Design principles

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Various articulations of "design principles" for a commons, hopefully inspirational to others:

Elinor Ostrom

Note that Ostrom is speaking primarily of "natural" land, stewarded or cultivated in some sense collectively, but not, for instance, a cultural commons or a commons in an urban context.

From Ted Bergstrom:

Ostrom attempts to identify common features of societies and institutions that promoted their efficacy and survival. She enumerates these "Design Principles Illustrated by Long-Enduring CPR institutions" as follows.[1]

  1. Clearly defined boundaries, defining who can withdraw common resources and who cannot. This feature makes the resources ”common property” of insiders but does not allow “open access” to outsiders.
  2. Appropriation rules that restrict time, place, technology, and/or quantity of resources withdrawn, where these rules are tailored to local conditions.
  3. Collective choice rules that allow most individuals affected by rules to participate in any modification of these rules.
  4. Monitoring of compliance, where the monitors are accountable to the local resource appropriators. Self-enforcement by group members is a critical feature of most successful solutions. Usually this works better than attempts to enforce rules passed by an outside government that is ill-equipped to enforce these rules.
  5. Graduated sanctions for non-compliance, where the severity of sanctions depend on the severity and context of the offense.
  6. Access to rapid, low-cost arenas to resolve conflict among uses and between users and officials.
  7. Minimal recognition of the right to organize by a national or local government.
  8. For larger common pools, the presence of governance activities organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

Omni Commons from Ostrom

  1. Boundaries ("common property" or "open access"?) Make it explicit: the Omni Commons's goal is to become fully open to the public, where access can be open to all, centering the experiences of marginalized and oppressed people, and such that each person ensures others can be fully self-expressed in an environment of mutual- and self-respect that seeks to be a safer space.
    • Does this mean omni commons seeks to be an "open access" resource? I don't think it necessarily does, but I'm not sure...
    • Or perhaps we need a simple boundary, and for that matter a rite de passage or ritual of entry? An omni commons general membership, etc?
    • Furthermore, what does it mean that we also serve private engagements and the private world through events in our space that contribute financing to cover costs?
  2. Appropriation: Omni Commons is open only when at least two members of member collectives are present to keep it open. There are many typical boundaries around what kinds of uses are reasonable or not, or what degrees of usage become excessive (e.g. constantly playing online games prevents a functioning internet connection for others). Many restrictions are not so explicitly stated—though there is a strong tendency toward implementation of appropriate and localized signage.
    • There are some principles that perhaps could be codified:
      • If food is labelled by a person (hopefully with a date too), one should not eat it, but may throw it away if it is sincerely spoiled. If food is brought and is distributed by private persons, it may be dolled at their discretion. Otherwise, unlabeled food in common space should be free for any to consume or prepared to suit their needs.
  3. Collective choice: Individuals in the omni commons are always welcome to join the weekly public meeting on Thursdays at 7pm in any matters that pertain to them, or for their own benefit. The working groups also allow and afford participation in forming collective decisions.
    • It seems like there are direct ways to participate, but the delegates reaching a consensus decision may override individuals' by passing delegate votes. This is a limit to one's participation outside of the member-collectives.
    • "any modification" is a sticky wicket... akin to the idea of "those who use it--they own it, and run it."
  4. Monitoring: Thusfar we are anti-surveillance, but we have an aware and participatory community, so we monitor each other, and we are all held under the same expectations.
    • Perhaps we make it a direct principle "we are anti-surveillance"?
  5. Graduated sanctions: Our accountability processes and expectations of responsibility invoke a set of direct expectation of working toward collaborative solutions through communication. This is perhaps one of the more sensitive forms of a "graduated scale" where the opportunity to create a very unique sanction matches the context of the situation. Right now we have no construct for repeated behavior, except perhaps deeper inspection and reflection through conflict resolution and mediation.
  6. Rapid, low-cost conflict resolution: Our process for conflict resolution is slow and high-cost. Enough said...
  7. Minimal government recognition: Omni Commons is above-board as a project, and is within the law with regard to local, state, national, and international constructs.
  8. Layers: Omni commons utilizes a "spokescouncil" model and reflects a horizontalist approach to encouraging smaller collectives to form and participate functionally and with regard to other collectives at a larger scale than may be feasible for the number of people involved.
    • It is unclear what other layers there could be or what layers would make sense to add. Perhaps also whether a layer is necessary is a fair question.
    • I believe with Omni Commons we are talking about a community network of ~1,000 participants though primarily on the order of ~100 active participants, with a cluster of high activity closer to ~10-20.


  1. This list appears in her 1990 book [19] (page 90) and also in her Journal of Economic Perspectives article [21].