The debate over the commons used to focus on how to protect shared resources from private predators. Now, increasingly, the focus is shifting to how the commons and market forces can constructively work together while preserving the integrity of the commons. That is to say, the focus is on how to preserve the social relationships and free flows of information that constitute the commons while permitting some sort of monetization and/or developing external revenue sources.
I consider this whole conversation is a significant “developmental stage” in the evolution of the commons: how to develop a sustainable balance between commons and markets? This sort of talk was much in evidence at the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona in late October; at the International Commons Conference in Berlin on November 1-2; and most notably at the “Economies of the Commons” conference hosted by the De Balie Center in Amsterdam on November 11-13. The tagline for the latter conference put it well: “Paying the cost of making things free.”
The conversations that I encountered at the International Commons Conference in Berlin, Germany, three weeks ago are still reverberating through my mind. I’m not sure if any of us really knew what a group of 180 self-styled commoners from 34 countries would look like. But just experiencing the transnational tableau of commoners – each with different voices and passions, but united by a commitment to the idea of the commons – was energizing and inspiring.
The conference was sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in cooperation with the Commons Strategy Group (of which I am a part) after months of planning, primarily by Silke Helfrich. The event had an ambitious focus – “Constructing a Commons-Based Policy Platform” – that, in retrospect, was not entirely achieved. There were just too many commoners meeting each other for the first time, each coming from different intellectual and cultural traditions, with no lingua franca or shared agenda yet. We are still learning who were are, how we think and our aspirations for the commons. (It was quite obvious, however, how we feel.)
The conference's most significant achievement may have been the in-person convergence of so many committed commoners -- and the many new relationships and collaborations that have been spawned. And even if the framing of the conference was ambitious, it was precisely what we need to be talking about.
After more than ten years of thinking and writing about the commons, I decided that it was time to strike off in some new directions, with some new partners, projects and ways of engaging the world. I plan for my new blog, Bollier.org, to be the place where I can share my adventures and insights from my work on the commons. A lot is going on that needs to be brought into focus, interpreted, shared and debated. I hope that this site can serve that function.
Never before has there been so much diverse leadership and innovation in developing the commons paradigm. The recent International Commons Conference in Berlin, Germany, on November 1-2 was a landmark convergence of many different approaches to the commons, from efforts to fortify traditional natural resource commons and pioneer "peer to peer urbanism" to new digital commons that aspire to develop a privacy-friendly alternative to Facebook, reinvent money and relocalize the economy.