Commons Definition

The last several years have seen a proliferation of resources IDENTIFIED as commons. (These include the Internet, health care, urban space, the atmosphere, etc.)

To begin to track and interpret these various kinds of shared resources and innovations, we need a working definition of what can be considered a new commons. Most resources can be commons if they meet certain criteria. These criteria are not absolute, but rather represent a continuum between opposing poles. Also, different commons may meet some of the criteria and not others. So a new commons is a resource that meets a preponderance of the criteria to a substantial degree.

The key criteria are as follows. The criteria on the left of the arrow are more commons-like; those on the right are less indicative of commons.

Resource is recognized as a commons<-------> Resource is not recognized as a commons
Identifiable stakeholders:
Users with a stake in the resource are identifiable <-------> No stakeholders are identified or identifiable
Users recognize their interdependence <-------> Users think of their use as independent.
Conflicts between individual and group interests:
(Added by Josh Tenenberg)
There are conflicts between individual and group interests (i.e.there exist social dilemmas related to the Commons) <-------> there are no conflicts between individual and group interests
The resource is vulnerable to failure (such as, depletion, degradation, privatization, etc.) in the future <-------> The resource is stable and not threatened.
Participatory management:
The resource requires participatory management<-------> The resource is self-sustaining.
Appropriate rules are necessary to govern the resource <------->Rules are not needed.
The rules are created from within <-------> The rules are created by outsiders or from the top down.


This definition was developed at a workshop held at Institute For The Future (IFTF) on April 19, 2007, with Charlotte Hess, Howard Rheingold, Andrea Saveri, Kathi Vian, Kathryn Milun, Marc Smith, Josh Teneberg, and Matt Chwierut, and refined via wiki discussion board. It builds on the work that Charlotte Hess has done on this topic (e.g. Hess, Charlotte. 2000. "Is There Anything New Under the Sun? A Discussion and Survey of Studies on New Commons and the Internet." Presented at "Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millenium", the Eighth Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, May 31-June 4.,