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DisCOs are giving back to the commons: Commons are self-managed, community-led processes to govern resources and relationships. While capitalism encloses the commons by turning nature into products and relationships into services, DisCO creates capacity by growing new commons in digital and physical space.

In short: recognizing and nurturing existing commons, as well as creating new ones is what allows DisCO to provide better future-proof solutions than the dominant order.


To talk about the Commons first we have to agree on what the commons means. 

Commons can be understood from different perspectives, but several principles are mainstays. Author David Bollier describes Commons as a shared resource, co-governed by its user community according to the community's rules and norms. Commons include gifts of nature such as water or land, and shared assets or creative work such as culture and knowledge. Commons can also include goods and resources which are either inherited or human-made.

Things that can be treated as “a commons” include natural resources (water, air), and created assets (culture, knowledge), and can be either inherited or human-made, but “The Commons” refers to this process as a whole; the synergy between the elements of a community, a resource and its co-governance.

There are two terms used to distinguish the differences between commons, describing how they can differ in the ways they may be shared or used. Goods or resources that cannot be shared or used at the same time are called “rivalrous”; there can be only one user at a time and they are depleted by use. Goods or services that can be used by more than one person at once are “non-rivalrous”. Examples can include how many people can share information at the same moment and it never depletes (no “rivalry” for access or use), but only one can eat a single apple from a common quantity of apples, and when that apple is gone the supply is diminished, creating an increase of scarcity in those apples (thus the “rivalry” for the remainder). 

The following four perspectives, according to commons scholar and activist Silke Helfrich, offer ways to both perceive and interact with Commons:

  1. Collectively managed resources, both material and immaterial, which need protection and require a lot of knowledge and know-how.
  1. Social processes that foster and deepen thriving relationships. These form part of complex socio-ecological systems which must be consistently stewarded, reproduced, protected and expanded through commoning.
  1. A new mode of production focused on new productive logics and processes.
  1. A paradigm shift that sees commons and the act of commoning as a worldview.

It is said, “There is no commons without commoning”. The Commons is neither the resource, the community that gathers around it, nor the protocols for its stewardship, but the dynamic interaction between all these elements.

An example is Wikipedia: there is a resource (universal knowledge), a community (the authors and editors) and a set of community-created rules and protocols (Wikipedia’s content and editing guidelines). The Wikimedia Commons emerges from all three. Another example, but in a radically different context, is the Siuslaw National Forest, in Oregon, USA. Managed as a commons, we also find a resource (the forest), a community (the loggers, ecological scientists and forest rangers comprising its ‘watershed council’) and a set of rules and bylaws (the charter for sustainably co-managing the forest).

No worldwide, general inventory of commons exists, as they arise when a community decides to manage a resource collectively. The Commons as a whole thrives on the vast diversity of individual commons worldwide, ranging from fisheries to urban spaces, and many other forms of shared wealth.

Typical market enterprises permit the exploitation of shared wealth, such as land, natural resources or human knowledge. In current, everyday economic policies and practices, businesses in many sectors are built on the assumption of enclosure as a mainstream business practice, whereby resources are turned into commodities and relationships into services. For example, a commons of protected land could be re-zoned through political processes that are heavily influenced by corporate power, and what was once a commons turns into a “free”, exploited resource for profitable business.

DisCOs reverse this by actively generating decommodified, open-access resources. These new commons can be created through market and value-tracked, pro-bono work. Commons may be digital (code, design, documentation, legal protocols and best practices, etc.) or physical (productive infrastructure, deliberation spaces, machinery, etc.) 

The key here is to share access to these commons and govern them collectively. "Commons" is the term we use due to the extensive recent literature on the subject, but this way of stewarding the gifts of nature, or the cultural traditions we share have been the de facto mode of human organization for most of our existence. Many cultures operating outside the limitations of capitalism are deeply familiar with these practices

The sustenance of an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide depend on some form of natural resource commons, mainly in the global south, yet many of these remain unprotected and vulnerable to enclosure. These vulnerabilities are often violently exploited, and local people who challenge the dominant powers are at risk of being labeled terrorists, or facing death in some cases, when local politics has an open hand in the very big business of land exploitation (think mining, for example). 

It has been postulated that a similar number of people are co-creating shared resources online through digital platforms. These potentially massive affinity networks presently lack a common identifier or unifying vision to articulate a different path for change. But we see the ideas of commoning as a shared thread. 

If capitalism is the driver of enclosure, how can we protect the new commons we create from capitalism's predatory nature? We suggest using commons-compatible legal means and structures. Cooperatives and Community Land Trusts are two good examples of using legal means to protect our values, whether they concern people or land. We also suggest using commons-specific licensing, such as the Peer Production License or our upcoming DisCO-specific licenses. Additionally: just by virtue of becoming a DisCO and sharing your stories and practices with the DisCOverse you're creating new solidarity commons that can help and inspire new groups. [1]

Principle 3 teaches you to see the commons and then care about them. This care approach is key in order to restore existing or create new commons. By fostering commons instead of market resources, we bring down the cost of social collaboration. This is urgently important, given the huge ecological and social challenges we face as the species with the most power to damage or remediate our planet. The more we can share spaces, mutual support, relevant knowledge and best practices, the easier it will be to turn the tide around and create a world where many worlds are possible.


Laneras gives free workshops on recuperating the traditions of merino wool harvesting in Western Spain. Their mission is to revive sustainable practices, spinning traditions and the use of local raw materials, to prevent their loss. Laneras also works to revitalize the community and territory, protect local land, social bonds, and support biological biodiversity and rural development. They are also using and ‘open sourcing’ various kinds of low-tech machinery for weaving and looming. 

Guerrilla Media Collective creates open knowledge repositories of the work they produce, e.g., pro-bono translations and illustrations, shared on the web under a Peer Production License,[2] which benefits coops while discouraging extraction. The collective itself documents its practices in its wiki to share with other DisCOs.

Why this is important

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Interactions with other principles

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Related Elements

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More Resources

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  1. Not a DisCO yet? Take the DisCO Challenge to see how your org can meet the DisCO Principles.
  2. From the DisCO Manifesto: "The Peer Production License allows cooperatives and solidarity-based collectives, but not corporations, to monetize productive works. Similar to how the Fairshares Association facilitates the capitalization of assets within their networks, DisCOs can use PPL to allow purpose-oriented organizations to become more economically resilient by creating and controlling their own shared assets in a permissionless manner."