Mapping a Coalition for the Commons

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Regularly updated via, where an interactive map is also available.

Philippe Aigrain:

"I call for bringing together the promoters of information commons (free software and information, co-operative media, open science, creative commons, etc.) and those who fight for a better recognition of physical commons (water, air, environment) and a renewed approach to social public goods (education, health, …).


In this page, you will find information on the ideas and players who build the various facets of the informal commons coalition.


Part of the inspiration for the coalition for the commons came from the US. Elinor Ostrom‘s school played an important role by showing that the governance of the physical commons by user and contributor communities can be efficient in order to preserve and maintain the commons. For the information and knowledge commons, James Boyle formulated in his 1997 Environmentalism for the Net article the hypothesis that the recognition of new public domains could restructure politics as deeply as the environmental movement did in the 1970s. David Bollier has been working on enabling a commons coalition since the publication of his Silent Theft book in 2002. Knowledge Ecology International (formerly Consumer Project on Technology) plays a key role in federating the international NGOs of information commons and access to health, in particular through Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue. Creative Commons also federates cultural and scientific communities by providing them with licenses.

The commons movement is particularly active in countries from the South:

  • in India: see for instance Gene Campaign for physical commons and the Centre for Internet & Society for information and knowledge commons
  • in Brazil, the promotion of cultural commons and the recognition of the Internet as a common good in the (Marco Civil) are the product of efforts of both civil society and government policy. Debates are more difficult with regard to biological commons.
  • Recently, the government of Ecuador tabled proposals for preserving environment commons and the rights of indigeneous peoples thanks to international public trusts.

The global co-operation between these initiatives is important. Organizations such as Third World Network and the South Centre contribute to a new approach of the relations between commons and development. In the ARab-speaking world, see the recent efforts for commons-based access to knowledge.

The coalition for the commons is particularly rooted in Europe.


Specific projects mentioned are only examples within an extended set.

  • Information and knowledge commons:
    • free software: see the Free Software Foundation, the Software Freedom Law Center, the 2020 FLOSS Roadmap,
    • free encyclopedias,
    • scientific publications: archives et open access publishing,
    • genetic information and more generally biological information,
    • voluntarily shared creative and expressive works,
    • open data,
    • open access and re-use for the digitized and digital heritage,
    • transversal organizations, f.i. Open Knowledge Foundation
  • In domains mixing information and physical elements:
    • collaborative management of seeds and other genetic resources,
    • bottom-up innovation, hardware/software platforms such as Arduino, fablabs, movements for reparable objects,
    • commons-based technology for developing countries.
  • Physical commons:
    • water management,
    • prevention and management of climatic change,
    • preservation of enrichment of biological diversity,
    • preservation of fragile areas.
  • Social commons goods:
    • access to health and to drugs,
    • access to education and to knowledge,
    • reduction of inequalities,
    • participatory democracy.

Some international achievements:

  • Movements for new financing models of freely sharable digital culture (voluntary resource pooling, creative contribution, Kulturflatrate)
  • On-going negotiations at WIPO on an Instrument on Exceptions and Limitations, in particular for perceptory disabled persons.
  • Proposition of Treaty on Access to Knowledge at WIPO.
  • Proposition of Treaty on Medical R&D and exploration of its orientations further to a resolution adopted by WHO.
  • Rejection of patentability of software and computerized information processing methods by the European Parliament.
  • Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

… however, most important are the commons productions themselves and the collaborative efforts leading to them.

Philosophical and empirical foundations

To create a new political ground, commons-based approaches must face some complex issues : relationships between the individual and the collective in the commons and in society at large, governance and government for the commons and social public goods, the degree and nature of the coupling between free commons-based exchanges and the monetarised economy, the elaboration of a legal philosophy adapted to the commons. Tackling these issues mus be done taking consideration of the differences and the complexity of the various domains.

For more information, see some authors :

Political parties and schools of thought

The coalition for the commons is not an incorporated organization: it is a variable geometry coalition of diverse players. However, the strength of its ideas and practices already contributed to restructuring of the political landscape. Some players explicitly refer to commons-based approaches: the ecologists and those European and Latin America socialists who defend a renewed approach (more independent of installed economic players) of innovation, creativity and democracy. See for instance in France the Access to Knowledge group of Europe Ecologie and the digital civilization group of the Socialist party Laboratoire des idées. The influence of a coalition for the commons reaches much further than these circles. The opposition to software patents or to the technology enforcement of restrictions to usage showed that players coming from communist, republican, religious-social or political liberalism traditions could also make commons-based ideas theirs. When pre-existing political traditions invest these new ideas, they often import ways of thinking that are ill-adapted: the administered economy or punctually optimized managerial practices for the information domain; laisser-faire for physical commons; a strange mix of economicism, anti-etatism, bureaucracy and cost-reduction management for social public goods; or an insufficient understanding of how much todays collective achievements are rooted in individual freedoms. All these tensions are natural for such a major reconfiguration." (