A diverse movement of commoners around the world is rediscovering and creating a wide range of new commons, mostly independent of markets and the state. This fledgling Commons Sector includes myriad traditional commons of forests, farmland, fisheries, and water irrigation in rural settings, but it also extends to countless digital commons such as free and open source software, Wikipedia, and platform co-operatives, not to mention urban commons, local food and agriculture systems, alternative currencies and financial co-ops, and many others.
What unites these highly diverse communities? They are asserting a different universe of value than that of the market price system. They share a basic commitment to production for use, not market exchange or profit. They assert the right of communities to participate in making the rules that govern themselves, and the importance of fairness and transparency. As commoners, they claim the responsibility to act as long-term stewards of resources they depend upon.
While many commons are small and local, the Internet and digital technologies have helped make these initiatives open and connected, so that SLOC projects – small and local, open and connected – are a significant force in remaking the global economy. “The next big thing is a lot of small things,” as designer Thomas Lommée puts it. This trend is reflected in the surge of commons-based networks such as the European Commons Assembly, Francophone commoners, Remix the Commons, and the pan-European network of progressive activists DiEM25
In the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher pressed Great Britain adopt the neoliberal agenda of privatization, deregulation, budget cuts, and privileges for capital, she insisted, “There is no alternative!” — a phrase that was later shortened to its acronym, TINA. The proliferation of contemporary commons and companion movements makes it clear that the more accurate acronym is TAPAS – “There are plenty of alternatives!”
Below is a select listing of active commons initiatives with several links to useful resources.
Peer production 1 2 3
A new model of socioeconomic production in which large numbers of people work cooperatively (usually over the Internet), without rigid hierarchical structures or economic motivations.
Platform co-operativism 1 2 3
A digital movement to build co-operative alternatives to Uber, Airbnb and other proprietary digital platforms, so that user/members can capture the benefits of their creativity and work through systems of mutual aid.
Open design and manufacturing 1 2 3
An emerging system of production based on “design global, produce local” based on the principles of open source software development, but applied to physical outputs such as cars, farm equipment, furniture, houses and 3D printing.
FabLabs / makerspaces 1 2 3
Self-organized and –managed community workspaces where tech enthusiasts of all levels collaborate on new projects and self-education involving computers, machining, 3D printing, digital arts and related fields.
Academic & scientific commons
Open access scholarly publishing 1 2 3
An alternative system of journals and monographs that relies upon Creative Commons licensing to publish scholarly and scientific research for free and without website paywalls or copyright restrictions.
Open science 1 2 3
A broad movement within scientific circles to try to make research, data, publications and other work products more accessible to everyone, and to stimulate collaboration through the Internet.
Open Educational Resources movement 1 2 3
A diverse movement of educators, administrators and students seeking to make curricular materials, textbooks, scholarly research and other educational materials more accessible and affordable.
Citizen-science 1 2 3
A fairly new approach to scientific research in which scientists and interested amateurs collaborate to collect and analyze data about a given phenomenon, usually with the assistance of digital platforms and technologies.
The city as a commons 1 2 3
A growing movement, especially in cities such as Barcelona, Bologna, Amsterdam, Madrid and Seoul, to empower residents to initiate projects and collaborate in the management of public spaces, facilities and services.
Land & water
Community land trusts 1 2 3 4
A socio-legal innovation that enables a community to act as permanent stewards of land held in trust for affordable housing, farming, community gardens, and other purposes serving the common good.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) 1 2 3 4
CSAs are a form of farming and food distribution that enlists residents to subscribe in advance to the harvest from a local farm, a system that helps sustain local agriculture and community while providing fresh, less expensive food.
Intergenerational transfer of land 1 2 3 4
As an estimated 400 million acres of farmland changes hands within the next two decades, projects such as Agrarian Trust and Terre de Liens are working to create new strategies and trusts to keep lands as community resources.
Public trust doctrine 1 2 3
This ancient legal doctrine, dating back to the Roman Empire and English common law, prevents government from selling or privatizing access to navigable waters, harbors, wetlands and wildlife, which belong to the public.
Slow Food / Agroecology / Permaculture 1 2 3 4 5
These are related movements to protect healthy, seasonal and sustainably grown local food. Each works with farmers, local residents, food enthusiasts, activists and others to develop better food systems and change attitudes.
Indigenous and traditional commons
Buen vivir 1 2 3 4
Literally “good living,” this name (sometimes Sumak Kwasay) describes the worldview and spirituality of indigenous communities in the Americas, and their ancient relationships of living together and with nature.
Rights of nature / Earth jurisprudence 1 2
An international movement to secure formal legal rights for nature in the workings of government and courts, as a means to counter unchecked environmental abuses by corporations and markets.
Traditional Knowledge Databases 1 2
To prevent multinational corporations from patenting genes, plants and knowledge that have been long shared by indigenous peoples, many communities have created traditional knowledge databases.
Seed sharing 1 2 3 4 5
A diverse movement of farmers, plant breeders, indigenous peoples and others seeking to protect the legal sharing of seeds in the face of companies promoting crop monocultures and proprietary seed.
Finance and money
Blockchain ledger software 1 2 3
This breakthrough innovation in software design enables the creation of digital currencies whose authenticity can be verified automatically on open networks, enabling new types of currencies and “smart contracts.”
Public banks 1 2
By enabling governments to create money directly via loans, public banks enables governments to make credit more affordable for small businesses, farmers, students, and taxpayers who finance infrastructure projects.
Co-operative finance 1 2 3
Co-operatives, credit unions and community development finance institutions (CDFIs) can be effective vehicles for making credit available to socially oriented enterprises and lower-income individuals.
Timebanking 1 2 3
A “time-barter” system that lets people with little money to help someone else with household tasks, tutoring, odd jobs, etc., and in return receive a “time credit” that can be spent to meet one’s own needs.