of the Commons:
Canonical Organizational Design of a Commons
From: Bruce Damer on What is a Commons? and How to Structure
Revisions to November 2002
is a Commons?
commons in everyday parlance is a common space, often a parcel
of open land owned and operated by and for a community of people.
We use the term Commons with a big 'C' to denote a novel organizational
form that can serve communities of constructive collaboration
operating through the medium of Cyberspace.
Purpose of a Commons
conception of a Commons is not simply about the sale of products
or services, which is handled well by traditional marketplaces,
nor is it a community of interest, which is the domain of clubs
or political organizations. When an exchange of value is meant
to accomplish a more complex shared goal, this implies there
will be a relationship entered into for some period of time.
Building relationships through constructive collaborative works
is the real purpose of a Commons.
by which a member may join or leave a Commons
may Join a Commons?
Commons, as with most other organizations, is a group of individual
people. While companies or other organizations can belong
to a Commons, it is only through the the representation of
an individual. In the interfaces of a Commons described in
the previous section there is no category for organizations,
only people. Therefore if an individual representing an organization
is replaced by that organization, they must go through the
process of seeking membership for a new individual. In addition,
if an individual who is a Commons member leaves their own
organization they retain their membership in the Commons.
a member has taken steps to seek to join a Commons they may
be accepted as a member based on one of the following three
processes. It is recommended that a Commons employ only one
of the following processes for all members, not mix the processes.A
Commons may start with one process and decide later to change
to another, and in this case it should universally change
to the new process.
Open: any individual can simply apply for
and automatically receive membership. It is encouraged that
in the application process that members state what they
hope to gain and what they feel they can contribute by being
a Commons member.
Sponsored: an existing member may sponsor
an individual for membership, creating a commitment and
social link visible to the whole Commons. As well as the
new member stating what they hope to gain and can contribute
(as in 1) the sponsoring member should say something about
the new member for the benefit of the Commons. Membership
Sponsored with Qualification: this is the
most highly selective process in which new members come
into a Commons. An existing member sponsors an individual
for membership but that individual will only attain membership
after a process of qualification. Qualification processes
must be agreed to in advance by the Commons and could include
a period of time, the completion of one or more projects,
and feedback or voting by all or part of the Commons membership.
consummation of membership occurs when the individual accepts
their License, which must be agreed between them and the Commons
in a manner legally binding in both the jurisdiction of the
Commons an the individual's physical jurisdiction. The License
is availalbe for review at any time before or after attaining
membership. The license must not violate any laws in the jurisdiction
which a member resides at any time. If this occurs that membership
is placed under review (see section below).
prior conditions agreed to by the Commons membership, an individual's
membership may come under review. This can happen if the member
comes into a perceived violation of the License or some other
action deemed inappropriate by the Commons.
on conditions established by and published for all members,
a Commons can cause a membership to be classified as lapsed.
The purpose of this process is to discrourage inactive or gratuitious
member may opt to leave a Commons or their membership may be
revoked by a Commons, in which case the benefits extended to
them under the License are no longer available, unless a special
arrangement is agreed to by the Commons. After leaving, they
are no longer bound by the responsibilities of the license but
they must complete any pending committments under that license
or make some other arrangement by agreement with the Commons.
A Commons may establish an appeals or other process by which
an individual may again apply for membership.
for Membership is Discouraged
for membership are not encouraged for a Commons. It is important
that the focus on accepting new members is on their individual
qualities, not on their ability to provide financial input.
Opt-in fees for services and in-kind contributions could be
required for specific activities after members have joined.
membership is Discouraged
reason that any kind of trial membership is not encouraged is
that members should be able to rely on other members being there
in the long term. Would-be members must also be serious in their
intent to become part of a commons.
License: Rights, and Responsibilities for a Member of a Commons
key document for the creation of a Commons is the License, which
defines a member's relationship with the Commons. The License
contains elements of a Bill of Rights as well as important facets
of constitutional and civil law. The License must accomplish
a lot and yet be brief enough and clear enough for members to
easily internalize an understanding of what it entails.
Commons must provide all members with an identical license,
or in other words, all members of a Commons have the benefit
of and must abide by the terms of an identical license. Instituting
several different licenses creates another type of organization
than a Commons.
The Commons and its membership would like to welcome you as
a member and extend to you the following benefits. We would
also request that you agree to the following responsibilities.
link to the canonical license when developed
and Growing a Commons
number one challenge: maintaining a high order of personal behavioral
significant amount of oversight must be sustained by a Commons
to screen against the tendency of some in human society to use
coercive behavior and rely on the cheap motivator of fear to
attain a position of power and material accumulation. Even more
challenging for a Commons is to encourage those already conditioned
to respond to coercive regimes to shed old behaviors and stand
in opposition to these methods when they arise. When governments
or other organizations succumb to those practicing these methods,
disaster for a much greater number of people in the future is
almost assured. As the goal of a Commons is to serve the interests
of the total membership over a long period of time, these practices
are anathema to the very practice of a Commons. Those in positions
of influence in a Commons must use that influence to serve the
greater interests of the membership, not their own interests.
of members seeking to join a Commons is an important first line
of defense of the Commons’ behavioral integrity. More
importantly, each member must personally perpetuate a culture
of vigilance against coercive behavior. Two important tools
in this culture are firstly, the clear enunciation of the power
of an individual to not accept coercive methods from another
member or indeed from others in their lives or work and two,
clear channels of communication and facilities of aid and arbitration.
Another key tool is that each member of a Commons has a public
record, which is available for anonymous and non-anonymous feedback
and contributes to the record and reputation of that member.
greatest challenge to sustain the viability and lifespan of
any Commons is akin to the defense that an immune system provides
a living body. Every organ and cell in our bodies works in concert,
in mutual support, Disease creates short-term gain for an invading
organism at the expense of the entire body. The immune system
screens against invaders who seek to upset that synergy. An
important property about immune systems is that they are built
into a body at almost every level. A Commons behavioral immune
system must similarly be built in at all levels. Immune systems
themselves can become weapons of destruction in the body and
care must be taken that a Commons immune system does not itself
become a tool of coercion.
a trusted framework for a Commons
are built first on a framework of trust. Self-interest is a
secondary factor for the forming and continuing of a relationship.
Creating and maintaining a framework that can be trusted by
members is the key challenge of a commons. This is also a key
challenge often unmet by governments. A Commons must be designed
with the following properties to engender trust:
- Equitability: all members are fundamentally equal
in their rights and responsibilities.
- Representation: all members have the right to participate
in decisions affecting them and the Commons as a whole through
trusted democratic practices.
- Freedom from fear and other coercive behavior:
all members seek to maintain in themselves and in their
peers a high level of personal behavioral integrity (as
described in the previous section).
- Free Speech and a Right to be Heard: all members
know that they have a right of free speech and that facilities
in the Commons are mandated to hear them and empowered to
- Fairness: members know that all interfaces, algorithms,
posted information, or transactions are not influenced in
the favor of any one member or group of members.
- Transparency: information about activities in the
governance and daily operations of the commons, as well
as the reputation and records about members, projects or
tools is available to all members.
- Appeal and Redress: members know that any situation
involving public information affecting them, agreements,
or decisions by organs of the Commons have a mechanism of
appeal and redress open to them.
commons will thrive only through the combined energy and commitment
of its members. A commons is a platform for entrepreneurial
ventures, permitting the combination of resources, tools and
ideas. Many nations and most industries have elements of a commons
operating at some level of health. Governments or industrial
monopolies that prevent the creation of new ventures preclude
the existence of a true commons.
Interfaces to a Commons defining the services and facilities
its members benefit from
key to creating an energized Commons is information. As the
purpose of a Commons is "building relationships through
constructive collaborative works" such information must
be presented in an interface that enables people to find one
another, engage opportunities and apply tools to collaborative
works. Therefore the information interfaces to a Commons must
consist of the following five cateogries:
| Opportunities | Projects | Tools | Clients
1) Members lists who is involved with the
Commons and what they declare about themselves and their work
Opportunities shows ideas, jobs, inquiries coming into the Commons.
Projects displays the current activities of the Commons, coding,
the intellectual property, codebases, models, methods of the
outside entities who have been or are clients of Commons products
the detailed layout of the Code
of the Commons database project
the notes for the completion of this section
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