Stroud Commons is a group of Stroud residents who have come together to build the ‘commons’ economy in Stroud, and to document everything so that it can be implemented in other towns too.

The commons economy is an economy in which the essentials of life – housing, energy, land, food, water, transport, social care, the means of exchange etc. are owned in common, in communities, rather than by absentee landlords, corporations or the state. Commons have 3 parts: a) resources / assets, b) ‘commoners’ – local people who control and use them, and c) a set of rules, written by the commoners, so that they’re not lost, by being sold or used up.

Ostrom’s principles

The kind of commons we’re trying to build are not natural ‘open access’ commons like the open ocean, the atmosphere, sunlight or rainfall, and not ‘anything to do with building community’. They’re based on the commons principles laid out by Elinor Ostrom, in Governing the Commons. She shows that communities can develop systems of self-governance to manage resources without the need for top-down government intervention or privatization. Here are her 8 principles :

  1. Clearly defined boundaries: commoners understand what resources they have responsibility for, and who with.
  2. Regulations correspond to the needs and conditions of the community: commoners understand the relationship between contribution and benefits.
  3. Collective decision-making: individuals affected by the regulations can participate in changing the regulations.
  4. Monitoring: commoners monitor and re-assess the rules / commitments themselves, or appoint others, drawn from, or accountable to the commoners who ensure they’re adhered to.
  5. Graduated sanctions: commoners design sanctions for violations of rules / commitments, depending on the severity of the violation.
  6. Conflict resolution: commoners devise conflict-resolution mechanisms that are low cost and easily accessible for all members.
  7. Local autonomy: commoners can create regulations and institutions without the infringement of an outside authority.
  8. Nested groups: if part of larger systems, commons groups are organised in multiple layers of nested groups.

We’re working with Mutual Credit Services, the Credit Commons Society, Lowimpact.org, Island Power and Local Loop Merseyside to help build commons institutions, based on new tools and ideas that are being developed (and some old ideas that have been adapted). 

New tools & ideas

These new tools and ideas allow us to:

  1. bring assets into the commons without debt: by issuing vouchers sold at a discount. Imagine a community energy group wanting to put up a wind turbine. At the moment, they’d need to go into debt or give away equity, which means the infrastructure will be in the hands of capitalists before long (like many co-ops and building societies). Instead, they issue energy vouchers, denominated in kWh, not £ (which makes them inflation-proof). People will want them because they’re sold at a discount, and they provide a store of value – interest-free security for old age or sickness. This basic idea can work in every sector of the economy. More here.
  2. provide strong asset locks: to prevent appropriation of commons assets. Commons groups have members that are users / customers, investors and stewards (employees), but also a ‘custodian’ member class, who aren’t proactive – they just have a veto vote. They’re disinterested arbiters to make sure that the purpose of the commons isn’t compromised – such as selling commons assets to capitalists.
  3. reduce the need for money, banks and interest: by ‘credit clearing’. It’s something the banks do, to reduce the need for cash to pay debts. But we can do it too. Imagine A owes B £10; B owes C £10; C owes A £10. If everyone has all the information, it can just clear, without needing money to pay debts. For networks of trading small businesses, this can be done with algorithms, covering large areas. More here.
  4. remove the need for money, banks and interest entirely: within those large areas, smaller clusters of businesses can be found that trade with each other regularly. They can share a ‘mutual credit’ ledger in which all members get an account, set at zero. When they sell, their numbers go up, when they buy, they go down. There are limits to how far anyone can go into credit or debit. It’s just an accounting system, for who’s done what for whom – no money required, so nothing to extract from communities. More here.
  5. federate to form the basis of a new, commons economy: all these commons projects can be connected together via the ‘Credit Commons Protocol’ – a ‘language’ that they can all speak that allows them to trade between each other – but in a federation, with no centre. Each local group retains full autonomy. Everything is interoperable – so people can pay their rent, energy bills etc. (and get paid) in mutual credit, for example. More here.

Here’s a longer article with more information about the commons economy.

Here’s how we can help formative groups in Stroud and elsewhere to set up and get going.