WHAT IS THE COMMONS?
There are many definitions for the commons. At the International Commons Conference in Berlin, October 2010, Silke Helfrich defined it in this way, “The Commons is building social relationships in such a way that all those things we need to reproduce our livelihood will be shared in a fair way, and managed in a sustainable way.”
Another definition that inspires the work of many and is based on the work of Professor Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize for her work, differentiates “public goods” which are administered by governments and “common pool resources” which are resources that are administered by people (commoners) in an open, democratic manner for the benefit of all concerned. Public goods do not belong to the commons, they are a part of the public (governmental) sector, common pool resources are.
Commons Action for the United Nations is focused on the heart of what enlivens the commons. We see three essentials within our definition of the commons:
1. Commons goods or common pool goods,
2. Commoners (those who manage these resources);
3. Commoning—the open, inclusive and democratic manner in which commons resources are managed for the well-being of all concerned.There is no commons without people commoning: commoners engaged in mutually supportive relationships of co-creating and protecting material or intellectual resources essential to their life. In the words of Martin Luther King, we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
The art of commoning, in a broader sense, is one and the same as the art of living and being fully engaged in what life is honoring.
Commoning includes the constellation of practices used by people in the course of managing shared resources and reclaiming the commons. Commoning is a collective endeavor.
Commoning is not a loss of individual autonomy it is an experience of our common bonds and interrelatedness. Individuals uniquely expressing their sense of interconnectedness within the web of life in which we derive and share all that sustains our material existence. Our distinct contribution is inherently apart of the whole. Commoning is an act of individual responsibility and recognition of that shared reality.
Since commons are separate communities that are not automatically in harmony with one another, we focus on those commons that are dedicated to the well-being of all people and nature, since the objectives of such commons are aligned with one another and can therefore form a solid basis both for a global community and a commons-based global economy that works well for all.