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Building a dictionary for an economics of the commons

photo of Poor Richard

Poor Richard
25th May 2013

Lifezones By Peter Halasz [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Lifezones By Peter Halasz [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a proposal in response to “Help us build a dictionary on commons economics!”, an article recently posted at The Economics of the Commons Conference (ECC 2013) Communications Platform website (commonsandeconomics.org)

I. First, the list of commons economic terms in the original article has a very notable omission:


I suggest that we avoid coining new words, phrases and “commons jargon” for ideas and  terms that already exist and have reasonably well-established meanings in public and academic discourse. Language is one of our most important commons and its conservation and good stewardship is important.

Suggested terms with utility for commons economics:

II. Secondly, we might consider referring to some existing top-level vocabularies (data dictionaries, ontologies, etc.) and perhaps building the commons-based economics vocabulary as an extension (specialized domain) of one or more of these.

Below is a graphic of the GoodRelations e-comerce vocabulary (click to enlarge in another window). I include this graphic not for its specific terminology but because it conveys several concepts at a glance. The use of a Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagram would allow us to  show terms grouped into logical classes and the relationships between those classes. But this is not only a step towards a standardized and machine-readable dictionary of terms; it is also a model of economic processes. I think this would be a very useful kind of model to create for an Economics of the Commons. Rather than invent the Commons Economy Model from scratch we could borrow from existing models like GoodRelations and adapt them as necessary.

At the most basic level, such a diagram would allow us to hyperlink each term to a standard definition such as those given in the UNITED NATIONS METADATA COMMON VOCABULARY. Note that in the UN Metadata dictionary each term is not only defined but there are references to relevant organizations, standards, specifications, urls, etc.

Such a model could be created and updated collaboratively using tools like Prezi, Mindmap, Debategraph, etc.

Once we create our model, software engineers can render it into various machine-readable protocols such as XML, RDF, OWL, etc.

(click on the image for an enlarged view)

GoodRelations e-commerce vocabulary (click to enlarge)
GoodRelations e-commerce vocabulary (click to enlarge)

Other examples of standardized vocabularies  designed for  both human-readable and machine-readable information exchange:

UNITED NATIONS METADATA COMMON VOCABULARY (2009) unstats.un.org/unsd/dnss/docs-nqaf/04_sdmx_cog_annex_4_mcv_2009.pdf

Other UN data and metadata dictionaries, vocabularies, data sets, etc. data.un.org/Default.aspx

The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), which is XML-based, has a variety of schemas (vocabularies) used to facilitate information exchange among partners in various disciplines, government-wide. It’s about achieving interoperability. Think of the NIEM data model as a mature and stable data dictionary of agreed-upon terms, definitions, and formats, independent of how information is stored in individual agency systems. www.niem.gov/technical/Pages/niem.aspx

GoodRelations  is a standardized vocabulary (also known as “schema”, “data dictionary”, or “ontology”) for product, price, store, company data, etc. GoodRelations is now fully compatible with the HTML5 microdata specification and can be used as an extension for the schema.org vocabulary. www.heppnetz.de/ontologies/goodrelations/v1

Schema.org The schemas are a set of ‘types’, each associated with a set of properties. The types are arranged in a hierarchy. schema.org/docs/full.html

The geopolitical ontology, developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), provides names in seven languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, English, Spanish, Russian and Italian) and identifiers in various international coding systems (ISO2, ISO3, AGROVOC, FAOSTAT, FAOTERM, GAUL, UN, UNDP and DBPediaID codes) for territories and groups and tracks historical changes from 1985 up until today;[2] provides geolocation (geographical coordinates); implements relationships among countries and countries, or countries and groups, including properties such as has border with, is predecessor of, is successor of, is administered by, has members, and is in group; and disseminates country statistics including country area, land area, agricultural area, GDP or population. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geopolitical_ontology

Lists of other ontologies:



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One Response to “Building a dictionary for an economics of the commons”

  1. Bob Haugen Says:

    For an ontology that would tie a lot of the economic concepts together, you could look at jtc1sc32.org/doc/N1051-1100/32N1083-CD15944-4-wg1n266.pdf

    That’s the model behind the value network accounting system for SENSORICA, which you can see here:

    And the software is here:

    Here’s a more “ontological” (but earlier) view of the ISO model:

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