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COMMONS MAGAZINE

The Role of Commons Animateurs

Illuminating new possibilities and solutions

Today’s emergent commons often grow out of a community’s desire and need to re-orient its relationship to a resource(s) toward more sustainable use and greater shared benefit. The spark for that reorientation often comes from people or a person able to see beyond ‘what is’ and envision ‘what could be.’ These people—who we call commons animateurs—look at problems differently, ask different questions, and engage more people in solution making.


A commons animateur provides catalyzing leadership for a growing commons movement, enabling people and communities to recognize, value, claim, and care for their commons. We call this “animating” because the process illuminates and activates a set of possibilities and solutions that were latent and become alive.


Commons animateurs describe their role in many ways, come from all kinds of communities and are engaged in different arenas, but their work reflects a commons orientation.


What are the practices of animating the commons?

  • Breathing life into situations to open new possibilities.
  • Asking a different set of questions to interrupt habitual thinking, assumptions, patterns, and practices
  • Making space for new conversations
  • Generating fresh ideas and information
  • Extending invitations to expand the circle of those involved
  • Seeking and connecting the collective wisdom
  • Creating the conditions that enable people to see connections and interdependence
  • Illuminating the essence or root of problems
  • Encouraging proactive and co-creative solutions
  • Taking time to reflect and learn


    Building relationships as the foundation of commons work, including…



    • Trusting people by believing in their wisdom and potential to contribute

    • Through words and deeds, continually affirming that people matter and belong

    • Engaging differences

    • Finding and connecting potential allies, partners, and issues—continually highlighting the larger context in which we work


    Collaborating based on commons principles, including…



    • Seeking to understand and engage the ‘whole system’ of those related to an issue

    • Defining success based on co-ownership, co-creativity, shared power, and equitable benefit

    • Creating collaborative spaces and pathways that put co-ownership, co-creativity, shared power, and equitable benefit at the center of the work

    • Holding space for people to struggle in service of reconciling conflicting perspectives

    • Naming the process to help keep people informed and engaged


    Sharing power and leadership among many, including…



    • Bringing forward decision-making structures, processes, and power-sharing arrangements that are grounded in commons principles

    • Expanding the ‘we’ by holding space for, and fostering the leadership of, those who have historically been excluded

    • Identifying points of leverage and effective tactics that will have impact

    • Fostering leader-full networks that expand our capacity to care for the commons


    Adapting and evolving based on emergent conditions, including…



    • Reading the political, economic, and social indicators as a measure of peoples’ yearnings and readiness to act

    • Tracking the trends, issues, and power relationships that influence the context for commons work

    • Holding space for ambiguity, confusion, and not knowing as part of the journey

    • Taking risks and maintaining flexibility as conditions change


    Embracing the power of play and creative expression, including…



    • Appreciating and integrating artistic and experiential modes of activity as central to transformative change

    • Incorporating humor and play in the work