Berlin Commons Conference/WorldCafe

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World Cafe

We had a very short - one round World Cafe. Here is the stories of the table hosts brought to you by the Support Team. Each table had about five to ten people, we did not receive all of the stories yet....

here are the questions that were assigne to different tables.

1 "Which are the fundamental & key principles of generative commons?"
2 "What do commons need to realize their potential - for example in the legal and societal spheres?"
3 "How to ensure that people use and reproduce their commons without harming but rather enchancing somebody elses commons?"

Table Host: Michel Bauwens

We dealt with the third question: "How to ensure that people use and reproduce their commons without harming but rather enchancing somebody elses commons?"

So we asked ourselves: what makes for "selfish commons". We agreed on a paradox result: The weaker the internal organisation of commons, the weaker the ethical rules towards the outside. Another paradoxical statement was: global commons have weaker rul es than local commons. Some global commons can weaken local commons. For example, there is a DNA Project called "Barcode for Life". So companies can take biological findings in a database without having to deal with local communities and sharing the benefits of their findings.

So how can you deal with that? The answers given were either by external regulations or by conditional access; so if you dont abide by the rules you cannot enter that commons. Pat Money explained that companies who use Open Patents could modify the code and privatise it. Interestingly, the people from the digital commons that were present on that table did not contradict this.

Table Host: Patrice Riemens

We also had the third question to deal with: "How to ensure that people use and reproduce their commons without harming but rather enchancing somebody elses commons?"

The first remark was whether this would apply to natural commons only or to the commons in general, which was later reformulated as "the digital commons". The answer was that it did not matter, the concern was common to all kinds of commons. The differences are there, but there are issues of potential harming in all kinds of commons. The question as it was formulated was thought to give a negative inflection to the issue, it would be better to talk in terms of enabling commons in such a way that the issue of harming will not arise and / or solve itself.

The reason for that is simple: commons are not stand-alones, Commons need Commons....Repricocity is the main characteristics of the commons, a principle that applies within and outside (between) commons.

When the interests of a local commons collide with the interests of a larger commons the question arises: is there a hierarchy of commons, are some commons more imortant than others? Several examples were put forward, usually in the fields of (natural) conservation (putting up a natural reservation and excluding humans). The answer to that was to prioritize the local, its is more concrete while the general is more a construct. The conclusion was: Prioritize the local and the general will take care of itself.

The discussion then focussed again on the traditional-rural-physical, especially on the agricultural as the most typical common. We were talking about commons practises in rural areas - and alternative ways of life. Doing that you minimize the potential of harmful interaction between commons. At that moment we were running out of time. Two points were raised and not finished:

  • The tipping point issue: if enough people would do it, the commons could become mainstream (where we obviously are far away yet).
  • The other one to look at property and property laws as essential to create an enabling environment for the creation of commons -as opposed to the current system, which is defined by the corporate / state -nexus.

The conclusion was that is possible to create an enabling environment for commons which takes care of its inherent conflict potential by itself.

Table Host: Gudrun Merkle

The initial question (Third Question) was not discussed in particular - rather the discussion unfolded on its own terms according to the interests and composition of the group.
First at debate was the format and structure of the conference itself, which led to a broader discussion of structure in relation to the possibility and potential for the realisation of commons: to which degree do structures (and perhaps a strict format) make commons possible or not? This was a sharing of opinions, rather than a discussion and it was suggested that further conversation was needed and that a more intimate and personal discussion - beginning with plain conversations and sharing of opinions, ideas, fears and so on. It was noted that it can be intimidating to speak out and up in a setting of people with whom you are not familiar and in the context of concepts that are new to you. Not that commons as such was necessarily a new term, since on some level all participants are commoners in one way or another, but because the term and concept is used in very many ways.
Everyone has dreams, but keeps them private. Sharing dreams means understanding and in that way a higher level of knowledge can be attained and resonance between ideas and dreams be found. If dreams are left unspoken much potential for coming together and realizing commons is lost.
Human are searching for a collective dream, but we are living in a fragmented, yet collective nightmare. Some commons processes, however, find their origins in those very nightmares.
The fragmented nightmare that is characteristic of the modern, developed world entails a privatization of the social - the urban dweller shares less songs and dances with her neighbor- and therefore the common dream is not realized. An example to illustrate this was a story of a group of Europeans in India who were unable to collectively create a mandala, but perfectly capable of creating beautiful mandalas on an individual basis.
In this dystopian reality the antidote to the nightmare is the common dreams that is realized in the commons - when coming together, recognizing each other, living with joy, and empowering each other and building resilient communities. In this sense, it is envisaged that the commons is a sort of reskilling.
After all, in conclusion, humans have much more in common than they have differences - we are practicing commons all the time, but often we do not realize it. An example was presented of a muslim who participated in a Christmas celebration and both her and her hosts realized that many aspects were shared.
We agreed that commons is much more a verb, not a noun.

Table Hosts: Valerie Peugeot and Stephan Dohrn

Question 1: Which are the fundamentals and key principles of (generative) commons?

Commons = non-market
Contracts are market mechanisms

 Open governance
 Governance relates to resource, community (users), norms

 Physical characteristics of resource influence governance regime

 can be different according to resource, e.g. software – comm is made up of contributers, culture – comm are are artists with audience
 size of community may vary according to type of resource – digital tends to be bigger and more lose, unclear boundaries
 role of identity: local community, indigenous people, nationality can make membership/belonging to a group uncertain

 Rules to share a resource fairly – not just written rules but also social conventions

Social Construction
 Resource becomes a commons when it is socially constructed
 What is a resource considered to be managed? Who assigns value to a resource that requires management?

Existence of a threat to the resource of enclosure, free-riding may lead to the creation of a commons regime
For existing commons: risk of control of the development (evolution) of the commons

How to protect resources?
 Centralized versus distributed – could be complementary crucial issue is democratic access
 Expl: Seeds
o Centralized: Seed banks freezing seeds (Seed stay the same)
o Distributed: local in situ seed networks (commons like) – Seeds evolve

What is generative commons?
 Commons is self-replicative – give birth to new commons
 A resource managed as a commons creates more wealth/value (brad menaing, not just monetary value) than under individual management?
 One added value is more sustainability

Table Host: George Por

Question: What do commons need to realize their potential in general and in the legal and societal spheres in particular?

The group had a very rich conversation about the question. Nancy Roof and George Pór plan to draft a report of the conversation, complete with some new questions emerging from it, then circulate it for collaborative editing by people who were around the table because they want to harvest their relevant experiences and knowledge. They will share the final version with the larger community of commoners. What follow is only a quick reminder of notes taken on the flip chart.

The starting point of the discussion was the structure as the four elements of every commons:
Managing resources (activity)
Resource has to create value

Institutions have to be formed to be enablers of the interaction of these four elements

Out of this rose the question, how we can extrapolate the structure or elements of the old commons to today's more complex conditions?

As one difference was identified that in the old commons people were not sitting around to discuss their values, they just did it. An answer to that was that values do have a big role today, because people are seeking greater trust and community.

One person claimed that commons is just „normal“, whereas market and state is „abnormal“, because commons always start with the needs of the people, markets deal with the needs of people only after the production is done.

The next question arising was: what do you see the real potential of the commons? Different answers appeared:
The commons is about the wellbeing of everybody – commons stand for a society where the wellbeing of each individual and the community is the highest purpose of the whole society.
Commons is beyond the normal, reconsidering the elements of the new civilization.
Commons means that the full potentials of the individuals can be developed.
It does not isolate individuals but recognizes them as social beings.

Nancy Roof spoke of Indirect sharing that will be hopefully expanded on in the final document.

The next question to deal with was:
How to communicate the ideas of the commons?
Answer: We have to be clear about what we mean and present it in a simple, accessable and seductive way.

The opinion was risen that there is a hole in the narratives today that will be filled by either (neo-liberal fundamentalism) or the commons.

Table Host: Carolina Botero:

What do commons need to realize their potential in general, and in the legal and societal spheres in particular?

In the Social sphere there is a problem with the conceptualisation of the commons.
"Lost in translation": In the spanish language, there is no word for "commons". The participants of the table described commons very differently.
The historic concept of the commons need to be remembered and perceived as value.

Legal and Regulation:
A legal framework need to be established for the commons. But law has been also used to criminalize commoners practice in the past. Content and values should be incorporated into a new concept of commons through law making.

Commons are not reflected in the system, but they are part of the all day live of the people.
While the public and private sectors is reflected by the system, the commons are not. Social commons are often overseen resp. shown in a negative way. The commons are not included into the market.

The experiences with governance of commons need to be shared. How to successfully implement policy should be shared as well on a broad basis and a political frame should be established for the commons.

3 difficult issues:
What's could be the role of the state?
--> state is supposed to be a "partner stat" that supports social production.

to recognise the commons legally doesn't necessarily mean that they can develop freely. Legal, economic, cultural and social issues need to be addressed simultaneously in order to realize their potential.

- Different commons need to have different concepts (e.g. social, digital, nature)

--> more debate is needed on conceptual issues regarding the commons.

Table Host: Brigitte Kratzwald

The commons are often divided into digital vs non-digital commons. However, a discussant new to the topic said that he could distinguish between traditional and entrepreneurial approaches to the commons. Traditional commons tend to be community based and structured by responsibility as well as social and humanistic values. Entrepreneurial commons on the other hand are more individualistic and freedom/openness oriented. Could individualism even be a threat within the traditional form of commons? The question is, how can they learn from each other.

Possibly the knowledge created in the digital commons is used to enhance & support the traditional ones because knowledge empowers people and gives them agency. How to improve communication between those knowing about the digital commons and those who know the material ones?

This might be one of the “conditions which commons need to unfold their potential?” To find out more about these conditions, we must know what the potential of the commons actually stands for.

We need some good reason why people should work for the commons, something that makes commons “sexy”. Whilst the market makes you rich, how can the commons be made sexy? Some of the reasons for working in the commons can be the possibility to gain reputation and to the exitement to create something new.

A problem with the commons is that sharing experiments can lead to a loss of individual responsibility. Does it need a catastrophe to change our thinking or can there be a “positive catastrophy” instead? Does localisation solve the responsibility question?

Is strong regulation necessary to have the Commons unfold their potential or is it rather a obstacle? Will we rely on the government or self organisation instead? Regulation can be strong or open which leads to very different rules to deal with the commons. Can the law recognise & support mutual accountability in commons governance?

Institutionalising the commons could either facilitate commons governance or impede it;

Commons should not be seen in competition with the market and not supposed to replace it but they constitute an additional opportunity.

The growth of one common can foster others.

Table Host: Farah Lenser

What do commons need to realize their potential in general, and in the legal and social spheres in particular?
The eight design principles proposed by Elinor Ostrom give an answer to the general requirements of commons to realize their potential. Concerning the legal and social spheres, each case depends on the legal and societal structure it is embedded in. Perhaps general guidelines could help here. As a precondition the following questions have to be answered: Which areas of our social environment should be transformed into a common structure? How do we achieve that politically and legally?
To succesfully manage the commons, people need to have some kind of common identity that goes beyond the individual. It is necessary to experience the interconnectedness by offering proper practices in a neutral, non threatening way. This involves spirtituality (e.g.: Joana Macy: deep ecology, a buddhist exercise; see also: Edward wilson: The creation). Beyond social and legal spheres, we must link the commons to morals and to spiritual realms. Commons space is sacred space!! But the commons project faces opposition from the prevailing religion of our times: worship of the commons, scientific and efficiency fundamentalism.
There was discussion whether it is possible to promote a spiritual outlook in secular Germany. One approach suggested by Wolfgang Hoeschele (The Economics of Abundance) is to promote a concept of the art of living – make one's life a work of art that expresses one's core values to others in one's decisions of how to live, work, family, relationships, etc.
It is important to get back in touch with our common reality that we all share before we construct our individual identity.
Commons need to realize multiple levels, scales, languages, identities in a concrete way (maps and models).

Table Host: Friederike Habermann

Which are the fundamentals and key principles of a generative commons?

In contrast to other commons, generative commons are about creating value. Education and awareness raising are very important for generative commons. Institutions (= a set of rules) are decisive for generative as well as for any other commons.

One understanding of the key principles of generative commons are the same as those used in the commons-based peer production: use of commons and production on the basis of them, share what you can, contributing instead of exchanging, free cooperation. It is necessary to start from the premise of abundance instead of scarcity.

How can that be achieved? By grounded actions, starting off from the basis that grow in the evolution of the process. Equality of access and rights are important. Equity creates legitimacy creates trust.

Table Host: Miguel Said Vieira

Which are the fundamentals and key principles of generative commons?
The main principles we have identified were the following five.

Sustainability. In order to be generative, commons also must be, in first place, regenerative; they must recreate themselves, either by giving birth to new shared things, or by adapting what is already being shared so that new needs and contexts can be faced. In this sense, functioning commons are, at least to some extent, generative by definition.
Universal access by the community, to the things shared. The degree of this universality influences how generative is the commons at hand. The universality might actually go beyond the current boundaries of the community; these are hardly perfectly defined or permanent, particularly in the cases of social commons. And it must be noted that access, in the context of this principle, also includes the possibility of improving what is shared in the commons, an important feature for guaranteeing sustainability.
They must not be subject to privatization. And this does not apply exclusively to direct market privatization; this privatization might also happen through the hands of the states, either when they offer the common goods to the market, or when they outsource its management away from the commons.
Direct democracy in the processes of caring for the commons and of defining its rules. Some of these rules are constitutional, related to the values and goals of this commons. The other rules stem from these, and must be under constant evaluation, evolving and being adapted in order to guarantee the attainment of the values and goals from which they derive; Wikipedia was mentioned as an example for this type of structure, similar to that already identified in earlier studies on commons. The process of definition and adaptation of the rules influences the stability and sustainability of the commons; the Internet was cited as an example of adaptability under conditions of instability; the use of rough consensus and of rules as protocols might be a possible explanation.
Equity in the use of the things shared, which is almost an implication of the principle above.
We found that many parallels could be drawn between these principles and the freedoms of free software. We have also discussed the differences between the generative potential in “material” and “immaterial” commons. On one hand, we agreed that immaterial commons might be particularly generative (as they mostly don’t have to fight depletion). In the other hand, we also agreed that this generative character can only be made possible on the basis of the continued existence of material commons. They are the ones that make life possible; their privatization would undermine any other coherent commons project.

Table Host: Mayo Fuster

Which are the fundamentals and key principles generate commons?

  • There was not clear for everybody if the question was key or the discussion is in a stage the question could be adress. Some people was not familiar neither with the concept of generative.
  • Reasons to adress the question:

+ To make clear what is the set of values and principles that brough the participants of the ICC together? Why people felt attracted to this conference? What do we have in common?.

+ To differentiate between "corporate" commons (that is the use of commons to disenpower communities). Example: The Big society concept used by Cameron as a solution for the people who is going to suffer for the great cuts by the government. So think as a solution to the social suffer for the cuts, that society create solidarity between itself, the Big society).

+ To have a clear vision n what are the specificities and commonalities between traditionals commons, digital commons, urbans commons, etc.

  • Comments for questioning the question:

+ The question is not what characterize the commons as something that is there, but to address "how to". + First to address that question we need to address the question of power of a new social relationships. + The key question is: Which is the political arm that could relate to the commons practices?

In many cases, resistance to enclosure is in itself generative. Resistance helps in facing another big challenge for commons nowadays, which is the loss of the sense of community (and, naturally, the disappearance of communities themselves).

Table Host: Marc Mascarenhas - Swan

What do Commons need to realize their potential?

Challenge: We need to also work to protect, not only to realize the commons.

1. Courage

2. Rules and governance
- community based rules
- accountable governance
- process for collecting information, and intervention when necessary
- rooted in values and principles
- rediscovery of commons laws

3. Consciousness shifts
- moving from individualism to collectivism, from "Get mine to share ours"
- recognizing the existence of the commons

4. Participation and democracy
- the right for those affected to participate
- knowledge
- building empowerment

5. Regional, national and global concerns
- communication between communities
- nested arrangements to communicate geographically when necessary
- the need for reparations, especially to global south

6. Building political power
- the role of struggle to defend what we have, and demand what we don't
- need to build networks of groups, projects, organizations
- utilizing human rights policy, with concern that this framework can promote individuality
- need this coordination to confront corporate power
- centralizing the needs, desires and leadership of those on the frontlines of ecological crisis

Table Host: Betsy Taylor

The question was: "Which are the fundamental & key principles of generative commons?"

We had a big discussion about what a generative commons is, and people wondered if some commons are more generative than others; several people thought traditional commons were less generative, other people responded vehemently critisizing the stereotype that traditional commons are static and that they are uncreative. Their point was that nature is changing constantly, traditional commons keep people close to ecological change - which has probably generated new forms constantly.

One person said that actually capitalist influenced worlds are non - generative, suburbs are dull.

One idea that defines "generative": cascade of changes that influence other changes. The example of the nursing collective that we visited was given: They looked for better working condition for nurses, that led to creativity in the treatments and care protocols.

We identified factors that enable generative commons, we put them into categories, like "economics and material conditions", "disasters enforce commons even in >advanced< society" (as terrible as they are they are an opportunity for the commons movement to rovide support and ideas, for example in the Argentinian financial crisis many creative common solutions emerged, and also the current economic crisis could be an opportunity for more generative commons).

Then we had "social and political dynamics", talked about "psychological identities that create deep emotional relations to the commons" (some people had experienced the deep psychological impacts of commons and described their developments).

The next thing was: Imagination. If people have spaces to reflect on the commons, they become conscious of the underlying principles that make their commons generative, In the housing cooperative it worked better when they had time and space to reflect.

Futhermore there were values "spiritual and religios values", "individual detemirnation and idealism as a source".


  • Self - Help - everybody participatimg
  • non command and control hierarchy
  • Self and common goods linked
  • can create new adaptive principles in the face of change
  • clarity about boundaries, who and what is excluded
  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution mechanisms
  • Participation
  • Common Spirit

A lot of the discussion was also dedicated to relation between commons and non - commons.

  • Barriers?
  • Hybrid Forms? (Always overlap?