for the Commons. But P2P has far broader reach and application than the limits of the high tech, digital realm. P2P is about non-coercive, non-hierarchic social relations. Its qualities have the potential to profoundly change human society.

P2P and the Commons together create a synergy for collaborations at larger scales and levels of complexity. The combination of P2P technical and social infrastructures can support the creation and maintenance of shared and co-managed resources (commons).

In brief, P2P expresses an observable pattern of relations between humans, while the Commons tell us the specific what (as in resources), who (the communities gathered around the resources) and how (the protocols used to steward the resources ethically and sustainably for future generations) of these relational dynamics.

A commons includes three essential elements: a shared resource, co-governed by its user community, and the community’s rules for governance. “A commons” could include natural resources (water, air), and/or created assets (culture, knowledge). P2P —“peer to peer”, “people to people”, or “person to person”— is a way in which peers freely collaborate with each other to create value in the form of shared resources, circulated in the form of commons. If “commons” is the “what” – the blend of resource, community and rules  – “P2P” could be considered the “how” – methodologies, practices, governance and networks, as examples. 

1.3 What does a P2P Economy look like?

The original Greek etymology of the word “economy” describes the management of household resources. How can we extend the care-oriented interactions we find in healthy homes to the larger economy, where networked communities steward the resources of our common home, planet Earth?

Any economy is informed by its prevailing value system. The dominant one, for example, prioritizes absentee profit maximization while simultaneously deeming carework and environmental stewardship as externalities. But what is value anyway?

We offer that “value” is a process, a coordination mechanism which guides our collective behaviour. It can be divided in three key stages: production (meaningful contributions to fulfill an end), recording (the tracking and recording of contributions to be assessed according to different criteria and interests) and actualization (where value becomes manifest and justifies the preceding actions).

This process is informed by different political economies. In capitalism, production is proprietary, hierarchical and profit-driven; recording is opaque, abstract and quantitative; and actualization only occurs in markets.

By contrast, in fully P2P systems, production is collectively owned, horizontal and guided by social value; recording is transparent, distributed and pluralistic; and actualization is evident in the act of sharing and the creation of social relations which benefit the Commons.

Together, this latter process is known as Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP), a term coined by legal scholar Yochai Benkler which describes a way of creating and distributing value. P2P infrastructures allow people to communicate, self-organize and, ultimately, co-create value in the form of digital commons of knowledge, software, and design. Think of Wikipedia, free and open-source projects such as Linux, the Apache HTTP Server, Mozilla Firefox or WordPress, and open design communities such as Wikihouse, RepRap and Farm Hack.

Commons based peer production produces new ecosystems of value creation and can be seen in at least three institutions: 1) the productive community, 2) the commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalition(s), and 3) the for-benefit association.

The productive community consists of all the contributors to a project, and how they coordinate their work. Members of this institution may be paid or volunteer their contributions, motivated by some interest in the practical value of this production. All of them produce the shareable resource.

The commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalition attempts to secure either profits or livelihoods by creating added value for the market, based on common resources. Contributors can be paid by the participating enterprises. Digital commons themselves can be outside the market, because they are abundant and not scarce. For example, the WordPress web platform is an open-source software commons available to anyone, but some businesses, such as Automattic, a company closely tied to its development, provides employment for people working on its development and creating added value products and services.

Crucially important in the relation among the entrepreneurs, the community, and the commons on which they depend, is whether their relation is generative or extractive. These terms are polar extremes, but in reality all entities will present some degrees of each. Good examples of the difference between extractive and generative relations are industrial agriculture and permaculture. In the former, the soil becomes poorer and less healthy, while in the latter it becomes richer and healthier. When communities share the same environment (a town, valley or bioregion) they can increase their resilience by pooling resources into meta-economic networks, that integrate diverse local initiatives.

Adapted from “The Architecture of Ownership” by Marjorie Kelly.


A third institution is the for-benefit association. Many commons-based peer production ecosystems not only consist of productive communities and entrepreneurial coalitions, but also have independent governance institutions to support the infrastructure of cooperation and empower the capacity for commons-based peer production.

These institutions, often nonprofit organizations, do not direct the commons-based peer production process itself. For example, the Wikimedia Foundation, as the for-benefit association of Wikipedia, does not coerce the production of Wikipedia producers; nor do the free and open-source software foundations that often manage the infrastructure and networks of the projects coerce the efforts of their contributors.

In contrast, traditional non-governmental and nonprofit organizations operate from a viewpoint of scarcity. They identify problems, search for resources, and allocate those resources hierarchically to solve those issues.

Benefit associations operate from a point of view of abundance; they recognize problems and issues, but believe that there are enough contributors who want to help solve them. They maintain an infrastructure of cooperation that allows contributive communities and entrepreneurial coalitions to engage in commons-based peer production processes that provide solutions to the problems at hand. Not only do they protect these commons, but may also help manage conflicts between participants and stakeholders, fundraise, and assist the general capacity-building necessary for the commons (for example, through education or certification).

Think of this as an ecosystem of value creation. Vibrant economies, based on commons, are actively cared for and preserved for future generations. By nature, these types of economies are:

  • Free: open, shareable, with equitable access
  • Fair: in social solidarity with all humankind, inclusive of varieties in race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and citizenship status.
  • Sustainable: acknowledging our integral role as responsible stewards and restorers, not dominators and destructors, of nature.

To make such an ecosystem viable, commoners must apply the logics of Commons-based Peer Production to distributed physical manufacturing while simultaneously creating their own entrepreneurial vehicles: Open Cooperatives. We examine these two key elements of the Commons Transition in the following sections.

Any economy is informed by its prevailing value system. The dominant one prioritizes absentee profit maximization while simultaneously deeming carework and environmental stewardship as externalities. Commons-based peer production highlights new ecosystems of value creation comprised of three institutions: the productive community, the commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalition(s), and the for-benefit association.

1.4 What is Distributed Manufacturing?  Home 1. Short articles

If the first wave of Commons-based Peer Production was mainly created digitally and shared online, we now see a second wave moving into physical space. Open design communities are manufacturing in Fab Labs, makerspaces, and community workshops. The Commons has come full circle: from the natural resource-based commons described by Elinor Ostrom, through commons-based peer production digital communities, to distributed, localized manufacturing. In other words, commoning began in the material world, expanded to manage digital resources in virtual space and has now returned to the physical sphere, where the digital realm becomes a tool for new forms of resource stewardship, production and distribution.

We call this latter process Design Global, Manufacture Local (DGML). It is an emerging mode of production that builds on the confluence of digital commons of knowledge, software, and design with local manufacturing and automation technologies. These technologies often include 3D printers and CNC machines, as well as low-tech crafts tools and appropriate technology — often complementing each other. Its key: what is “light” (knowledge) is global, and what is “heavy” (physical manufacture) is local. DGML and its unique characteristics help open the potential of new, sustainable and inclusive forms of production and consumption.

Imagine a process where designs are co-created, reviewed and refined as part of a global digital commons (i.e. a universally available shared resource). Meanwhile, the actual manufacturing takes place locally, often through shared infrastructures and with local biophysical conditions in mind. The process of making something together as a community, hand in hand, creates new ideas and innovations which can feed back into their originating design commons. This cycle describes a radically democratized way to conceive and manufacture goods with an increased capacity for innovation and resilience.

DGML presents an ecologically viable mode of production with three key patterns:

1) Non-Profit: objects are designed for optimum usability, not to create tension between supply and demand. This eliminates planned obsolescence or induced consumerism while promoting modular, durable and practical applications.

2) Local: physical manufacturing in community workshops, with bespoke production adapted to local needs. These are economies of scope, not of scale. On-demand local production bypasses the need for huge capital outlays and the subsequent necessity to “keep the machines running” night and day to satisfy the expectations of investors. Transportation costs — whether financial or ecological — are eradicated, while maintenance, fabrication of spare parts and waste treatment are handled locally.

3) Shared: idle resources are identified and shared by the community. These can be immaterial and shared globally (blueprints, collaboration protocols, software, documentation, legal forms), or material and managed locally (community spaces, tools and machinery, hackathons). There are no costly patents or intellectual property regimes to enforce false scarcity. Power is distributed and shared autonomously, creating a “Sharing Economy” worthy of the name.

Current examples of the DGML approach include Wikihouse, a non-profit foundation sharing templates for modular housing; OpenBionics, creating 3D-printed medical prosthetics which cost a fraction (0.1 to 1% ) of the price of standard prosthetics; L’Atelier Paysan, an open source cooperative fostering technological sovereignty for small and medium scale ecological agriculture; Farm Hack, a farmer-driven community network sharing open source know-how amongst DIY agricultural tech innovators, and POC21, an innovation camp for developing DGML projects in a communal atmosphere.

To preserve and restore a liveable planet, it’s not enough to seize the existing means of production; in fact, it may even not be necessary or recommendable. Rather, we need to reinvent the means of production; to radically reimagine the way we produce. We must also decide together what not to produce, and when to direct our productive capacities towards ecologically restorative work and the stewardship of natural systems. This includes necessary endeavours like permaculture, landscape restoration, regenerative design and rewilding.

These world-changing efforts cannot arise and establish themselves unless people are free to contribute, and that means finding sustainable ways of funding that can free time or capital to develop these contributions. Equally problematic is the possibility of the capture and enclosure of the open design commons, to be converted into profit-driven P2P hybrids (described earlier) that perpetuate the scarcity mindset of capital.  To avoid this, productive communities can choose to create generative livelihoods and solidarity mechanisms to sustain themselves and the invaluable work they perform. This is the role of Open Cooperativism, which we will be looking at in the following section. TL-DR More Resources

To preserve and restore a liveable planet, it’s not enough (or necessary, or advisable) to seize the existing means of production. Rather, we need to reinvent the means of production and the way we produce. Design Global, Manufacture Local (DGML) is a mode of production combining use of the digital knowledge commons with local manufacturing and automation technologies.

1. Short articles Home 

Two movements have recently surfaced, proposing viable alternatives to the pernicious practices of the Silicon Valley flavored “Sharing” Economy: Platform and Open Cooperativism.

The for-profit Sharing Economy is attempting to co-opt the lexicon and imagery of the Commons to mask its identity as a profit-maximizing deregulatory cartel that threatens to undermine the social gains of the labour movement and create a large, willing underclass: the Precariat.

To counter this, these two movements explained offer strategic responses.

Platform Cooperativism seeks to democratize the ownership and governance of the digital platforms that increasingly mediate our daily lives.

Open Cooperativism explores convergences between the logics of Commons-based Peer Production and the Commons with the world of cooperatives and the Social and Solidarity Economy. Open Coops do not intend to create better Ubers or more ethical AirBnbs, nor necessarily digitally based. Instead, they seek to more directly address broader systemic issues like transportation and housing.

These movements are compatible, but with different orientations. In the short term, Platform Coops address the urgent issue of digital precarization, while Open Coops look toward the future asking, what economy do we want?

Open Coops are characterized by four non-prescriptive, ethical guidelines or patterns:

    1. Statutorily oriented toward the common good: In Open Coops, production is guided not by profit but by social and environmental priorities. Individual organizations’ legal statutes embed these values in all productive and organizational processes.
    2. Multi-constituent in nature: Open Coops extend decision making and ownership beyond the company structure to enfranchise all contributors present in all value chain or affected by the coop’s actions. Beyond workers, this may include neighbouring communities, suppliers, clients, reproductive and affective labour, financial backers, etc.
    3. Actively creating Commons: Open Coops do not just take from the Commons (as market entreprises do) they reciprocate by stewarding existing commons or creating new ones in the process. These may be digital (code, design, documentation, legal protocols and best practices, etc) or physical (productive infrastructure, deliberation spaces, machinery, etc.).
    4. Transnationally oriented: Although physical production is kept local and needs-based (following the “Design Global, Manufacture Local” logic), Open Coops share knowledge and resources at the global level with like-minded enterprises to create political and cultural counterpower to today’s prevailing corporate economy.

These guidelines must be evaluated against the real material conditions of communities and cooperators to assess the extent of their viability. Examples of Open Coops include Enspiral, a diverse network of social enterprises; Fairmondo, an ethical, multi-constituent, open-source, online marketplace;  Sensorica, an Open Value Network pioneering new forms of value tracking to facilitate Commons-based Peer Production; and the Mutual Aid Network, a locality-based cooperative structure providing tools and resources for generative economies. All of these are currently operating or federating internationally.

To understand the long-term importance of Open Cooperativism, let’s examine two characteristics of the present: financialization and decommodification.

Financialization accelerates the process of enclosure (turning nature into commodities and relationships into paid services) towards financial abstractions, syphoning wealth away from the real economy. Decommodification shows that a) certain commodities (music, film, digitally distributed culture, universal encyclopedias, software operating systems) cannot be easily sold and b) people increasingly turn to each other to meet their needs as pro-sumers (producers and consumers) of solar energy, housing coops, mesh networks, mutual credit systems or community supported agriculture.

By decreasing employment, wages and taxation, financialization and decommodification endanger the Keynesian pact underpinning social democracy. However, while decommodification can be disastrous for the current economy, it may signal the shift from an economic system based on scarcity toward one based on abundance. This is where Open Coops come in: by placing commoning at the center of our livelihood creation, we aim to decrease the dependence on market, wages, and the state by offering community-led, resilient alternatives.

The principles of Commons-Based Peer Production, applied through Distributed Manufacturing and Open Cooperativism, offer a glimpse of an economy that could be and is worth working towards. While we cannot confidently predict what a wider, generative P2P economy would look like, we suggest that it will be characterized by:

  • Abundance: Closed business models are based on artificial scarcity. P2P economies recognise the natural abundance found in digitally shareable knowledge and shares it transnationally. Socially productive knowledge will be open to feed new cycles of knowledge production.
  • Openness: In contrast to price signalling or centralized planning, a P2P economy prioritises transparency, mutual coordination and open supply chains. The result? An adaptable and networked mode of production based on real conditions for actual needs, instead of capital demands with their inherent overproduction, waste and boom and bust cycles.
  • Carework: Instead of enforcing the division of labor through specialization, Open Coops can provide the tools for dynamic and flexible participation, to enfranchise all types of contributions in the economic value chain. This includes the affective and reproductive labour consistently rendered invisible by the current economy.
  • Reciprocity: Copyleft licensing allows multinationals to commercialise content of the commons, putting cooperatives and social and solidarity enterprises at a competitive disadvantage. CopyFair licensing bolsters the economic resilience of commoners by allowing them to capitalize content, while maintaining full sharing and demanding reciprocity (or cash payments) from for-profit entities.
  • Pooling: Our means of production, including knowledge and manufacturing capacity, can be mutualized and self-owned by all those that create value. Strategies such as Open Cooperativism and Distributed Manufacturing can bolster co-ownership and co-governance to help create a true Commons Collaborative Economy characterized by more efficient use of resources, such as shared data or manufacturing facilities.

In the following sections, we will explore how the logics of the Commons-based Peer Production, Distributed Manufacturing and Open Cooperativism can provide tools for a Commons transition that may be applied to economic, political and social relationships and goals. In particular, we will examine the role of P2P/commons developments in citizen-led politics.

Two movements have recently surfaced, proposing viable alternatives to the Silicon Valley-flavored “Sharing” Economy: Platform and Open Cooperativism. Platform Coops address the urgent issue of digital precarization, while Open Coops look toward the future, asking the following question: What economy do we want?

Originally established in Madison, Wisconsin and now being federated transnationally, Mutual Aid Networks are location-specific and solidarity based Meta Economic Networks. Coalesced around nested cooperative structures, a Mutual Aid Network (or “MAN”) pools capacity building, stewards community value, and rewards socially and environmentally useful work. Some of the tools used to achieve this include timebanking, b2b mutual credit, cooperative lending, saving and investment models, community spaces and shared manufacturing facilities.

The ultimate goal is to create sustainable infrastructures to empower social value creation while fostering common purpose. Locality-based infrastructures also support wider networks operating under complementary principles.

The procedure for setting up a Mutual Aid Network brings people together to brainstorm around a common goal. Examples can include watershed restoration initiatives, urban gardening, city-wide efficiency and renewables programs, travel and culture exchanges, the creation of a time bank or community kitchen, or setting up a community-oriented co-working space. While each Mutual Aid Network is autonomous in attaining its goal, the underlying principles always rely on commons-oriented governance and cooperative models. This framework can be adapted to any size or group of people coming together under a purpose that fits agreed-upon, streamlined core principles and standards.

The networks connect previously existing solidarity mechanisms into systems that provide support and maximize each other’s strengths. Mutual Aid Network’s overall mission is to “To create means for everyone to discover and succeed in work they want to do, with the support of their community.” 

These connected networks provide tools for pooling resources to support meaningful work and fill unmet community needs. These tools include:

  • Common-pool resources, which can include libraries, makerspaces, shared laundry facilities, etc.
  • Timebanking, which contributes to community building through mutually beneficial service exchange. Measured by time credits, services can include cooking, transportation, counselling, cleaning, family care, gardening, art and music, etc.
  • Price-based mutual credit, to create liquidity within networks of local businesses. These are tax-compliant and interest-free, and are paid back through the sale of equally-priced amounts of goods and services within the network.
  • Cooperative savings and lending, which pools resources, builds capacity, and extends community wealth through collective agreements. These are allocated to projects or individual members with one-time financial needs.
  • Cooperative ownership, which democratizes access to resources that may difficult to access individually.

Using these tools and strategies, Mutual Aid Networks can identify the necessary social and environmental work which is often marginalised in the mainstream economy. Network members take the lead in facilitating resources and assisting community members in achieving their self-identified needs. Local practices are then crystallized in other areas by open sourcing all tools, documentation and knowledge generated. Each local MAN has access to a much broader resources and expertise than it would have in isolation, allowing the broader network to replicate and scale in accordance to its shared, commons-oriented values, or what MAN calls “indigenous community economic development.”

There are currently eight Mutual Aid Networks being prototyped around the world, including locations like St Louis, Missouri, Lansing, Michigan and Providence, Rhode Island in the US, as well as Hull in the UK and Bergnek in South Africa internationally.

The city of Ghent, Belgium boasts no fewer than 500 commons-related projects, a ten-fold increase seen over the past ten years. Some notable projects include:

Gent en Garde and Urban Agriculture Program  Food commons. Two examples of Ghent’s focus on developing political support and citizen involvement for fair, organic, local food. Another food related project is Lunch met LEF, which is reversing the dependence on cheap food shipped long-distance from multinationals by providing fresh, local foods to school lunch programs, shipped by local cargo bike shares.

CLT Gent  Community land trust. A percentage of city housing is devoted to CLT Gent for its management of spaces made, or kept, available and affordable to lower income people. Other housing-related projects in Ghent include Cohousing and Woocoop, and the policy-oriented Labland.

REScoop — Renewable energy cooperative. Through collective ownership of homeowners’ solar panels, members can share energy efficiency, so that even homes with less sunlight can benefit from the cooperative. Ghent has made energy sustainability a priority, and created a government agency, Energiecentrale, to support local energy-efficient renovation.

Buren van de abdij — (“Neighbors of the abbey”), Neighborhood-managed church building. This self-governed space was gifted by the city a decade ago, and is now home to a wide variety of community and cultural events.

NEST — (Newly Established State of Temporality), Former library building turned into a temporary urban commons lab. A community space housed in a former library, NEST has customized its rent rates by offering lower rents to more participatory and sustainable projects, effectively allowing commons-oriented projects a subsidy from other participants. Ghent has other spaces operating as temporary re-use sites, include Driemasterpark.

The P2P Foundation´s Michel Bauwens in collaboration with Yurek Onzia and Vasilis Niaros, and in partnership with Evi Swinnen and Timelab, conducted a three-month research and participation project on the ‘commons city of the future’, on invitation from the Ghent city government to help shape to a sustainable and ethical economy in Ghent. “The ecosystem of commons-based initiatives in Ghent is quite exemplary precisely because it covers an ecosystem in an area that requires a lot of capital and has to overcome a lot of commons-antagonistic regulation”, according to Bauwens. The results of the project’s research was a Commons Transition Plan describing the possibilities and role of the City of Ghent (as a local authority) in reinforcing citizen initiatives.

The Bologna Regulation is based on a change in the Italian constitution allowing engaged citizens to claim urban resources as commons, and to declare an interest in their care and management. After an evaluation procedure, an “accord” is signed with the city specifying how the city will support the initiative with an appropriate mix of resources and specifying a joint “public-commons” management. In Bologna itself, dozens of projects have been carried out, and more than 140 other Italian cities have followed suit. This regulation is radical in giving citizens direct power to emit policy proposals and transform the city and its infrastructure, as a enabler for this. The key is the reversal of logic: the citizenry initiates and proposes, the city enables and supports.

1.6 What are P2P Politics?

After 40 years of neoliberalization, the promised “end of history” envisioned by Francis Fukuyama has led to a decomposition of established hierarchical systems, including politics culminating in Brexit and Trump. While there are strong reactions against these imploding structures, the current of political change cannot be rewound. Neoliberalism cannot be restored. It is far more likely that alternatives based on the logic of networks and Peer to Peer will continue to emerge and build new systems.

While the most radical innovations in P2P politics are pioneered by prefigurative communities, these are always constrained by limitations imposed by the state, often in league with market interests. Prefigurative politics describe modes of social organization and actions coherent with the political goals of a group. This means “building the new world in the shell of the old”, as famously expressed by the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It rejects vanguard, hierarchical politics in favour of self-organization, direct action, counter-institutions and participatory democracy. Many P2P and Commons project can be considered prefigurative of a better, post-capitalist future society.

This is why changemakers must also engage with institutional politics to hack the system, or else allow the very real danger of fascism occupying the void left by the decay of the neoliberal order. There is no contradiction between autonomously building the alternatives we need right now and defending our capacity to do so by reinventing existing political channels. Both approaches, prefigurative and institutional, can work together, while bearing in mind that it may take time for the old guard to see the P2P future.

Male-dominated electoral options such as Podemos, Syriza or Bolivarian socialism play to the laborist nostalgia of the left without addressing contemporary trends in tech and culture, or offering viable or exciting visions for the future. Meanwhile, a much more exciting political process had its apex of media visibility in 2011: Occupy, 15-M and similar networked movements. Despite being disbanded (often forcibly) and declared dead by the media, these movements have proven to be quietly resilient.

The case of Spain is particularly interesting. Where Podemos failed to meet expectations, a large number of municipalist movements, initiated by 15-M activists in conjunction with existing political and social forces, triumphed in Spain’s major cities in the 2015 municipal elections. These “instrumental parties” run on participatory platforms with open primaries (a process where any person can present themselves to electoral lists, which are then voted on by the citizenship). In the case of Barcelona and Madrid, they were spearheaded by female candidates.

The municipalist parties now in power coordinate and share resources in ways similar to commons-based peer production projects. They use an ethical code that rejects revolving door policies and institutional or bank funding, while fostering participative programs, transparency, and salary cuts for those working within the institutions. But Spain’s municipalist coalitions are not alone. Progressive cities worldwide are listening to commoners’ voices and creating spaces for ordinary people to roll up their sleeves and manage matters that concern them. Cities like Ghent, Frome, Belo Horizonte, Naples, Montreal, Jackson, Lille, Valparaiso, and Bologna are examples.

The Commons movement needs to foster a sense of mutual recognition to emancipate itself from markets and state, as it radically re-imagines these through the logics of commoning. The burgeoning commons-oriented political movements described above can also self-organize in analogous Assemblies of the Commons. These would serve as a forum to exchange experiences, organize events, support the social and political forces that uphold the commons and engage in public-commons partnerships. One significant initiative in this regard has been the European Commons Assembly, a pan-European network of commoners engaged in political action.

The challenge now is to crystallize these practices at higher levels of complexity. The municipalist ethical code can serve as a kernel for transnational political coalitions following the practices of commons-based peer production. In this scenario, the state and other large institutions mimic the characteristics of non-profit foundations in CBPP projects. They enable the infrastructure of cooperation, in this case for value creation on the part of civil society, but do not direct the social stewardship process itself.

A P2P State, known as a Partner State, would radically democratize the provision of welfare beyond laborism while bolstering open cooperativism, commons-based peer production, and citizen self-management. It would also provide legal recognition for the act of commoning as it penalizes extractive rent-seeking practices. The Partner State would also be kept in check by participatory mechanisms and Extitutions, defined as self-organised political assemblies designed to maintain a balance between prefigurative politics and their institutional counterparts. If this sounds utopian, keep in mind that the Spanish (and other) municipalists carrying out many of these practises were regularly scoffed at before the elections, but ultimately triumphed.

Breaking the glass ceiling of politics and creating synergies between three currently unallied approaches to party politics requires initiatives like the extitutions described above. These political approaches also have respective correspondences to our demand for systems with specific qualitiesFree (Pirate Parties), Fair (New Left parties), and Sustainable (Green Parties). The logic of the commons could be a catalyst for uniting these three political streams to harness their combined power and facilitate lasting change from below.

The combination of ecological system failure with rising inequality and social strife requires solutions which the current system has failed, and is unable, to provide.

Faced with mass unemployment and growing precarization, more segments of society are retreating from the ineffective mainstream political and state logic in search of socially and environmentally sound alternatives. As the expanding base of disenfranchised people self-organizes in commons-oriented P2P networks, new forms of living, livelihoods and solidarity can be prototyped and defended politically at local and transnational scales. The new political agent of change is neither the proletariat nor the precariat, but the commoner, an empowered figure fit for the challenges of our times.

Visions and Pathways 2040 Action Pathways from VEIL on Vimeo.

We know that history is not deterministic, but the greater the number of conscious commoners, the greater the likelihood that the Commons will be the new attractor for our cultural and political values. How can this be achieved? When does the Commons Transition begin? The next two entries offer an examination of possibilities and action plans.

Political alternatives based on the logic of networks and P2P are emerging and gaining attention. The greater the number of conscious commoners, the greater the likelihood that the commons will be the new attractor for our cultural and political values.

1.7 Commons Transition, how do we get there?

We’ve described a “Commons Transition” as a process that facilitates open, participatory input across society; a practice that gives higher priority to the needs of the people and environments affected by policy decisions, rather than to bureaucratic or market-based needs. We’ve offered examples of how Commons processes and P2P dynamics can reinforce each other to create self-regulating and sustainable systems of collaboration.

Commons-based peer production has been enabled by the digital revolution. Now, that revolution is returning to physical space. Communities around the world can use open digital knowledge commons to help design items that may then be manufactured locally (design global, manufacture local). These practices are less redundant and wasteful and more environmentally sustainable than the current model which relies, for example, on trademarked designs and fuel-intensive global shipping.

The principles of Open Cooperativism are being used by certain communities to create their own livelihoods. Other communities in our case studies are defending their political interests (and those of nature and civil society) through assemblies of the Commons, using forms of P2P politics.

The examples we offer here currently exist, albeit not in a well-coordinated system or as a self-identified movement. How can these practices be taken to the next level? How can we achieve higher levels of complexity in these networks, and build sufficient economic and political power? All of this might sound good, but could it add up to real, lasting change?

Our transition strategy is integrative rather than prescriptive. In other words, we build upon what already exists to share across disciplines and communities, without a detailed a rule book or map. Economic power increases through the pooling of resources. Political power spreads through the strengthening of extitutions, while also adapting our existing institutions to the practices of commoning.

As an economic strategy, commoners can deliberately distribute wealth towards the commons. This is a core action that counters extractive, profit-maximizing practices and entities. There are several approaches to this strategy. First is the mutualization of the digital commons (which includes knowledge, software and design). Another is the mutualization of shared manufacturing resources, physical spaces, mutual support and pre-distribution. This impulse toward pooling reflects a reawakened commitment to sharing and collaboration, acts which have been marginalized, even discouraged, in the dominant culture.

All of the above form a basis that can enable commoners to establish their own economic entities to sustain their communities and counter the effects of precarity, austerity and technological unemployment.

Open cooperatives — which are commons oriented, commons creating, multi-constituent and transnational — currently operate in a predatory political economy. Protection from enclosure, or hostile value capture, is essentialCopyfair licensing is meant to guard against this capture as open coops converge into larger, generative economic ecosystems through commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalitions. This form of licensing creates a kind of membrane that helps maintain the logic of the Commons within (what we call “value sovereignty”) while also considering how to interact with the larger market outside. Commons-Market interfaces can reverse the process of value capture toward rather than away from the Commons, through the strategies of Transvestment.

In parallel, a Commons Transition political strategy involves building counter-power at the city, regional and global levels. This is done by creating local institutions to give voice to regional, commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalitions through Chambers of the Commons, which could learn from each other transnationally and, ideally, develop a collective voice. Meanwhile, local or affinity-based associations of citizens and commoners can unite those who contribute to or maintain commons, material and immaterial, through Commons Assemblies. As with the Chambers of the Commons, these prefigurative political systems can crystallize transnationally, binding existing political movements (Pirate Parties, New Left, Greens) under the narrative of the Commons.

The goals are clear and the elements are already in place but the question remains: when will this Commons transition take place?

The sustenance of roughly two billion people worldwide depend on some form of natural resource commons, yet many of these remain unprotected and vulnerable, in danger of privatization or sale. It’s possible that an analogous number of individuals are co-creating shared resources online through digital platforms. These potentially massive affinity networks lack a common identifier or unifying vision, but we can see the logic of commoning as a shared thread.

History shows that political revolutions are not followed by deep reconfigurations of power. Instead, revolutions complete these reconfigurations. New movements or classes and their practices precede the social revolutions which make them more powerful, and their practices more dominant. How does that relate to the idea of a Commons transition? Ample data supports the prefigurative existence of commoners (growing in numbers) who are already at the forefront of this phase transition, making a very strong start.

Factor in the changing cultural expectations of millennials and post-millennials who expect meaningful engagement and work, requirements not well met in the current system. With work increasingly vulnerable under neoliberalism, the search for alternatives and the cultural force of P2P, self-organizing, and corresponding ways of thinking fuels the growth of commons-oriented networks and communities could increase.

It is almost impossible to imagine a shift to sustainable circular economy practices under the current intellectual property driven, privatizing regime. Commons-based peer production is a model that could create a context of truly sustainable production. The watchwords are free, fair and sustainable, the three interrelated elements needed for a shift to more reasonable economy, polity and, ultimately, culture.

All of the above form a strategy for a Commons transition that offers a positive way out of the current crisis and a way to respond to the new demands of the commons-influenced generations. In fact, this Primer is full of case studies showing on the ground examples. The Commons and the prefigurative forms of a new value regime already exist. The commoners are already here, and they’re already commoning: The Commons transition has already begun.

If you agree and feel inspired to participate, read section 1.8, “How can I take part in the Commons Transition?” TL-DR More Resources

Commons-based peer production was enabled by the digital revolution; now, that revolution is returning to physical space. Communities worldwide use open, digital knowledge commons to help design items to manufacture locally (design global, manufacture local). Open Cooperativism principles are used by communities to create their own livelihoods. Other communities in our case studies defend their political interests, and those of nature and civil society, through assemblies of the Commons, using forms of P2P politics. Together, all these elements create the necessary conditions for a Commons Transition to occur.

We have argued the case for a Commons Transition, presented its existing components and strategies to get there. If you agree with these proposals and feel inspired to be part of the Commons Transition, you may wonder, “what can I do as an individual?”.

The dominant system trains us to look away from the Commons while favouring neat categories such as “producer”, “consumer”, “politician”, etc. It is difficult to become a commoner from one day to the other, most of us have simply never learned ways of creating and distributing value together. This generalized omission reminds us why care, support and equitable access are essential components of any Commons-based process, from the smallest to the planetary scales. We recommend that individuals reflect on this material, discuss it with friends and — parallel to finding support — come to their own conclusions.

Etymologically, “Commons” comes from the latin munus, which means both “gift” and “duty”. From this definition we find a wholly different way of relating and caring for the gifts of nature and our cultural heritage. Our responsibility as part of nature and as commoners, is to take care of our gifts. What gifts do you see or sense? What do you feel are your responsibilities? These are major reflections which cannot be rushed. In short, the Commons Transition begins with you… but always continues with others.

Once you feel you understand the logic of the Commons as a process that applies to a wide variety of places, groups and situations, you can begin applying the act of commoning to some of its most natural expressions such as care work, capacity building, community action, building and stewarding shared resources etc. No matter how it happens, we want to help. What follows is a list of suggestions and resources to get you started (or, if you’re already familiar, to continue your path).

Find the others

As Commons scholar David Bollier tells it “a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.” Simply put, commoning by nature is a community act, however small or large the community. We often find groups practicing the act of commoning without being conscious of what a commons framework implies. It is important to explain the Commons and P2P not as something to memorize and parrot, but as lived experiences which can lead to meaningful outcomes. Where can you find the others? Following the logic of “Design Global, Manufacturer Local” we suggest that you relate to commoners both online and in your own locality.

Online commons-oriented communities include Remix the CommonsCommons NetworkCommons InstituteLabGov, the European Commons Assembly, and our own community, the P2P Foundation.

All of these groups have their own social media platforms, but we also favour more federated social media ventures, such as Some of our favourite discussions take place on Loomio, the Open Source discussion and decision making platform built by Enspiral, one of the Open Coops described in the previous sections. Recommended commons-oriented Loomio groups include the Commons Transition discussion group, the Open App EcosystemEuropean Commons Assembly. Contact us with your interests and we’ll suggest groups to get in touch with.

Online resources for finding commoners and commons-oriented project in your community include the P2P Foundation’s and Commons Transition’s wikis country category pages. For more precise location-based alternatives, try Transformap, an online mapping platform visualizing alternative economic projects and communities.

Do stuff

Once you’ve found one (or various) communities, ask yourself what you’d like to do. You can involve yourself through plenty of actions: environmental work, open source software, reclamation of urban spaces, political coalition building, restorative agriculture… There’s no shortage of activities to get involved in. The important factor is applying and communicating the logic of commoning to the social process in which you may take part.

A fun way to asses this is by co-creating “user stories” around acts of commoning. This method (pioneered by our friends at Platoniq) is useful for brainstorming ways to involve yourself and others in getting involved in the Commons Transition:


What if, as a ____, I could _____, with (or, using) ______, in order to ______. Result: In doing so I am (we are) co-creating a_______ commons.

So, “What if, as a resident of a village, I could influence my municipal government with case studies and policy recommendations in order to legally gain open access for local people to viable lands and/or buildings presently in dis-use.“  Result: In doing so, I am (we are) co-creating a commons of public access.”

“What if, as a research student, I could request shared access to (controversially) paywall-protected academic publications online, using a hashtag on Twitter #icanhazpdf, in order to alert others with access to that material that I would like them to share those .pdf files.“  Result: In doing so I am co-creating a digital commons of knowledge

Keep Reading, watching, listening

We are blessed with abundant materials than can be read and shared on the Commons. If you want to dig in deep, we recommend starting with books such as David Bollier and Silke Helfrich’s The Wealth of the Commons and Patterns of CommoningDavid Bollier’s Think Like a CommonerSilvia Federicis’s Caliban and the WitchYochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networksor Dmytri Kleiner’s Telekommunist Manifesto, as well as Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy authored by the P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis. You can find a list of P2P and Commons related books here.

The Library section of this website features downloadable versions of the P2P Foundation’s publications and, in the following section (Longs) we feature five of our most important articles so you can explore these topics more in-depth. We also highly recommend reading our sister organization, the Commons Strategies Group’s, essays and reports, as well as those of our colleagues in Commons Network.

Day to day, we suggest reading or subscribing to our own P2P Foundation blog, which features daily content on P2P, Commons and other changemaking initiatives. Complementary to the daily blog the Commons Transition Stories site highlights original material by members of the P2PF, including Special Reports, alongside selected, narrative and longform articles.

Other closely affiliated websites featuring regular stories on P2P and the Commons include ShareableROAR MagazineConnected Action for the CommonsStir to Action, the Sustainable Economies Law Center blog, the Journal of Peer ProductionOn the Commons and the International Journal of the Commons.

For more in-depth learning and research, the P2P Foundation Wiki is the world’s largest database on P2P and Commons initiatives. You can find information and resources about all aspects of life, work, and culture with a P2P orientation. Hit a random page and go down the rabbit hole! Among others, we recommend the P2P EducationCooperation, and Peer Production categories to start with.

If you also like to watch and listen, the P2P Foundation blog has dedicated video and audio sections. Apart from the audio and video material featured in this site we recommend checking out Remix the Commons’ staggering media collection and the CommonSense online documentary, as well as the Upstream and Extraenviromentalist Podcasts.

Build Knowledge Commons

We’ve spoken about wikis and mapping before. Both are excellent ways to build common-pool resources. For wiki work, feel free to contact us to contribute in the P2P Foundation or Commons Transition wikis. The P2P Foundation Wiki is pluralistic and expansive, with many types of categories and contributions and reflecting the work of many movements. Meanwhile, the Commons Transition Wiki is our specialised knowledge repository for change makers. Focusing on policies and ideas for change, it is more tightly curated than the main wiki and features semantic categorization. For mapping, having a look around Transformap is a great start and, if you want to do something more explicitly local, Shareable has a great guide on hosting a MapJam in your city.

In reality, we encourage everyone who is building and maintaining to Commons to document and open-source the processes online — good and bad! Whether as part of your website, or in Github or our wikis, we can all benefit from the knowledge. As a complement to the better known Creative Commons Licenses, we recommend having a look at the Peer Production License and the logic behind Commons-based reciprocity (or “CopyFair”) licensing in general.

Build Material Commons

After making contact with people in your community, see if there are any existing community workshops in your area, or gauge whether there is interest in creating one. Mutualizing productive infrastructure and face to face collaboration are rewarding ways of commoning. From shared or community kitchens, to self-managed spaces and hackerspaces and fablabs, it’s worth getting involved in creating tangible stuff through commons-based peer production processes.

Makerspaces, hackerspaces and fablabs are in a flux: there is no single definition that perfectly captures all such spaces. A rather simple and inclusive description would be “community-run physical places where people can utilize local manufacturing technologies”.

As of writing, 2,186 makerspaces are listed in the wiki. Among these, 1,355 are marked as active, 351 as planned, while the rest appears to be inactive or closed. Although the majority of makerspaces are situated in the North-Western world with a recent expansion to the East and South, the phenomenon has a global spread, as depicted below.

Image from the

Live, work and consume differently

Some people may be able to carry out part or all of the actions described above in their spare time; others may simply not have the time or the social conditions to do so. What we propose is to make time and change conditions, where possible, to stop being complicit in the profit-accumulation scheme of peak hierarchy. This isn’t a simple or rapid process and it will largely depend on the networks you have connected to through the previous steps, but it’s important to think about and see how to apply to your own circumstances.

The first way to withdraw power from market-accumulation is by depriving it of your labor power. The capitalist market requires wage labour as commodity: you are forced to sell your labor in order to keep the accumulation and destruction machine going for the benefit of the few. Look for ways to refuse, not just by “dropping out” (although that’s also a respectable option) but by pro-actively building alternatives to provide for your sustenance — and that of others. The key is finding your passion and analysing how this could be framed within the patterns of Open Cooperativism. In reality, most generative forms of market organizations can be reimagined as such. What will be given up? Profit and hierarchy. But what will found in return will be infinitely more rewarding, and safer in the long run.

A second way is to remove your cooperation as a consumer. Follow the trend of decommodification and mutualize your consumption. Some examples include community-supported agriculture, solar energy coops, and platform and open coops. Better yet, blur the line and become a prosumer — it’s cheaper and more fun.

Without our contributions as workers and consumers, capital cannot reproduce itself. We must however ensure our own social reproduction through solidarity mechanisms, such as Meta-Economic Networks (check out the Mutual Aid Network’s resources section for information on how to start one), trasvestment strategies and reciprocity licensing, as explained in the previous sections.

Get Political

As we have argued, in order for a Commons Transition to take place, commoners need to build economic and political power. By “political” here we refer not only to political representation but also to the actionable rights of all who are affected by political decisions. How do we increase the credibility and influence of the P2P/Commons movement in the political sphere?

Any of the actions described above and, in fact, any act of commoning is political, as it challenges established power structures and their associated systems of oppression. But, as we have argued in “What are P2P Politics” (and, at more length in “Commons in the Time of Monsters”) it is not enough to hope that change will come about exclusively through prefigurative strategies. The Commons movement has to engage with existing political structures and reimagine them in commons-oriented ways.

Is this up to you as an individual? Perhaps not, maybe your calling drives you more towards the prefigurative aspects, like building extitutions. Whether you choose to express your politics outside the system or engage within it, the keys are to communicate transparently, build bridges and foster mutual support.

If you decide to engage with the currently existing political system, it’s useful to imagine a P2P political strategy under the logic of transvestment. If, in economics, transvestment means leeching power from extractive production towards the Commons, in politics it implies the “commonification” of municipal, regional, state or transnational institutions. The goal is to enable our autonomy as citizens, individuals, and groups to create and steward common resources, quite different from being a passive consumer of state services.

There are many ways of doing this depending on the place you reside and the local political options available. We’ve spoken about building bridges between Pirates, New Left and Green parties through the logic of the Commons. A particularly inspiring example is that of the citizen-driven municipal coalitions in Spain which, while being inclusive of existing parties, opened the field of politics to a much larger public. One of the best resources on this new wave of municipalism include Barcelona en Comú’s guide to taking back the City. You can read stories about municipalism on Commons Transition and the P2P Foundation Blog and invent ways of replicating such initiatives in your town.

Map by Fearless Cities

For a wider view, see the policy sections of the P2P Foundation and Commons Transition Wikis, as well as our P2P Policy blog category. Also, check the Commons Transition Plans which expand upon the work done for the FLOK Society/Buen Conocer project in Ecuador, and also the recent Commons Transition Plan for the City of Ghent. Help us develop and spread these policy positions. If they are to succeed, a wide section of the public needs to understand and demand such policies, while those working within the system need to steadfastly advocate for their adoption at the institutional level.

If you’re in Europe and interested in commons-oriented political advocacy, we strongly recommend joining the European Commons Assembly. Not in Europe? Time to think about creating your own Commons Assembly, which brings us back to…

Find the others (again)

We’ve shared plenty of ideas and directions to get you started. You may choose to follow some of these recommendations or, better still, create your own and share with others. But the greatest lessons about the Commons cannot be taught, they must be experienced in their depth and complexity.

Once you begin to think and act like a commoner, you can find the others, share your views, experiences, failures successes and surprises. Giving and sharing are at the heart of commoning. Treating our relationships and the environment as gifts and responsibilities in the context of commoning leads to new behaviours, values and thoughts. Create new commons, and help drive the Commons Transition forward.

TL-DR More Resources

If you agree with these proposals and feel inspired to be part of the Commons Transition, you may wonder, “what can I do as an individual?” It is difficult to become a commoner from one day to the other. Most of us have not been educated in ways of creating and distributing value together. In short, the Commons Transition begins with you… but always continues with others.

Towards a Coherent Institutional Design for Public-Commons Partnerships

3.1 The basic concepts underlying public commons partnerships

Thinking of social and political change in terms of a commons transition strategy requires a profound rethink of our existing institutional mix, and somewhat of a new vocabulary. What follows is a short introduction to this
vocabulary, which is important to understanding our institutional design proposals in this chapter.

In Section 1.1 we made the argument, based on the insights of Karatani (2014) and Polanyi (1944), that the crisis of the capital-state-nation is systemic, and that the current task of societal transformers is not just a restoration of this triad, but a simultaneous transformation of each of them into a new system configuration centered around the commons as central mechanism. This new system, by analogy of the institutional emergence of ‘really existing peer production’, appears as follows:

  • It puts the commons (and not the market) at its center, and civic society becomes the locus of the institutions of the commons. All inhabitants are considered to be productive commoners, co-constructing the various
    commons that fit their passions, skillsets and social needs;
  • The market is transformed towards a generative market, which serves the accumulation of the commons (not the accumulation of capital). Or alternatively, where the accumulation of capital directly serves the
    accumulation of the commons; and
  • The state or common good institutions, such as the city and its institutions, are seen as facilitating mechanisms to create the right public frameworks for individual and social autonomy. They enable and facilitate commons-friendly infrastructures. We have called this the Partner State model (Bauwens & Kostakis, 2014; Kostakis, 2011) and can speak of the Partner City as the equivalent on the scale of the urban.

Changing Societies through Urban Commons Transitions

This vision has profound consequences for institutional design. First, it requires a move away from binary thinking, i.e. the market-state binary, to a triarchical format. We need institutions for all three, i.e. the commons, the
state, and the market, but with the commons at the core. This also means a move away from public-partnerships, towards public-commons partnerships. These partnerships are augmented by generative market entities, eventually also with classic market entities moving in the direction of generativity. The poly-governance mechanisms and institutions discovered by Elinor Ostrom (1990) as the hallmark of the management of commons resources becomes the new normal in institutional design. Poly-governance structures, possibly matched by appropriate property mechanisms, consists at least of the three levels (commons, state and market) but can be even more fine-grained, as the work of Foster & Iaione (2016) has suggested 40.

For the bureaucratic state functions that get their legitimacy exclusively from electoral majorities, this means a change towards the commonification of public services, in which the traditional and bureaucratic hierarchies
are augmented, transformed, or replaced, by poly-governance models of participation and deliberation that include commoners and other stakeholders.  The logic of representation needs to be augmented by the logic of contribution, towards the model of a super-competent democracy or ‘democracy+’. Please note there is a tension between the participatory mode of democracy, which can be seen as a top-down mode of consultation under the direction of the city, and contributory democracy, whereby the city has to adapt to pre-existing practices from its most active citizens. We are proposing the latter model. Public-commons partnerships and the commonification of public services in the context of a partner state mean the possibility of making ‘Commons Accords’, i.e. agreements between the ‘partner city’ and the commoners. In economic terms, seeing society as commons-centric means the reorganization of the main provisioning systems around commons-based models.

In our conclusions from our study in Ghent (Bauwens & Onzia, 2017), we have seen that commons-centric seed forms exist for every existing provisioning system, such as food, shelter, mobility etc., and they are going through significant growth and the early beginnings of integration. Our proposal will show how the city administration can integrate and work with the emerging commons formats, essential for sustainable production models and climate change goals.

This new logic has also important implications for economic policy. In the 40 These authors propose a ‘quintuple helix’ model of poly-governance in the cited work. Changing Societies through Urban Commons Transitions 53
longer term, it requires thinking about generative, not extractive, models of economic activity. This means thinking around the key fault line: Does a particular economic activity not only show compatibility with the carrying capacity of its supporting environment but ‘generate value for both its natural resource base, and the human communities that are co-creating the commons on which these economic entities are co-dependent’? In the short term, it means setting up the required support frameworks so that generative commons practices get the same level of support as the classic extractive models of the economy.

Below we also introduce concepts aimed at a convergence between the commons and generative economic forms:

  • Open cooperatives: Cooperative economic forms that are generative vis a vis the commons, i.e. they can accept the contributory logic of the commons and help expand the commons by creating livelihoods for the commoners. Open cooperatives are distinct from cooperative models that are merely ‘collectively capitalist’, i.e. they compete in the marketplace for the benefit of their members only.
  • Platform cooperatives: Collectively owned platforms for the exchange economy, in which the platform itself is a commons. These are an alternative to the extractive platform capitalism promoted by firms like
    Uber and AirBnB, which exhibit many negative social and environmental externalities.
  • Protocol cooperativism: Open and platform cooperatives mutualize the technical knowledge and infrastructures which they need to operate, thereby avoiding wasteful fragmentation and wasted efforts.

We believe cities have a role in supporting the creation of these universal commons infrastructures which can be used by various cities and adapted to local circumstances. Think of a MuniBnb, a public-commons alliance of cities and commoners which would hold the ‘protocols’ to enable fairly distributed hospitality services.

3.2 How is the Commons Transition Plan in Ghent related to the FLOK Society Project in Ecuador?

In 2014, Michel Bauwens was asked to direct a research project for a Commons Transition Plan for the government of Ecuador, which was requested by three governmental institutions41. This was done during a six-month period with a team of six researchers drawn from the P2P Foundation network. The remit was to research how to plan a transition towards a ‘social knowledge economy’. This would transform Ecuador from a country dependent on limited extractive resources, such as mining or agricultural exports, to a country dependent on abundant immaterial resources, such as knowledge and culture.

This work resulted in a Commons Transition Plan (Bauwens, 2014), which had a more limited focus than the research and plan for Ghent. Indeed, given the remit, we had to focus on imagining how the Ecuadorian society and
economy would organize itself around knowledge commons for each domain of activity (scientific commons, education commons, etc.). Although this allowed us to look at the material preconditions for each of these knowledge commons, it did not allow us to focus directly on the material commons and provisioning systems, as we could do in Ghent. Nevertheless, the ability to do a first thorough research and scenario planning exercise on the mechanics of a commons transition, was still a historical first and the work in Ghent was greatly facilitated by this prior experience.

We should also add that the political context was entirely different. In Ghent, we could count on the enthusiastic support of the city coalition, of engaged functionaries and a fairly mature commons sphere in the city. In contrast, factions in the Ecuadorian government were staunchly opposed to this work, and Ecuador had a sociology that was very limiting in terms of potential social support for such a program. The uptake of our proposals was therefore very small, except for some limited advances regarding intellectual property law, and it could be argued that the Ecuadorian government even took a sharp extractive turn afterwards, as exemplified by its decision to open up Yasuni National Park to oil extraction (Vidal, 2016).

In all, the urban context seemed much more mature than the nation-state level, in terms of the kind of transition described here. While building on this prior experience, our proposals for Ghent go much further in detail, as
they focus both on material provisioning systems and on public-commons institutional design, not just on ‘immaterial’ knowledge commons. 41 The National Institute of Advanced Studies; the Coordinating Ministry of Knowledge and Human Talent; and the National Secretary for Science and Innovation.

3.3 A three-pronged strategy for the commons transition 

How do we get from the current market state and market city configurations to commons-centric institutions? We believe that the model of the Energiewende in Germany shows a workable strategy for social, political and institutional change. We propose therefore a strategy in three phases 42:

  • The first phase is the emergence and formation of alternative commons-based seed forms that solve the systemic issues of the current dominant political economy. For example, the carbon-producing activities of fossil fuel extraction needs to be replaced by a strategy focusing on the development and expansion of renewable energy. We are seeing that successful transitions, as those in Germany, depend on a large part on civic mobilization around commons-centric models of provisioning, such as the emergence of community-owned energy cooperatives. In this first phase, the focus is on promoting commons alternatives and
    their interconnection into integrated sub-systems, first of all within and then across provisioning systems. This emergence and expansion of commons-based alternatives is matched by the necessary growth
    of social, and eventually, political power. For example, in the case of Energiewende, the growth of energy coops was matched by the political power of the Greens, and the realization after Fukushima by Merkel of the dead-end and dangers of nuclear power (Mueller 2017).
  • The second phase is a regulatory and institutional phase in which the right frameworks are put in place. Without proper frameworks and supportive regulations, the commons-centric model would have
    remained marginal and grown much more slowly. But once the feedin tariff was in place, the new models could expand to the broader population, as they were ‘facilitated’ by incentives that made the
    commons-based alternative economically interesting for non-idealistic citizens.
  • The creation of the proper regulatory support and new institutional design creates the basis for the third phase, i.e. the normalization of the new practices from the margins to the new normal. In this phase,
    generative market forms support the continuing expansion of the commons-centric practices, with support from the partner state or partner city institutional frameworks.42

This strategy is a simplified version of what is described in the the ‘multi-level perspective’ literature of social change, a heuristic model distinguishing and articulating the complex dynamics between the ‘niches’, ‘regimes’ and ‘landscape’ levels of ‘socio-technical systems’ (Geels, 2010).

It becomes obvious that these three phases are not entirely separated and follow up on each other, but that they significantly interpenetrate. A significant amount of commons-based seed forms are required to even know what kind of supportive institutional frameworks will be most adequate. Similarly, the generative economic frameworks enabled by the regulatory institutions need sufficiently strong commons to depend on.
Finally, this scheme is of course focused on the political economy and structural aspects of change that cannot be undertaken without significant cultural, intersubjective and subjective changes. Those are not examined in
the context of this treatment.

3.4. An institutional design for the city administration

We can now proceed to the description of our proposals as featured in the Commons Transition Plan for the city of Ghent43 (Bauwens & Onzia, 2017). The general logic of our proposals is to put forward realistic but important institutional innovations that can lead to further progress and expansion of the urban commons, so that it can successfully achieve its ecological and social goals. We propose public-social or public-commons based processes and protocols to streamline cooperation between the city and the commoners in every field of human provisioning.

The following figure shows the basic collaboration process between commoners and the public good institutions of the ‘partner city’.43 We are not fully summarizing all proposals here, which are available in the
official Dutch-language report which is in the process of being translated to English in full, but merely the underlying logic.

As we can see, commons initiatives can forward their proposals and need for support to a City Lab, which prepares a ‘Commons Accord’ between the city and the commons initiative, modeled after the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons. Based on this contract, the city sets up specific support alliances which combine the commoners and civil society organisations, the city itself, and the generative private sector, in order to organize support flows.

This first institutional arrangement described here allows for permanent ad hoc adaptations and the organization of supportive frameworks to enable more support for the common-based initiatives. But just as importantly, this
support needs to be strategized in the context of the necessary socio-ecological transitions, which is the purpose of the second set of proposals, as outlined in the following figure:
Figure 7: A public-commons institutional design for the social and ecological transition

This figure describes a cross-sector institutional infrastructure for commons policy-making and support, divided in ‘transitional platforms’’ or as we call them on the figure ‘Sustainability Empowerment Platforms’. The model
comes from the existing practice in Ghent around the food transition, which is far from perfect and has its problems, but nevertheless has in our opinion the core institutional logic that can lead to more successful outcomes in the future.

The city has indeed created an initiative called Gent en Garde, which accepts the five aims of civil society organisations active in the food transition (local organic food, fairly produced) that works as follows: The city has initiated a Food Council, which meets regularly and contributes to food policy proposals; it is representative of the current forces at play and has both the strength and weaknesses of representative organisations; but it also counts in its membership, the ‘urban food working group’, which mobilizes those effectively working at the grassroots level on that transition; the group follows a contributive logic, where every contributor has a voice. In our
opinion, this combination of representative and contributory logic is what can create a super-competent Democracy+ institution that goes beyond the limitations of representation and integrates the contributive logic of the
commoners. This model mixes the representative logic and its legitimacy, the expertise available in public institutions, but crucially augments it with the contextually rich experience and expertise of the grassroots experts. It is
further augmented with the expertise of the generative businesses that are engaged in the necessary socio-ecological transitions.

But how can the commoners exert significant political weight so that political and representative institutions will actually ‘listen’ to them? This requires ‘voice’ and self-organisation. We therefore propose the creation of an Assembly of the Commons for all citizens active in the co-construction of commons, and a Chamber of the Commons for all those who are creating livelihoods around these commons, in order to create more social, economic and ultimately, political power for the commons (see Section 2.1).

This essential process of participation that we have seen in the food transition area can be replicated across the transition domains, obtaining city and institutional support for a process leading to Energy as a Commons, Mobility as a Commons, Housing, Food, etc. These ‘transition arenas’ or ‘sustainability empowerment platforms’ integrate the goals and values necessary for a successful socio-ecological transition and allow for a permanent dialogue amongst all the stakeholders involved.

With this, we conclude the minimal generic structures that we believe a Partner City needs to support a transition towards commons-based civic and economic forms which can be integrated in democratic structures of
representation, enriching and complementing them, while stimulating the individual and collective autonomy of its citizens organized as commoners.

3.5. Other proposals

Some of the proposals included in the Ghent study merit special attention:

  • A project to test the capacity of ‘cosmo-local production’ to create meaningful local jobs (organic food for school lunches) and to test the potential role of anchor institutions and social procurement;
  • A pilot project around ‘circular finance’ in which ‘saved negative externalities’ that lead to savings in the city budget wich can directly be invested in the commons projects that have achieved such efficiencies (e.g re-investing the saved cost of water purification to support the acquisition of land commons for organic farmers); and
  • As pioneered by the NEST project of temporary use of the old library, use more ‘call for commons’ instead of competitions44 between individual candidates. A ‘call for commons’ rewards the coalition that creates
    the best complementary solution between multiple partners and open sources its knowledge commons to support the widest possible participation.

Earlier in this report, we mentioned the experiment and prototypal work of Lunch met LEF, an initiative that aims to re-introduce healthy organic, local and ‘fair’ food to the city’s communal public schools, which serve five millions meals a year. It is an example of the kind of change that could be effected on the level of meaningful work and engagement, and real employment that involves all types of workers. We believe this is very important, as the rightwing populist movements are largely determined by the decline of well paid blue collar work. In this particular case, food would be sourced from urban and peri-urban farmers in the city and bioregion around Ghent, strengthening the generative food economy; a zero-carbon transportation system (cargobikes), would generate a second level of employment, with a final third layer of local cooking in the schools. These effects are congruent with our vision of ‘cosmolocal production’ (design global, manufacture local), outlined in Chapter 1, combining the world’s knowledge on healthy food and agricultural production, suitably contextualized, with relocalizing production and job opportunities. It is also congruent with the research showing that ‘Locally owned, import substituting (LOIS) businesses’ produce less ‘leakage’ and more employment and benefits for the local economy, alongside the obvious ecological advantages in terms of the biocapacity and carrying capacity of the region. If successful, and the 90% organic local production for Copenhagen’s schools shows that it can be, this model could be generalized by using the combined power of anchor institutions and social procurement. Anchor institutions are the institutions such as hospitals, schools, universities, public institutions, that are normally present in every neighborhood, and whose mighty combined procurement power can be used to finance such a shift and create more local employment in socially useful and meaningful work occupations. This strategy was pioneered
with the Evergreen Cooperative model in Cleveland, Ohio and Preston, UK. In this vision, the city supports local cooperative organizations that can service the anchor institutions. Social procurement is that wich integrates quality, social and ecological considerations in its briefs, legal even under the WTO regime, but wich also choose to divvy up procurement in order to make it 44 more attractive to local business and less so to large external players. It has been practiced in Scotland, for example. Investments in this area are related to the circular finance concept. Mainstream businesses are wont to ignoring negative social and environmental
externalities in order to bring costs down and remain competitive. However, the costs of these externalities are routinely passed on to the public purse. This also means that cost savings in this area can be used to fund the
transition and the above-described job-creation strategy. Terre des Liens is a successful community land trust movement in France which buys land to put it outside the market and offers cheap rents to organic farmers. They told us about advanced discussions with local water authorities in France, since they realize that organic farmers substantially reduce the need to recycle and clear water (as well as substantial decreases in health expenditures). It is therefore possible to imagine agreements where by a percentage of such savings is used in a virtuous feedback loop to fund eco-social transitions that further reduce negative externalities. Large business firms like IBM have already practiced this by investing in Linux, the free software that substantially reduces the private investments of IBM.

The third important innovation we propose is the ‘call for commons’, pioneered by the NEST project, a temporary arrangement by a wide coalition of cultural initiatives to use the empty buildings of an old library, consisting
of eight floors. While classic funding and procurement competitions divide and rule, privatizing the knowledge and leading to huge waste of efforts, a call for commons is effectively its opposite: it stimulates cooperation,
commonifies the knowledge and avoids the waste. In a call for commons, the best cooperators are stimulated to create complementary coalitions. Over one month, the NEST coalition was able to offer a full use of the capacities of the building, with 70 participating organisations presenting a combined project, which included an open and contributive accounting system for the rent, in which the most active and nonprofit oriented projects paid much less than for-profit businesses. We believe such a call for commons should be institutionalized as a new protocol and institution for funding projects. Apart from the aforementioned projects, we also propose the following:

  • The creation of a judicial assistance service consisting of at least one representative of the city and one of the commoners, in order to systematically unlock the potential for commons expansion by finding solutions for regulatory hurdles.
  • One of our main findings was that commons-based initiatives face a multitude of obstacles to develop their new practices, and not just a lack of support. For example, in the housing sector, most legislation consists
    of promoting private housing and its speculative effects, and social housing with its bureaucratic rules and limitations.
  • The creation of an incubator for a commons-based collaborative economy, which specifically deals with the challenges of generative start-ups. Nearly all support mechanisms are still geared towards extractive models of business, such as the venture-capital start-up model, most often designed to obtain quick market dominance and an exit of the founders, which often means that the investment will not benefit the region in the long term. These existing incubators are usually hostile to the creation of open knowledge commons and seek to privatize knowledge. Young entrepreneurs often don’t know a that there are generative alternatives, and don’t know where to find the right advice and support for these emerging practices.
  • The creation of an investment vehicle, the bank of the commons, which could be a city bank based on public-social governance models. There is revival of public banking in the U.S. and other countries, given the failure of traditional banks to sufficiently invest in local productive economies rather than speculative ventures. The revenues of a city can be stored in a public-commons bank dedicated to local investment. • Augmenting the capacity of temporary land and buildings towards more permanent solutions to solve the land and housing crisis affecting commoners and citizens.  Temporary use programs, while very useful, do not solve the longer term issues created by ongoing real estate speculation and the rarefaction of urban land.
  • Support of platform cooperatives as an alternative to the more extractive forms of the sharing economy. Assisting the development of mutualized commons infrastructures (‘protocol cooperativism’), through inter-city cooperation (avoiding the development of 40 Uber alternatives in as many cities). We suggest support for the development of local alternative platforms which keep the value in the region, but also the interlinking of leagues of cities to support the generic and universal infrastructural base needed for avoiding fragmented and repetitive investment and efforts.
  • Make Ghent ‘the place to be’ for commoners by using ‘Ghent, City of the Commons’ as an open brand, to support the coming of visitors for commons-conferences, etc.  We believe there is an important opportunity to brand the city as a commons city, attracting visitors who can learn from the experience, and contribute to the transition in Ghent. With this, we conclude our review of a potential new institutional design for urban-centric transitions towards a commons-centric economic and societal development. This would allow for mutual recognition and support of the three key actors that should be at the core of a mobilization for such a transition:
    • A vibrant field of citizen activity around shared resources and provisioning systems;
    • A vibrant field of generative economic entities which create livelihoods for participating citizen-commoners and added value for society as a whole;
    • A vibrant field of public-commons ‘common good’ institutions that create the right and stimulating frameworks for personal and social autonomy.

While Ghent obviously provided a specific local context for this work, we do believe that some of the aspects described above do transcend the limitations of space and time, and could inspire other partner cities to start evolving in the same direction. How to imagine such a global cooperation is the final topic of this report.

3.6. Towards a global infrastructure for commonsbased provisioning

We have argued in this overview that we are in a conjuncture where commonsbased mutualizing is one of the keys for sustainability, fairness and globallocal well-being. In this conclusion, we suggest a global infrastructure in
which cities can play a crucial role.

See the graphic below for the stacked layer that we propose, which is described as follows:

  • The first layer is the cosmo-local institutional layer. Imagine global forbenefit associations which support the provisioning of infrastructures for urban and territorial commoning. These are structured as global
    public-commons partnerships, sustained by leagues of cities which are co-dependent and co-motivated to support these new infrastructures and overcome the fragmentation of effort that benefits the most extractive and centralized ‘netarchical’ firms. Instead, these infrastructural commons organizations co-support MuniRide, MuniBnB, and other applications necessary to commonify urban provisioning systems (Orsi, 2015). These
    are the global “protocol cooperative” governance organizations.
  • The second layer consists of the actual global depositories of the commons applications themselves, a global technical infrastructure for open sourcing provisioning systems. They consists of what is globally
    common, but allow contextualized local adaptations, which in turn can serve as innovations and examples for other locales. These are the actual ‘protocol cooperatives’, in their concrete manifestation as usable
  • The third layer are the actual local (urban, territorial, bioregional) platform cooperatives, i.e. the local commons-based mechanisms that deliver access to services and exchange platforms for the mutualized used
    of these provisioning systems. This is the layer where the Amsterdam FairBnb and the MuniRide application of the city of Ghent organize the services for the local population and their visitors. It is where houses
    and cars are effectively shared.
  • The potential fourth layer is the actual production-based open cooperatives, where distributed manufacturing of goods and services produces the actual material services that can be shared and mutualized
    on the platform cooperatives.
    Figure 8: City-supported cosmo-local production infrastructure.
    Local public-commons alliances to support commons-based provisioning exchange
    e.g. Partago – electric car-sharing platform coop (Ghent); FairBnB (Amsterdam)
    Layer 3: Local / Bioregional Platform Coops – Actual Sharing and Exchange on Commonly-Owned Platforms
    Layer 2: Open Source Depositories for Commons-Based Infrastructure – Protocol Cooperative Technical Layer
    Open cooperatives for production
    e.g. Open design electric buses (Berlin); Lunch met Lef – fair, ecological and locally produced school lunches (Ghent)
    Layer 4: Distributed Production through Open Cooperatives
    e.g. Shelter as commons (MuniBnB); Mobility as commons (MuniRide)
    Layer 1: Institutional Layer – Protocol Cooperative Governance
    Local adaptations
    Global depositories

    The authors are grateful to the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their ongoing support, and Heike Löschmann, Joanna Barelkowska and Joerg Haas for their critical feedback and help. We would also like to thank our colleagues from the P2P Foundation, Ann Marie Utratel and Stacco Troncoso, for handling the editing. Last, we would like to thank Elena Martínez Vicente for the design. All errors remain the authors’ sole responsibility.


David Bollier, in his paper for our “New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals” series exploring viable political-economic alternatives to the present order, suggests that a commons-based framework could provide a critical template for de-commodification, mutualization, and the organization and control of resources outside of the market.

We’re excited to share with you our latest animation that illustrates some of the principal features of David Bollier’s vision for how we can manage the commons cooperatively and fairly—through “commoning,” a process of social self-organization that creates new and innovative ways to equitably and sustainably manage shared resources.

Read David Bollier’s essay “Commoning as a Transformative Social Paradigm” from Volume 2 of our New Systems: Possibilities and Proposals series.

Originally published at The Next System