The Commons

Reinventing the Commons Program 

The commons paradigm is a versatile social form that is reviving ancient forms of shared stewardship for resources and community, often with modern twists and the use of digital technologies. Contemporary commons can be seen in open source software and Wikipedia, community land trusts and local currencies, seed-sharing cooperatives and co-housing, art collaborations and open textbook projects. 

What unites countless commons is their attempts to de-commodify resources and mutualize benefits through bottom-up governance systems that are fair and inclusive. The Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center works with diverse commoners to advance this vision and projects that can build a new type of economy.

Unlike extractive markets, which are driven to privatize gains and externalize costs onto the environment and communities, commons-based management is regenerative.  It nourishes people, land and other living systems in their fullest sense. Unlike many state systems, commons tend to be more democratic, trusted, oriented to the long term, appropriately sized, and adaptable to changing circumstances and local knowledge.

There is a growing literature, set of public policies and working projects that are exploring the full potential of the commons. Here are some resources for getting oriented:


Books on the Commons

Think Like a Commoner (2014), by David Bollier

Patterns of Commoning (2015), edited by Bollier and Helfrich.  Available free online.

The Wealth of the Commons (2012), edited by Bollier and Helfrich.  Available free online.

Governing the Commons (1990), by Elinor Ostrom

Sustaining the Commons (2013), by John M. Anderies and Marco A. Janssen.  Available free online.

Our Common Wealth (2013), by Jonathan Rowe

Common as Air:  Revolution, Art and Ownership (2010), by Lewis Hyde

The Gift:  Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (1983), by Lewis Hyde

    The Magna Carta Manifesto (2008), by Peter Linebaugh

....and here is a select bibliography of additional readings.



Some notable arenas of commoning          


Digital commons                                         

peer production                         

Creative Commons licenses

urban wifi commons

platform co-operativism

open design and manufacturing         

FabLabs & makerspaces


Academic & scientific commons

open access publishing

open science

data commons

Open Educational Resources movement

co-learning commons



Urban commons

city as a commons

open source urban prototyping

urban land trusts

participatory budgeting

community gardens

freecycling / upcycling


Land & water

land tenure

Community supported agriculture

intergenerational transfer of land

public trust doctrine

Slow Food

Slow Fish


Indigenous and traditional commons

indigenous peoples commons

buen vivir

Rights of nature / Earth jurisprudence

Traditional Knowledge Database

seed sharing


Finance and money

community currencies

blockchain software

public banks

cooperative finance

community development finance