Collective sensing and meaning making for the commons movements

A proposal by George Por, who requests you respond here:

“The last day of ECC2013, in his presentation titled “Life, Meaning and Spirituality in the Commons,” Andreas Weber talked about enlivenment as a continually deepening our meaningful connection with nature, each other and life. We all know the feeling of being more enlivened, more full of life, where we are intimately connected with another human being in a meaningful, inspiring relationship. Similarly, a social movement is more enlivened, vibrant and dynamic when it is connected with other movements holding a similar vision and values, and sharing the struggle in different domains of action. Together, they form a social ecosystem of movements. The great variety initiatives and worldviews present at the conference made me think that what we call a commons movement is more like an ecosystem of many movements, an ecosystem of ideas and desires, networks and commitments for change.

Talking about various segments of the commons ecosystem, Michel Bauwens wrote, after the first International Commons Conference in Berlin (2010):

“These various emergent movements existed separately, did not mesh, and did not work globally on making the commons a reality in terms of politics and policy. This then is the historical significance of the Berlin meet-up. That various branches of the commons movement, material and immaterial, met each other for an extensive dialogue, and for the most part, understood and acknowledged each other…”

Silke Helfrich added: This movement can be compared to a little child who is about to discover its own identity, develop its own personality, and who still has to learn to say: “I am.” Or “We are.”

With ECC 2103 we reached a new milestone; ecosystem of the commons movements is now 3-year old, but still a baby, still in search of its identity. Three-year-olds learn primarily through exploring, using all the senses. What is the equivalent of that in ecosystem of commons movements?

As the post-ECC “Moving forward” document says, “Information on different commons-related issues is abundant. (We are pretty well informed already, but there is still a need to acknowledge the different positions we are coming from on the commons agenda… We especially need to foreground issues of equity, gender and global power relations/geopolitics.) However, more than information we need to develop ‘collective sensing organs’… (but not a centrally managed organ!). This will be key to create a common narrative, as well as diverse commons narratives.”

Those collective sensing organs include the local, regional, and international gatherings of commoners, the commons festivals the thousands of commons-focused websites, videos, newsletters, blogs, mailing lists, etc. Yes, we have tons of information, and one can even say that we are drowning in information but starved for knowledge. Knowing what are all the commons-related action around the planet that are happening today, which could benefit from mutual support; knowing what are the operational principles that connect successful commons struggles, so that we can learn from them; knowing what are the burning needs for engagement and participation, so that I can bring my talent and energy into play and support, where there’s a good match; and last but not least, knowing how to connect the dots, how to map the various niches in the ecosystem of movements in a way that enhances connections, help making new ones, and speed the flow of trust, knowledge, and resources among them.

This communication platform that you’re using, combined with its wiki-based sister site and the Commons section of the P2P Foundation’s site, is an emergent platform that has the potential to serve as a virtual global device. Using them wisely, with passion and compassion, we can support the enlivening of the ecosystem of the commons movements. They already serve as vehicles for many active blogs and conversations that matter, and a great volume of commons knowledge waiting for our sensing (identifying and naming of the emergent themes that arise from the myriad forms of commons action) and collaborative meaning-making (interpreting the significance of what we sense and identifying opportunities to act for change at increasing scale).

If you want to get a good grasp of the difference between sensing and meaning-making, why not read the “personal diary”-style, intriguing blog of Tina Bakolitsa, in which we can follow her adventure throughout the days of ECC 2013, on one hand, David Bollier’s blog that sets the historical context and reports the salient outcomes of the conference, on the other hand.

So, where do we go from here? As I’ve been pondering that question an image came to my mind. I’m sitting at a campfire surrounded by a circle of friends, at a starry summer night. It’s quiet here; one can hear the passage of the warm breeze in the foliage of nearby trees, and even the faint song of cicadas. The fire has been dwindling down, and finally, only a few scattered embers still glow. I push them closer so that they touch. Suddenly, the flame! Is it that what scientists call “spontaneous combustion”?

They say, combustion begins if a sufficiently strong oxidizer, such as oxygen, is present. The oxidizer of surprising emergence in the commons movements is our collective self-reflection that lets us see ourselves in the mirror of a broader collective consciousness. In such a mirror we could see that we are millions, longing for an enlivened future for all, without enclosures and exploitation, and we are determined to go for it!

We also need to expand this conversation about the global virtual device, our platform, by inviting all those who care for the health of whole movement ecosystem and its future. I am addressing these musings to YOU because if you read it so far, you are already part of this conversation. Many of you do not know each other. Use the platform to discover and appreciate the rich diversity of experiences, talents, and perspectives that each of us brings to it. Invite others, and first of all, let us know what you think of these questions:

If we were to develop a “cartography” of the movement ecosystem, capable to produce interactive, multi-dimensional maps that co-evolve with the territory, then what qualities would you want those maps to have?

How would you, and the commons that you are close to, use them?

How could the next world conference of the Commons be different if such maps supported it?

What other questions did reading this conversation starter trigger in you?”

2 Comments Collective sensing and meaning making for the commons movements

  1. AvatarJune Gorman

    There is a very important “voice of community of commonality” that you manage to convey here in this piece, George and it is the “voice” of both shared purpose and shared passion that should be common to all of us striving for “understanding and acknowledgment” of the other (to paraphrase from Michel’s piece that you quoted above) in this work of building a “commons community”. And everything I have learn or have taught about emotional and social/cultural intelligence(s), tells me this essential communication of community ultimately HAS to be done interpersonally — why “meeting” and interpersonal dialogue are so critical to the core passion that will drive this movement and that I think you are trying to address here.

    That “mutual support” and the “making of meaning” you talk about here George, needs to be FELT to reach our deepest motivation and heart centers to continue to do this work, which you and others like you are trying to coalesce in some comprehensive form so that we can find and converse, and collaborate with each other. And I honor that attempt and the tools created to manage that “knowledge” flow, as I do the same attempt of the new NORA wiki of the Commons Abundance Network ( for the same purpose.

    But please don’t forget the “language of limits” inherent in that design, not just the dominating English language, but the even now more constrictive machine language and certainly the western-enlightenment-left-brain imbalanced educated language that is unavoidably reinforced over the passion and poetry of nature, art, diversity, difference and loving so necessary to any authentic force of any commons movement that would not only like to encompass these too, but use them as the very source of the renewable energy of that movement. For this, we need to be able to “play” with each other and for this we need to remember the gift of the children amongst and within each of us.

    Just to remember that the language of these information processing machines and their capabilities in helping to try and organize and process the massive information flood you speak of, also reinforces that view of a reduced binary bit world and the “code” it uses far more understood and appreciated by the technology-minded among us, and also by its non-nature nature, reinforces it. That should only mean we more strongly vocalize, validate and understand the need as Michel and you both try above, for places and ways of “gathering” in “place-together” to create that emotion-motion and deeper-level communication that truly drives all relationships and thus all true community and different “ways of knowing”. And must thus never be forgotten as the true beating heart of that “Commons”, despite the efficacy and efficiency and even necessity of using this technology to forge those initial commonalities and communications.

    In that context, I think the attempt you are trying to make here is noble.

  2. Avatarmarina

    very apt post. i’ve been volunteering with folks working on, an instance of the wiki platform (which i’ve recently started working with) which is a wysiwyg wiki platform specifically for communities to use. in allowing communities to write about and map whatever they want, i think that it offers the opportunity for people to collaboratively write and share instances of collaboration & the commons in a community-controlled OS environment (eg, “every tuesday at 2PM, there is free food at the corner of x and y streets”) and also create knowledge from information and make meaning out of what we see in our communities and communities around the world.

    – marina

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