Chicago Chamber of Commons Event Report


Here’s an updated from our friends at the Chicago Chamber of Commons submitted by Steve Ediger.

Chicago Chamber of Commons

CCC 3On October 10, 20 participants assembled at the ICA-USA Greenrise in Uptown Chicago for two workshops to a) discuss what we mean when we talk about commons and b) create an action plan for assembling key Chicagoans by May 1, 2016 to form Chicago’s Chamber of Commons.

During the day it became clear that the many perspectives in the room meant that defining a Chamber of Commons was a complex task. Steve Ediger and Michelle Halle Stern co-facilitated the workshops. Participants engaged in deep conversation, and, based on feedback received, everybody felt that it was a productive use of their time. This report documents the outcomes of the proceedings and maps a path to the founding of Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons in May of 2016.

Consensus Workshop

In our consensus workshop, we asked and answered the question, “What do we mean when we talk about Commons?” To set the context, we discussed The Commons Short and Sweet, an article by David Bollier. With this article, participants gained an orientation of traditional and modern frames of the term commons, how commons can only be defined in conjunction with commoners, a community that has come together to manage a commons, how enclosure of commons results in dispossession, and that new structures and law is needed to promote commons and their preservation. The discussion was lively, and the participants welcomed this preamble to set the stage for our discussion on commons.

After setting the context, participants began individual work by listing their ideas about the meaning of commons. Then they split into pairs and shared ideas, picking out their most well-expressed ideas. Michelle Halle Stern facilitated collection of these and pairing them into linked ideas. Subsequently all of the ideas were brought up and clustered into groups. We ended up with six clusters of ideas, covering all of the unique thoughts that the participants had about the question, “What do we mean when we talk about Commons?”

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This was the final work product of the consensus workshop. The table on the next page documents the outcomes in text.

Stewardship of Nature

How we Organize

Land Stewardship

Health, Wellness and Human Potential

Mobility and Transportation

Open Access to Knowledge

Right to safe food, water & air


making processes

Community land trust

Open access to medical care

Integrated transportation

Unbiased, uncensored and complete news

Clean air & water globally as basic right

Free Associations of people

Community Gardens

Means of survival/ wellness

Public transportation & bike paths

Free & open sharing of knowledge for all

Rainwater and rivers

Expectation of safety, security & protection

Balance of nature/urban space

Traditional food/medicine access & knowledge

Open source farm equipment

Access to renewable energy resources

Goodwill exchange barter

Protect public access to lakefront

Divert edible food waste for eating

Nuclear family knowledge shared communally

Healthy sunlight

Experience of reality based on relational agreement

Access food waste for composting

Food, housing, & education to nurture one’s full expression of being human

Worldview, mindset, lens, affiliation, ethic system, behaviour

Relational agreement

Cities as commons

Protect views

Indigenous traditional knowledge

Our public servants

Managing built environment for community’s benefit

The airwaves

Intentional communities

We would invite you to consider this as an early starting point in defining what we mean when we talk about Commons. This was a brainstorm, not a study group, and ideas the participants came up with in one session. We all started at different places and not everyone had done much study about Commons. Additional writing on a definition of Commons can be found in “Commons Transition Plan”. David Bollier has a rich bibliography on his site.

Action Planning Workshop

In the afternoon, we went into action and planned how we might get a (symbolic) 200 key Chicagoland commoners out to an event in May of 2016 at which we will found Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons.

We started with a context, starting with the work that we had done in the morning around defining Commons and asking the following questions:

  1. Why do we need a chamber of commons?
  2. What does the chamber of commons do?
  3. We know that 20 people will not do this by themselves. We need to engage others, that’s what we want to plan. How do we get the 100-200 key people in the the room to plan the opening of Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons?
  4. When should we target for that workshop?

We reviewed the background and current events that are taking place globally

  1. International Events
    1. Les Temps des Communs, a celebration of the commons in Francophone places
    2. Somero 2015*, a commons gathering in Spain *the site is safe; just ignore the warnings
  2. National Groups & Websites
    1. CommonSpark
    2. On the Commons
    3. Shareable
    4. Great Lakes Commons initiative
    5. Commons Transition Plan
    6. p2pFoundation
  3. Events leading up to this event
    1. Cooperation2015
    2. On the Table


After establishing a context, we started considering our plan.First, we imagined a Victory celebration when we’ve gathered the (symbolically) 200 key Chicagoland commoners in the room to found Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons.

Someone commented, “The 20 people in this room will put together a team of 200 and 20,000 will know about it.”

Then we reviewed our Current Reality in relation to that Victory. What strengths, weaknesses, benefits & dangers exist in our current situation that will lead to or inhibit success?

These powerful images grounded our victory in our current situation, both positive and cautious.

We reviewed our imagined victory in light of our current reality and made a Commitment, with consensus as a group. Here is our commitment:

By May 1st, 2016, we will understand the Commons Transition Plan, clarify the message, define the Chamber of Commons as a model with scope, outcomes and needs, and design a call to action, including process checks that brings our neighbors and co-creators together to found Chicago’s Chamber of Commons.”

With our commitment in hand, we brainstormed and clustered the Key Actions that it will take to accomplish our goal of assembling the (symbolic) 200 key Chicagoland commoners to found Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons by May 1st, 2016. Here is that image.

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The clusters represent teams, which broke out into small groups to consider their tasks, add any missing items and come up with a name that represents the work they will do. When there was an imbalance of self-selected membership, two of the teams, Stakeholders and Outreach decided to merge and we ended up with 4 teams, Core, Plan/Execute Commons Kick-off, Civic Engagement, and Educate.

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The teams then assigned (loose) dates to their tasks and put them up on a Calendar (below)

Here are the tasks as defined and calendared.











Identify/ Invite core team members

Identify/ Invite core team members

Process checks in place

Process checks in place

Process checks in place

Identify/ Invite core team members

Distribute Commons Transition Plan. Read and discuss

Distill message of purpose

Reconvene to define process system

Process checks in place

Define task areas

Define task teams

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Check for diversity/ inclusiveness

Plan/ Execute CoC Kick-off

Form Kick-off team

Secure venue

Decide day plan for Kick-off

Keynote/ Master of Ceremonies

Plan process & prepare materials

Host Kick-off

Coordinate civic engagement team

May Day kick-off vision

Food plan

Arrange for music and humor at event


Task setup and cleanup


implement team

Community Engagement

Identify key players

Clarify needs from co-creators

Bringe forth voiceless activists

Create key points for elevator speech

Create call to send

Create initial intro statement

Poll/survey existing initiatives about need–offer strawman

Clear concise elevator speech

Co-create inspiring, captivating invitation

Create outreach plan

Engage other groups

Create list of engaged groups

Map assets and co-creators

Check invitation list for diversity and inclusiveness


Gather p2p and source materials info on commons

Digest core materials

Research local enclosure incidents

Create education documents/info/content

Publish enclosure incidents

ID and compile core materials

Read and digest ‘A Commons Transition Plan”

Create education plan

Explore economics of interaction

Identify basic human needs

Explore & educate with existing resources

It took a long time for the group to reach consensus on the Commitment and by the time we got to Coordination, looking at the calendar and tasks to identify incongruities among dependent tasks across teams, we were almost out of time. Whether, or not, we had true consensus remains to be seen as we execute tasks. Two items came up that I (Steve) as a facilitator, thought were problematic. 1) One participant thought that we should be going two rounds, a build up to the next meeting in May and then another build-up to the founding of the Chamber of Commons the meeting after that. 2) The education team has a schedule that is too late for civic engagement. Since most of the issues at this event arose around a lack of education before the event, this might pose some problems downstream. [NOTE: Speaking personally, I see the risk and believe that it does not jeopardize the timeline significantly; however we should work closely with the Educate team to ensure no slippage.]

Finally, we Resolved to move ahead with this. In fact, several members from different teams have communicated they are moving already.

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