Contribution to GTI Roundtable "The Commons and Transformation"

Liisa Horelli

Although David Bollier’s essay is brilliant, it has a couple of key problems. Firstly, the great variety of definitions of Commons—as a resource, ideology, ethic, emergent process, paradigm, model, template, logic, framework, space for deliberation, etc.—means that it is almost everything and therefore nothing specific. Thus, it cannot be the great driver for the Great Transition Initiative, but certainly one of the many sources of inspiration that is most useful in the form of concrete case studies or examples. Through the expansion of the examples, the desired “unity in diversity” might emerge.

Secondly, as Commons evidently require nutrition, maintenance, protection, and governance on many levels, the lack of knowledge and experience of multi-scalar governance is evident. Currently, there are no viable global governance models for our planet. Nevertheless, I believe that the path towards them goes through the interaction between the public (states, municipalities), private (market), and people, or the third sector with its variety of organized and self-organized initiatives. And the Commons are at the intersection of these parties, not the third party itself, as David Bollier suggests. This requires co-governance that can be seen as a deliberative system, demanding careful balancing of the formal, non-formal, and mixed spheres of activities, arenas, and decision-making. Even here, the problem of trans-scalar governance might be approached through iterative and incremental efforts with case studies on real issues.

One current example on trans-scalar governance is the struggle over the Internet as a Global Commons. Its favorable institutionalization would mean that the Internet’s essential functionalities and services, such as email, web search facilities, and social networking platforms, will be made available to all people as public goods and therefore regulated as a public utility.

Liisa Horelli
Liisa Horelli is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Real Estate, Planning and Geoinformatics, at Aalto University, Finland, and Visiting Professor of Designing for Smart Cities at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

Cite as Liisa Horelli, contribution to GTI Roundtable "The Commons and Transformation," Great Transition Initiative (April 2014),

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