Separate Commons and Commerce to make it work for the Commons

Ok let’s try to make a first draft in english, and we’ll update it with our questions around this proposition. Please fill free to improve, suggestions from natives speakers are welcome!.

Imagine a community develops a “commons”. Say, a map of projects and initiatives called TransforMap! This “commons” looks pretty similar to what a city council would like to see developed for its own town.

How would such a council proceed? He would probably start with a “call for proposal”, then select the most promissing ones and engage the best people working on its plan on a contractual basis. The council expects a service to be delivered and dedicates a specific budget to it. Should the commoners (in our example, the contributors to TransforMap) directly react to the council’s request?

I think, they shouldn’t for two main reasons:

First and foremost: The city council has its own agenda. It has its own idea of how the deliverable should look like and its own due dates. The council’s agenda and roadmap are usually not the same as the commoner’s agenda, for instance the “common” agenda of TransforMap, nor does an approach of a communal government necessarily express the will from all those who freely contribute to TransforMap. However, as the city council puts the money, such a cooperation on a contractual basis will heavily impact on the projects dynamic and evolution. The council’s agenda could bring along all the usual constraints of the commercial world: all of a sudden “the need to deliver” trumps “the need to respect the project’s rhythm”. Therefore, a gap opens up between those who deliver a lot and get the money and those who (can only) deliver from time to time and do so without payment (which is pretty common in a commons project).
The adaptation of the commons project’s goal and dynamics to the city council’s needs, does not necessarily happen as a conscious process. People who work on TransforMap for example, might even modify the project’s direction in a subtle, almost imperceptible way. This may lead to a situation where those commoners, who contribute for intrinsic reasons (fun, networking, trial-and-error-learning processes) will leave the project." What might look like a win-win situation at the beginning, turns out to be a win-loose one. The City Council gets its map. But TransforMap lost its community. And without community, no commons.

Secondly; by reacting to the call for proposals, a commons-project starts competing with other service-driven organisations and commercial firms. Such a turn doesn’t only convert the commons into something that will now be forced to produce “a better deliverable” than others (according to the call’s logic), it also reanimates the logic of competition instead of defending the idea of free and voluntary cooperation. In other words: instead of helping people to change the behavioral patterns triggered by a flawed economic system, it reinforces these patterns. This might motivate people to leave the “common” project, or because they have their own commercial organisation that could run for the council’s call or because they don’t wish to be driven by external needs.

One idea to avoid this kind of situation and to stick to the “commoners’ spirit”, is not to “compete for a call for proposal”, but to help all those who wish to do so by making use of our commons (TransforMap) in their proposals.

For example, commercial organisation A and commercial organisation B react to the call and compete for a contract. We’ll help these two companies to get all the information they need to include “commons” (f.i. the use of the TransforMap platform) into their project proposal. Maybe both companies will include the same “commons”, so that no matter who wins, the “commons” will succeed, without forcing the commoners into the competition.

Of course, the commons projects should be paid for their provisions, for instance for the use of the cooperatively created mapping platform by all those who wish to make a business out of it or, like our commercial organisation A and B, who win a call of governmental institutions.
How would that be possible, without generating the same pressure on the commons project we’ve rejected before?

We think, that commercial organisations should just make their use of a commons transparent. They should publicly specify the money they contribute, as a donation to the commons and not as a service payment (!), without any right to get something in return that the commons project wouldn’t freely provide.
Furthermore; to stick to our example, if the commons-platform (f.i. TransforMap) is of any use for the City Council’s mission, this could be clearly stated at the beginning of each call for proposal or bidding process. It should be mentioned in the call for proposals and compensated with a public contribution to the commons (usually towards the end of such a process, as one never knows how a commons will in fact be useful for a specific purpose).

Here is a example of how to proceed:

In this example, two commercial organisations (MappingCompany and TrainingCompany) answered together to a call. There will be “two commons” that these companies will use to develop a solution for the city council. In our example, one of these commons is Transformap. For using TransforMap to produce the map for the City Council, MappingCompany is publicly declaring a donation of 2000€ to TransforMap and self-commits to put the features developed during the mission “open source”. This an “in-kind” contribution to the commons.

Our idea is to help commercial organizations gaining confidence in the commons approach while helping the commons to be funded when they are used for business purposes.

This will help us identifying all those who are willing to cooperate with commons (organizations) in a respectful way. So that, when commoners are asked by public or private companies to develop a specific module, product and service, these commoners can redirect people to the companies that wish to do so while using and contributing to the commons.
Of course, there is a need to make public which companies contribute to the commons, so that the respective company can benefit from the publicity (that is: transparent information instead of paid commercials), while those who don’t contribute to the commons remain invisible.

We started working on this approach at encommuns. Feel free to explore: (@almereyda it’s in the dataserver API)

Of course, once the commons get money, the other question (to be dealt with in another thread) is how to distribute this money among the contributors. Because as Benjamin Mako says, “it’s easier for a successful volunteer Free Software project to get money than it is to decide how to spend it”. is currently working on a great solution to this problem (others like Sensorica also try to do so). We already use it in our commonsdev team as you can see her, but not with Gratipay as the feature is being updrated and is not working for the moment.

More information, for the moment only in French on:, especially here and here.


Would be good to write a short description and link the existing documentation of the model by @Simon_Sarazin

A post was merged into an existing topic: Discourse bug [No post edit possibly anymore]

Hi Silke, thanks a lot for the help improving this explanation. I updated the first part of the text with your advices. Feel free if you have the time to update the other part. Thanks :slight_smile:

Hi, I’ve gone through the whole text now, did some “rewriting” according to my understanding. Please have a look and answer to the remaining questions and pls. tell me what you think about my proposals.


Super ! I’ll have a look this days and answer you about it :smile: Thanks @Silke !

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Polycentric Maps

@Silke , i’ve just updated the text with your comments. Thanks a lot for all this updates ! Feel free to ask me questions on this approach.

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done @Simon_Sarazin ; pls have a final look and let me know if you agree with my edits. I think, that the content is pretty clear now and very helpful. Certainly, a “native” eye would catch a lot of things that could be expressed in a more elegant way… but this text is certainly something we can work with. Thanks a lot!


I very much like that idea. And to some extent, we’ve already done the mistakes you describe.

Do you think that can be achieved without a dedicated organization caring for that commons? Any concrete idea? You mention Gratipay and other solutions, but do they suppress the need of an organization that is recipient of funds?

It was possible with Gratipay before they had to change their model, due to legal problems…
So that’s sure that we need to get organizations, not only for money, but also to protect domain name, mark, host servers, etc…
I really like what has been done in free software, with the . This is the organization of tens of projects : It’s use to get funds for the projets, host domain name, etc… : The SPI does not own, govern or control the associated projects. SPI just acts as a fiscal sponsor for associated projects :

In France, we’re trying to developp the same type of organization as the SPI do. Here is the work we started , and our actual status : We do it as we have most of the commons we want to protect in France, and we’d like to use the “helloasso” french platform to get funds for this projects. But maybe transformap could apply to SPI directly.

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Also see


In essence, what’s at stake here is not only the relationship btw. commons and commerce but also btw. the commons and the State. Commoners usually get problems with the State if they want to organize in a kind of commons-style.

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In Germany the most close to this would be (in my opinion) the figure of a Förderverein (supporting association). Many would probably ask, why not the Stiftung (Foundation)? On my opinion most are far from having the openness and transparency you find on an associative culture, especially when the statutes and culture are open enough for it.

@alabaeye and @TDoennebrink just shared

which may as well involve @gandhiano’s earlier work on

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you can add that resource about Enspiral:

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Reading through the material concerning the latest split of a founder from ownCloud Inc., their situation appears to resemble ours in some ways. Partly due to the separation from commons and commerce, and partly due to the challanges it produces:

So ownCloud Inc. helps us in several important areas without taking any freedom away.

  • Developers can pay their rent with working full time on ownCloud. Are you looking for a job? Drop me a line.
  • ownCloud Inc. helps to market ownCloud in the IT world more effectively than an open source projects can do.
  • ownCloud Inc. brings ownCloud to companies, governments, schools and other organizations.
  • It helps developers with travel support and other costs
  • It helps with infrastructure.

The business model of ownCloud Inc. is very similar to the ones by Red Hat, SUSE, Nokia/Trolltech, MySQL, Kolab Systems and other free software companies. We will offer services and support around ownCloud for enterprises.

ownCloud is and will always be free software (AGPL) and the development will be controlled by the community on our public mailing list. So ownCloud Inc. is not taking anything away from the existing ownCloud community. On the contrary. It adds important parts so that we can make a bigger impact together.

But this doesn’t stand alone anymore, since internal quarrel led to the recent split:

Funny enough, yesterday by coincidence I realised, that Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia actually lives of the commercial project Wikia founded short after Wikipedia,_Inc._is_not_the_commercial_counterpart_to_Wikipedia_or_the_Wikimedia_Foundation

…Wikia does support the Wikimedia Foundation through donations - however, there are no formal ties between the two organizations…

Have been thinking today if having a Commons actually implies there is an economic process attached to it. In conversation with @mozboz lately we came once again to the conclusion a tiny Commons can be found in most human activities.

Also regard the nicely layered scheme in

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Enspiral just published a handbook on how they run their foundation, businesses that feed into the foundation, budgeting of the foundation and so on. Very inspiring.

There is 2 entities, that the following refers to, Enspiral as the cooperative foundation, that loomio is apart of. And Loomio, which sees itself as impact driven social enterprise, as most of the venture-organization of the Enspiral foundation do.

About Enspiral:

Enspiral is the organization behind (which we did not yet adapt into our community workflows, which I do actually not undersand, as it was proposed several times e.g. here here or here , but never discussed in relevance).

link to the Loomio handbook:
you can also download it as pdf, if that is more convenient for you to read:

here the newsletter, how I got the invitation to the handbook, which is an online wiki.

some of the content I find especially interesting and inspiring:

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