The commons paradigm is a versatile social form that is reviving ancient forms of shared stewardship for resources and community, often with modern twists and the use of digital technologies.

Contemporary commons can be seen in open source software and Wikipedia, community land trusts and local currencies, seed-sharing cooperatives and co-housing, art collaborations and open textbook projects. What unites countless commons is their attempts to de-commodify resources and mutualize benefits through bottom-up governance systems that are fair and inclusive.

The Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center works with diverse commoners to advance this vision and build a new type of economy. Instead of privatizing gains and externalizing costs onto nature and society, commons seek to reinvent the very meaning of “the economy” by re-integrating it with living systems, local community, and social participation.

As nonmarket systems, commons provide a regenerative, holistic way of meeting everyday needs and empowering people through self-governance.  Because they are appropriately sized and participatory, commons tend to be more democratic, trusted, oriented to the long term, and adaptable to changing circumstances and local knowledge than either markets or the state.

David Bollier, Director of the Program, has been a scholar and activist on the commons for nearly twenty years, working with many international projects, activists and thinkers through the Commons Strategies Group. He is an author or editor of eight books on the commons, including his popular Think Like a Commoner and, more recently, Free, Fair, and Alive : The Insurgent Power of the Commons (Here is David Bollier’s full biography.)

The commons is: 

(1) A system of shared intention designed to steward collective care-wealth in fair, collaborative ways;

(2) A socially coherent group of peers managing collective resources (both depletable and replenishable) with minimal reliance on the market or state;

(3) A living process of commoning that enables people to co-create a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging while meeting important needs;

(4) A neglected sector of the economy — and life — that generates living value in ways not easily captured by markets and prices;

Program Activities and Resources 

The Reinventing the Commons Program has extensive dealings with leading commoners in the US involved in commons-based approaches to food and agriculture, land and water, forests, open source software, peer production, open design and manufacturing, platform co-operatives, arts and culture, urban commons, and alternative currencies.

New to the Commons?

If you know the commons only as a bit of history, here is an introduction to the commons as a contemporary paradigm of economics, politics and culture: