This past weekend I learned a lot about the art of commoning through a process known as The Art of Hosting. It’s a methodology for eliciting the collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of a group – which is obviously important for a successful commons.
We all know that the commons is about the stewardship of resources, but we may not realize that it is also about hosting people. Not “managing” them or “organizing” them, but unleashing their capacity to self-organize themselves in creative, constructive, humane ways.
This requires a sensitive touch, an artistic flair and a deep attentiveness to the humanity of other human beings. This is the art of hosting: an engagement with people as living, feeling, meaning-making creatures who care about fairness, imagination and fun.
Serious observers of the commons often approach it “from the outside,” as if it were an elaborate machine of cogs and pulleys. But if you approach the commons from within its inner dimensions – how people relate to each other – you are forced to pay more attention to qualitative dimensions and capacities of human beings, including aesthetics, ethics and feelings. Personality and authenticity matter.
The art of commoning, then, is about the graceful, light-touch structuring of people’s distinctive energies, passions and imaginations as they interact in groups. By modeling certain attitudes toward each other and the world, and by constructing a shared social norm, people learn to give the best of themselves while taking care of each other and their shared social and physical spaces.
The three-day Art of Commoning event in Montreal – most of it in French – was hosted by a team of facilitators called Percolab. (Thank you, Elizabeth Hunt and Samatha Slade for your running translations!) Fittingly, the gathering was held at Espace pour la vie, Space for Living, which is a group of four natural sciences resource institutes in Montreal. Some collective notes from the gathering (in French and English) can be found here.
Let it be said that this was not an event of droning keynotes and dreary powerpoints. It was a lively, highly participatory set of deftly structured encounters among seventy people who care deeply about the commons.
At one point, people were split up into small groups and one person told a memorable story of commoning – while others were assigned to identify notable aspects of the story – paradoxes, intuitive moments, “tipping points,” and the importance of economic, political and legal structures. These interpretations really helped bring out revealing themes and meanings in each story.