photo by John Carnemolla

This article was originally posted on our Dutch P2P Foundation blog

On Thursday April 13, 2017, the second meeting was held on “De Meent” in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. The subtitle of the meeting was: “Designing and building the Dutch platform for commoners”. As a representative of the P2P Foundation I also participated to see what energy is surrounding this important initiative. I did not know what to expect from this gathering and made my way to the Pakhuis defying some fighting football supporters. In this blog I mainly want to point out how I think this initiative could develop, because during the meeting we were clearly still searching for the exact purpose of “De Meent”. Perhaps my insights can help to further develop the process of shaping De Meent.

What is a commoner?

Before we can think about a commoners platform, it’s important to determine what we mean by commoners and commons. During the meeting, I felt some reluctance to define some sort of definition because people tend to let every participant define for himself or herself what they mean by commons and commoners. That is an admirable effort, but if we are working on a platform for commoners, it is important to define the subject. I would like to refer to a description based on the thoughts of Michel Bauwens as described by Rogier de Langhe:

“… commons are not goods, it’s a form of management. It is not about common goods but about their common management. More commons doesn’t mean, therefore, more state intervention by replacing the market, but something else, between market and state; A “third way” between privatization and nationalization. The specific thing about a commons is that it is not managed from the outside, but by its users themselves. Thus, a commons is not just a common encyclopedia, a windmill or a farm, but one of which the users together determine how it comes about, how it looks and what it serves.

A commons is created as soon as you define a piece of the world in collaboration with some others and define new rules for them. That piece can be a farm, for example, a nature reserve or a fish pond. But also a digital encyclopedia such as Wikipedia. The rules of game lay down the rights and duties of the users of the commons. Rights such as who gets access, who, when and how much can be harvested, and who can take up what roles, and duties such as repairing and sanctioning when someone breaches the rules of the game. A commons is, as it were, a kind of island of agreements that you make together and maintain together. ”

Commonify instead of commodify

In this line of reasoning, a commoner would be somebody who retrieves goods from the public or private management sphere to manage it by the users themselves. Commonify as a counterpart of commodify. An example of commonification is a pilot in The Hague where the choices of the design and management of streets is the responsibility of the residents. People who renounce their parking license to use shared cars will commonify a parking space that can be redesigned by the residents of the street. Of course, this can not be done by the residents alone, the city council plays an important role as well.

The partner state

“The government must make it possible for citizens to work together and create value. I call this the partner state. “(Michel Bauwens)

In order to make commonification possible, citizens and government must work together. This is why the role of the state should be reinvented. Michel Bauwens calls a state that facilitates commoning a “partner state”. This new role calls on the government to recognize the value that commoners can create and to trust in these commoners that they will perform the tasks involved with the maintenance of these commons. As we look back, we see that what is often referred to as “bottom up” in politics has a lot of common ground with commoning. An essential difference with the role of a true partner state is that there is indeed an active role of government. When facilitating bottom-up initiatives, the state often withdraws too much.

A platform

So what should a commoners platform do to enable commonification?

  • The main role of De Meent could be to facilitate the connection between commoners and the partner states. Collaboration is essential for building a new kind of society where the citizens and the partner state collaborate to work on the quality of life for the inhabitants of this earth, instead of the endlessly searching for profits, rents and economic growth.
  • In addition, governments and potential commoners need suggestions to shape this cooperation. Successful projects can be instructive for both parties. Think of LabGov in Bologna. The platform could thus provide examples of successful regulation and successful collaborations between commoners and partner states.
  • Facilitating the dialogue between the various commoners and representatives of the partner state could be a third pillar of the platform. In this way, members can develop and bring forward ideas on an online forum for instance.

Meetings

The community that will be created on the platform can also feel the need to connect offline. This community is already in the making judging from the participation at Pakhuis de Zwijger.

Conclusion

It is great that this process has been deployed. All people present were packed with energy to work on new forms of living in a commons-based society. This energy can be combined with a platform to make beautiful initiatives come to life. My feeling is that a good definition of commoners and commons and a defined mission statement can help keep everyone together and indicate a common purpose.

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