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An Introduction to Animating the Commons

Who are commons animateurs--and how do they exercise leadership for social change?

By On the Commons Team

Filmmaker Annie Leonard, a commons animateur and the creator of The Story of Stuff, weaves commons sense, hard facts, witty animation and an engaging “everywoman” narrator role to illuminate complex problems that threaten the commons, as well as offering promising solutions.

We refer to people engaging with groups and communities to create new visions for the future as commons animateurs.

Many people recognize that we are currently in a “movement moment.” As our social, financial, and ecological systems spiral into crisis, new visions for our future and strategies to achieve them are beginning to emerge.

Here at On the Commons, we believe that ideas and practices inspired by the commons illuminate our connection to the things we share in common and reveal our deep, human yearning to explore new modes of social connection and collaboration. The commons can also help us reassert a common human identity lost to market fundamentalism, which is an important step in giving rise to the new movement. So it follows that “commons work” can also foster a fresh perspective on how we undertake organizing efforts and exercise leadership for social change.

We refer to people engaging with groups and communities to create new visions for the future as commons animateurs. Simply put, an animateur works with community members to see, name, claim, and care for a commons, often by conducting one-on-one or group meetings with people who face similar challenges. The work of an animateur is multi-faceted and requires a wide range of collaborative teaching and organizing skills in order to encourage others to disrupt systemic, market-based patterns. While animateurs may work in different professional arenas, they all help advance commons-based solutions through a shared commons framework by:

When animation is understood as something more than facilitation—when it’s understood in its full social and political sense—it can become a very powerful means to action. The practices of animating the commons are varied and include any activity that imagines new possibilities for the future, emphasizes relationship building, facilitates collaboration around commons principles, shares power and leadership among many co-creators, adapts and evolves based on emergent conditions, and embraces the power of play and creative expression.

In essence, commons animateurs are capitalizing on this “movement moment” by exercising leadership for social change within the commons framework.

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Posted May 4, 2012

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