Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons

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= LabGov is a research institute in Rome, Italy




"The LABoratory for the GOVernance of Commons (“LabGov“) is a place of experimentation in all respects. However, instead of alembics and tubes you can find students, scholars, experts, activists thinking and discussing about the future shapes that social, economic and legal institutions may take.

LabGov was created, on the impulse of the LUISS Guido Carli Department of Political Science to train a brand-new breed of professionals, the “experts in the governance of urban commons.” These are young women and men able to create forms of partnerships between citizens, NGOs, public administrations, and local business fostering the smart specialization of urban and local communities. Today, LabGov is an independently run organization that continues with its roots of collaboration and the urban commons.

The crisis has impoverished all of us from an individual standpoint (i.e. the institutional capability, the property of private goods). Thus, the only way to be able to maintain a high quality of life is to create a new institutional and economic system based on the model of “civic collaboration”, “collaborative governance of the commons” and “circular subsidiarity”, according to which public institutions shall favor all citizens, as individuals or in associative forms, willing to care for the general interest. The implementation of this model requires specific competences that are exactly those that LabGov aims to create.

As part of its activities, LabGov involves about thirty students in a yearly series of workshops mixing theoretical training, soft skills training and real in-the-field action. Considering its nature as an in-house clinic and place of experimentation, LabGov continues its work beyond these workshops acting as a “gymnasium” for future social and institutional designers, engineers and innovators, engaging them in research, training, project management, and communication activities.

LabGov is based on the idea that, in order to achieve social and institutional regeneration, it is necessary to create collaborative relationships between citizens, administrations and businesses to share the scarce resources and to take care of the commons, whether tangible or intangible, in urban and local communities.

LabGov also engages with organizations and local governments in order to develop projects, regulations, and policies surrounding the urban commons. After significantly contributing to “Le città come beni comuni” Fondazione del Monte project and the drafting of the “Bologna regulation on public collaboration for urban commons“, the establishment of the CO-Mantova cultural and knowledge commons-based territorial pact of collaboration, the collaborative urban land use regulation “Battipaglia Collabora“, LabGov is currently working on the “Bologna città collaborativa” Fondazione del Monte project to implement the Regulation and foster the idea of public collaboration in the city of Bologna, the CO-Roma project to design a collaborative urban mobility plan to regulate and run the urban roads as a commons, and the CO-Palermo project to establish a regeneration agency for industrial and cultural commons. In November 2015, LabGov hosted a global conference on the urban commons entitled “The City as a Commons,” which successfully brought hundreds of international scholars on the urban commons together in Bologna, Italy.

LabGov’s activities are currently developed under the umbrella of a joint venture between two world-renowned research institutions, LUISS International Center on Democracy and Democratization led by Professor Leonardo Morlino and Fordham Urban Law Center led by Professor Sheila Foster. This partnership will enable LabGov to develop the international research and experimentation protocol “Co-Cities” to design the city of the future based on the governance of urban commons, collaborative land use, social innovation, sharing economy, collaborative economy. LabGov’s activities are coordinated by professor Christian Iaione." (


"It is called Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons because is a place of experimentation, in all respects, though in place of alembics and tubes there are computers and chairs. A laboratory created in Rome in the last months by Gregorio Arena and Christian Iaione, professors at the Department of Political Sciences of the LUISS University, in order to experiment with the training of a new profession, the “experts of the civic care of the commons”, people able to operate in the third sector, in public administrations, in business improving the great richness of social capital of our local communities.

The Laboratory involved about thirty students and took place in the second semester intertwining theoretical training and planning of actions on the field. The Laboratory is based on the idea that is necessary for the renewal (resumption, recovery) of the Country to create a new relation between citizens, administrations and business founded on the sharing of the resources available to each subjects to take care of the commons, tangible or intangible (material or immaterial), of our local communities,

The crisis is impoverishing all of us from the point of view of the property of private goods. Thus, the only way to be able to maintain a good quality of life is to create an institutional and economic system based on the model of the shared administration in which all citizens, alone or in community, take care of the collective goods. The management of this model requires specific competences that are exactly those that the Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons aims to create.

In the next months the Laboratory will continue its work as well as acting as a social project center in order to develop activities of research – action, training – intervention and incubation of “social start-up” about the Commons. A first step in this direction has benne made with the signature of a partnership agreement with Roma Capitale.

Finally, with the support of Labsus, the Laboratory for the Subsidiarity, the Laboratory shall launch a fundraising campaign and form a strong network with private public and sectors, starting from the third sector." (


The LabGov Experiment in Bologna

David Bollier:

"What would it be like if city governments, instead of relying chiefly on bureaucratic rules and programs, actually invited citizens to take their own initiatives to improve city life? That’s what the city of Bologna, Italy, is doing, and it amounts to a landmark reconceptualization of how government might work in cooperation with citizens. Ordinary people acting as commoners are invited to enter into a “co-design process” with the city to manage public spaces, urban green zones, abandoned buildings and other urban issues.

The Bologna project is the brainchild of Professor Christian Iaione of LUISS University in Rome in cooperation with student and faculty collaborators at LabGov, the Laboratory for the Governance of Commons. LabGov is an “inhouse clinic” and think tank that is concerned with collaborative governance, public collaborations for the commons, subsidiarity (governance at the lowest appropriate level), the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. The tagline for LabGov says it all: “Society runs, economy follows. Let’s (re)design institutions and law together.

For years Iaione has been contemplating the idea of the “city as commons” in a number of law review articles and other essays. In 2014, the City of Bologna formally adopted legislation drafted by LabGov interns. The thirty-page Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons (official English translation here) outlines a legal framework by which the city can enter into partnerships with citizens for a variety of purposes, including social services, digital innovation, urban creativity and collaborative services.

Taken together, these collaborations comprise a new vision of the “sharing city” or commons-oriented city. To date, some 30 projects have been approved under the Bologna Regulation. Dozens of other Italian cities are emulating the Bologna initiative.

The Bologna Regulation takes seriously the idea that citizens have energy, imagination and responsibility that they can apply to all sorts of municipal challenges. So why not empower such citizen action rather than stifling it under a morass of bureaucratic edicts and political battles? (On this point, check out David Graeber’s new book,The Utopia of Rules.)

The conceptualization of “city as commons” represents a serious shift in thinking. Law and bureaucratic programs are not seen as the ultimate or only solution, and certainly not as solutions that are independent of the urban culture. Thinking about the city as commons requires a deeper sense of mutual engagement and obligation than “service delivery,” outsourcing and other market paradigms allow.

But consider the upside: Instead of relying on the familiar public/private partnerships that often siphon public resources into private pockets, a city can instead pursue “public/commons partnerships” that bring people together into close, convivial and flexible collaborations. The working default is "finding a solution" rather than beggar-thy-neighbor adversarialism or fierce political warfare.

To Iaione, the Bologna Regulation offers a structure for “local authorities, citizens and the community at large to manage public and private spaces and assets together. As such, it’s a sort of handbook for civic and public collaboration, and also a new vision for government.” He believes that “we need a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government, moving away from the Leviathan State or Welfare State toward collaborative or polycentric governance.”

Besides more public collaborations, the Regulation encourages what Iaione calls “nudge regulations” -- a “libertarian paternalism” that uses policy to encourage (but not require) people to make better choices. The term, popularized by behavioral economist Richard Thaler and law scholar Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge, is seen as a way of respecting people’s individual freedoms while “nudging” them to (for example) save enough for retirement, eat healthier foods and respect the environment.

The Regulation also encourages “citytelling” – a process that recognizes people’s “geo-emotional” relationships with urban spaces in the crafting of rules for managing those spaces. And it elevates the importance of “service design” techniques for meeting needs. Thus, information and networking tools, training and education, collaboration pacts and initiatives, and measurement and evaluation of impact, all become more important.

For a lengthier treatment of Professor Iaione’s thinking and the Bologna Regulation, check out Michel Bauwens’ recent interview with Iaione at the Shareable website. Iaione explains how his studies of the tragedy of urban roads and experiments in Bologna led him to develop the theoretical framework for local public entrepreneurship, which is the basis of the CO-Mantova project and the idea of the city as a commons.

Iaione sees commons-related policies as ways to tap into the talents and enthusiasm of an emerging new social class – active citizens, social innovators, makers, creatives, sharing and collaborative economy practitioners, service designers, co-working and co-production experts, and urban designers. Conventional governance structures cannot effectively elicit or organize the energies of these people. Thinking about the "city as open platform" works better.

With the CO-Mantova project, in Mantua, LabGov has been trying to develop “a prototype of a process to run the city as a collaborative commons, i.e., a ‘co-city.’” It is building a new kind of collaborative/polycentric governance with five key sets of actors: social innovators, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions. Although it is a formal, institutionalized process – a public-private-citizen partnership – its beating heart is the trust, cooperation, social ethic and culture among the participating parties.

The goal is to build peer-to-peer platforms – physical, digital and institutional – to advance three main purposes: “living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production).” The CO-Mantova project may soon start a CO-Mantova Commons School.

An exciting aspect to LabGov is its reconceptualization of the catalytic role that universities can play. LabGov is a nonprofit based at a university, but it works with all sorts of outsiders. Instead of considering the university, industry and government as the only important players, LabGov subscribes to “a Quintuple Helix approach" (expressed in LabGov logo) where the university "becomes an active member of the community and facilitates the creation of new forms of partnerships in the general interest between government, industry and businesses, the not-for-profit sector, social innovators and citizens, and other institutions such as schools, academies, plus research and cultural centers.”

There are so many urban commons projects emerging these days that it would be great to assemble them into a new network of vanguard players. In the meantime, I will be closely watching the progress of LabGov and the Italian cities that are boldly experimenting with these new modes of governance.” (