RECOMMONING

PLATFORMS AND THE NEW COMMONS

Monthly Archive: January 2016

Saturday

23

January 2016

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COMMENTS

Framing Tenancy as a Commons

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Frames—the unconscious structures we use to think of problems (Lakoff 2012)—are also important to design because they allow us to scale ideas or problems within the context of certain boundaries. Frames are always present within overarching systems that help contextualize them. For example, a community situated tenancy problem frame includes different stakeholders such as residents, tenants, landlords, community assets, neighborhood groups, political representatives, residences, and the small businesses serving the neighborhoods that form that community. When such a frame is evoked, the entire system around it is considered. In essence our frames are very much linked with our emotions. Designers have a particular skill that enables them to think in terms of frames about deeper factors that influence our needs beyond they underlying emotional motivation that stakeholders find in common. Kees Dorst sees framing as something useful to expert designers to help them better re-address what he calls unsolvable problems (those with changing requirements), and to create solutions where none may be apparent by expanding the current problem structure and concentrating on patterns and deepened themes that provide a promising path forward. Framing allows for easier identification of a problem’s limits (Dorst, 5). However, this approach excludes the non-designer’s agency because frame creation absolves the non-designer from the responsibility of decision-making.  But as we unpack the complexity these unsolvable problems present, we see that Dorst’s ideas limit the usefulness of collective action, especially because social problems requiring these forms of framing cannot be solved with algorithmic or generalized toolkits.

Reframing tenancy as a contribution to the commons, “what if tenancy is approached as a contribution to the commons,” raises important questions about the typologies of tenancy where design interventions may reside. Tenancy is seen as a market problem that is controlled via property rights, private ownership and government regulation, but it is seldom approached or perceived as a common resource. Market based approaches to tenancy bear among other things huge transaction costs. Members of a community can create mutual agreements governing tenancy while developing monitoring mechanisms to sustain these agreements. When these members collaborate on these types of decisions, their collaboration reduces the costs between the participants (Ostrom 1990).

Saturday

23

January 2016

6,980

COMMENTS

Tragedy of the Commons

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A commons is a resource that is shared by a group of people. Historically, a commons has been a physical resource (for example, a land resource), but its definition has now expanded to a non-physical, man-made resource such as peer-to-peer information networks (Marttila, Botero 2013). Physical commons therefore relate to physical resources and their use (Seravalli 2014) and digital commons relate to certain aspects of the non-market networked information economy that are controlled and negotiated by social exchange and agreements. Networks here represent systems of human interactions that emphasize human action and structural patterns (Benkler 2011). Physical commons may also be further categorized into open commons (like oceans, air, highway system) and limited access commons (like pasture agreements for farmers), or regulated (like forests that have restrictions of use placed on them) and unregulated commons (like grazing pasture for farmers with no use restrictions) (Benkler 2006).

Garrett Hardin explored the impact of individual influence on disrupting a commons by arguing that selfish human behavior depletes common resources to the point of destroying the commons (hence the term Tragedy of the Commons). According to Hardin, privatization or governmental oversight are important to maintaining these resources through limitation of access (Hardin 1968). However, research in domains as varied as Design, Economics (Ostrom 1990), Law (Benkler 2006) and several others demonstrate the value of a perspective on human cooperation different from Hardin’s. Elinor Ostrom shows that the solution to the over-consumption problem with a commons is not just access limitation by external regulation as Hardin believed, but is instead the creation and stewardship of the right conditions for use and common governance (Ostrom 1990; Bauwens 2012). Self-governance and regulation, and not external oversight, are instrumental to preventing “the tragedy of the commons” (Ostrom 1990). The praxis in commoning also involves “cooperation (or pooling of common resources for group benefit), and community (defined as a group of people who coalesce around collective identity and collective action)” (De Angelis 2010).