New Ideas on Commoning: Building New Models 

There is a growing area of research in what is called the New Commons, which is a commons without pre-existing rules and clear agreements. These New Commons sectors are outside of traditional commons sectors and are built around the imperative to solve significant social dilemmas. Examples of these are medical commons, budget as commons, radio spectrum and global commons (Hess 2008). My research explores the New Commons to see which commoning practices may be seen in tenancy.  Tenancy is a complex issue with varied stakeholders with entrenched interests. This complexity is evidenced in the market-driven selfish actions of individual stakeholders, generally accepted as a survival strategy. Interviews I conducted earlier in the year indicated landlords engaged in various rationalizations in order to find the ‘ideal tenant’ within the limits of the law. Aware of property repair costs, landlords are torn between misrepresenting their rentals in advertisement in order to find the right tenant, and risking ending up with the wrong tenant if they don’t do so.  Tenants on the other hand seek to maximize value by finding the place that suits their lifestyle needs at the lowest cost to them. Social design is particularly useful in tackling this challenge because it helps to reframe problems on the community scale in ways that present new and actionable solutions. Social designers participate with the community as peers by facilitate commoning through tools, creativity and approach derived from their expertise (Manzini 2015). One way to better understand design-enabled commoning (what I call recommoning) is by understanding the designer’s situation through different phases of commoning.

Commons and Dominant Economic Paradigms

Commoning is political in its nature (De Angelis 2007). However, it doesn’t mean that commons must only exist in the theoretical political sphere, outside of the realities of market economies (Benkler, 725). The challenges of commoning include the economic situation of the commons within existing market economies and how to deal with fringe participants. These challenges are rooted in social justice and discourse on fairness and reciprocity; sustainability, in terms of collective action towards managing limited resources; in heterodoxy of economies, including natural capitalism (capitalism predicated on the value of natural environments); in benefit sharing (the funneling of monetary and non-monetary benefits to communities from where resources are drawn); and in cooperatives as well as cooperative markets (Bauwens 2012).

These complex socio-political environments make design-enabled commoning a much more difficult proposition, since commoning bears no tested and true algorithm or step-by-step guide (Kollock, 1996) but instead involves a combination of skill, social collaboration, reflection and action. Nevertheless, the network information economy has produced new platforms through which different patterns of commoning have evolved within market-based systems.

While Elinor Ostrom’s work never referenced online communities, many insights may be drawn from her writing. A digital community is a relatively recent phenomenon since the Internet itself has only been around for much less than half a century. However, the same ideas of the impact of collaboration on community may also be applicable.

Designers can enable collaboration online through social affordances, or “online social interactions mediated by design” (Bradner 2001).  As we peer through the lenses of social mediators, they cause us to engage with our communities. In essence, there is no social design without the ‘social.’ And as we gather both online and offline, we build relationships and form a set agreements that constitute the basis of the new cultures formed by those relationships. Designers explore how these social affordances may further blur the lines between the online and offline versions of our communities.