Chamber of Commons Event Report

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On October 10, 20 participants assembled at the ICA-USA Greenrise in Uptown Chicago for two workshops to a) discuss what we mean when we talk about commons and b) create an action plan for assembling key Chicagoans by May 1, 2016 to form Chicago’s Chamber of Commons. During the day it became clear that the many perspectives in the room meant that defining  a Chamber of Commons was a complex task. Steve Ediger and Michelle Halle Stern co-facilitated the workshops. Participants engaged in deep conversation, and, based on feedback received, everybody felt that it was a productive use of their time. This report documents the outcomes of the proceedings and maps a path to the founding of Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons in May of 2016.

Consensus Workshop

In our consensus workshop, we asked and answered the question, “What do we mean when we talk about QestionCommons?” To set the context, we discussed The Commons, Short and Sweet, an article by David Bollier. With this article, participants gained an orientation of traditional and modern frames of the term commons, how commons can only be defined in conjunction with commoners, a community that has come together to manage a commons, how enclosure of commons results in dispossession, and that new structures and law is needed to promote commons and their preservation.  The discussion was lively, and the participants welcomed this preamble to set the stage for our discussion on commons.

After setting the context, participants began individual work by listing their ideas about the meaning of commons.  Then they split into pairs and shared ideas, picking out their most well-expressed ideas.  Michelle Halle Stern facilitated collection of these and pairing them into linked ideas.  Subsequently all of the ideas were brought up and clustered into groups.  We ended up with six clusters of ideas, covering all of the unique thoughts that the participants had about the question, “What do we mean when we talk about Commons?”

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This was the final work product of the consensus workshop.  The next table documents the outcomes in text.

Steward-ship of Nature How we Organize Land Stewardship Health, Wellness and Human Potential Mobility and Trans-porta-tion Open Access to Knowledge
Right to safe food, water & air Decision-

making processes

Community land trust Open access to medical care Integrated transportation Unbiased, uncensored and complete news
Clean air & water globally as basic right Free Associations of people Community Gardens Means of survival/ wellness Public transportation & bike paths Free & open sharing of knowledge for all
Rainwater and rivers Expectation of safety, security & protection Balance of nature/urban space Traditional food/medicine access & knowledge Open source farm equipment
Access to renewable energy resources Goodwill exchange barter Protect public access to lakefront Divert edible food waste for eating Nuclear family knowledge shared communally
Healthy sunlight Experience of reality based on relational agreement Access food waste for composting Food, housing, & education to nurture one’s full expression of being human Worldview, mindset, lens, affiliation, ethic system, behaviour

Relational agreement

Cities as commons Protect views Indigenous traditional knowledge
Our public servants Managing built environment for community’s benefit The airwaves
Intentional communities

We would invite you to consider this as an early starting point in defining what we mean when we talk about Commons.  This was a brainstorm, not a study group, and ideas the participants came up with in one session. We all started at different places and not everyone had done much study about Commons. Additional writing on a definition of Commons can be found in “Commons Transition Plan”.  David Bollier has a rich bibliography on his site.

Action Planning Workshop

In the afternoon, we went into action and planned how we might get a (symbolic) 200 key Chicagoland commoners out to an event in May of 2016 at which we will found Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons.

We started with a context, starting with the work that we had done in the morning around defining Commons and asking the following questions:

  1. Why do we need a chamber of commons?
  2. What does the chamber of commons do?
  3. We know that 20 people will not do this by themselves.  We need to engage others, that’s what we want to plan. How do we get the 100-200 key people in the the room to plan the opening of Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons?
  4. When should we target for that workshop?

We reviewed the background and current events that are taking place globally

  1. International Events
    1. Les Temps des Communs, a celebration of the commons in Francophone places
    2. Somero 2015*, a commons gathering in Spain   *the site is safe; just ignore the warnings
  2. National Groups & Websites
    1. CommonSpark
    2. On the Commons
    3. Shareable
    4. Great Lakes Commons initiative
    5. Commons Transition Plan
    6. p2pFoundation
  3. Events leading up to this event
    1. Cooperation2015victory
    2. On the Table

After establishing a context, we started considering our plan.First, we imagined a Victory celebration when we’ve gathered the (symbolically) 200 key Chicagoland commoners in the room to found Chicago’s first
Chamber of Commons.

Someone commented, “The 20 people in this room will put together a team of 200 and 20,000 will know about it.”




Then we reviewed our Current Reality in relation to that Victory.  What strengths, weaknesses, benefits & dangers exist in our current situation that will lead to or inhibit success?

These powerful images grounded our victory in our current situation, both positive and cautious.



We reviewed our imagined victory in light of our current reality and made a Commitment, with consensus as a group. Here is our commitment:


“By May 1st, 2016, we will understand the Commons Transition Plan, clarify the message, define the Chamber of Commons as a model with scope, outcomes and needs, and design a call to action, including process checks that brings our neighbors and co-creators together to found Chicago’s Chamber of Commons.”

With our commitment in hand, we brainstormed and clustered the Key Actions that it will take to accomplish our goal of assembling the (symbolic) 200 key Chicagoland commoners to found Chicago’s first Chamber of Commons by May 1st, 2016.  Here is that image.


The clusters represent teams, which broke out into small groups to consider their tasks, add any missing items and come up with a name that represents the work they will do. When there was an imbalance of self-selected membership, two of the teams, Stakeholders and Outreach decided to merge and we ended up with 4 teams, Core, Plan/Execute Commons Kick-off, Civic Engagement, and Educate.

The teams then assigned (loose) dates to their tasks and put them up on a Calendar (below)


Here are the tasks as defined and calendared.

Team Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May
Core Identify/ Invite core team members     Identify/ Invite core team members Process checks in place Process checks in place Process checks in place Identify/ Invite core team members
  Distribute Commons Transition Plan. Read and discuss Distill message of purpose
Reconvene to define process system
        Process checks in place
      Define task areas
Define task teams
  Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness Check for diversity/ inclusiveness
Plan/ Execute CoC Kick-off   Form Kick-off team   Secure venue Decide day plan for Kick-off Keynote/ Master of Ceremonies Plan process & prepare materials Host Kick-off
    Coordinate civic engagement team   May Day kick-off vision   Food plan Arrange for music and humor at event  
            Breakouts Task setup and cleanup  

implement team

Community Engagement Identify key players Clarify needs from co-creators Bringe forth voiceless activists     Create key points for elevator speech Create call to send  
  Create initial intro statement Poll/survey existing initiatives about need–offer strawman       Clear concise elevator speech Co-create inspiring, captivating invitation  
  Create outreach plan Engage other groups            
  Create list of engaged groups              
  Map assets and co-creators              
  Check invitation list for diversity and inclusiveness              
Educate Gather p2p and source materials info on commons Digest core materials Research local enclosure incidents Create education documents/info/content Publish enclosure incidents    
  ID and compile core materials Read and digest ‘A Commons Transition Plan” Create education plan        
    Explore economics of interaction Identify basic human needs          
    Explore & educate with existing resources            

It took a long time for the group to reach consensus on the Commitment and by the time we got to Coordination, looking at the calendar and tasks to identify incongruities among dependent tasks across teams, we were almost out of time.  Whether, or not, we had true consensus remains to be seen as we execute tasks.  Two items came up that I (Steve) as a facilitator, thought were problematic.  1) One participant thought that we should be going two rounds, a build up to the next meeting in May and then another build-up to the founding of the Chamber of Commons the meeting after that. 2) The education team has a schedule that is too late for civic engagement.  Since most of the issues at this event arose around a lack of education before the event, this might pose some problems downstream.  [NOTE: Speaking personally, I see the risk and believe that it does not jeopardize the timeline significantly; however we should work closely with the Educate team to ensure no slippage.]
Finally, we Resolved to move ahead with this. In fact, several members from different teams have communicated they are moving already.

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