CHALLENGE: Framework: Building a unified global commons strategy and digital platform that scales local circular economies - Cape Town


global framework

Note: All our challenges are collaborative. Skype, email or contact us if you want to work with us in real-time! Let’s make a better world for everyone together! This is the main framework challenge for Cape Town. Many other challenges fall under this framework.


Activity: Global brainstorm session and begin initial design

This is a long term challenge from the Stop Reset Go project to begin building a strategy, digital framework and components thereof that puts the global commons in the drivers seat (instead of the passenger seat) to play a major role in driving the rapid rate of change needed to reduce our global ecological footprint in general and rapidly reduce carbon emissions in particular, aligned with Tyndall Centre’s Rapid Emissions Reduction strategy.We are grateful to have the opportunity to launch the project here at OSCE Days but it will be an ongoing longterm project with a life of it’s own thereafter. SRG is only acting as a facilitator of everyone in the commons to build a unified system for the commons. We take inspiration from nature and liken this envisioned system to the laminin protein, the extracellular matrix and protein network that is the foundation for most cells and organs of a living body, whose purpose is to bind all the important structures of the body together so that they can function effectively as a whole organism.

The global strategy and accompanying digital platform will need to have specific features to fulfill its envisioned function. This is the main framework challenge. The major challenges within this framework are listed below. Each can generate its own working group of designers. Please click on the link to go to the specific challenge page.

CH 1: Some fundamental research questions - We need to answer some fundamental research questions about a global commons approach first before we set course on it, otherwise we risk an ineffective design based on seeing the trees instead of the forest. If it turns out upon rigorous analysis that a global commons strategy does indeed make sense to assist in rapid emissions reduction, we can then set about building it in alignment with the research results. As we answer these fundamental questions, we need to factor in both ecological and socio-economic impacts.Some of the questions that come to mind are:

Will a global commons strategy of localization of circular economies be beneficial to the overall goal of Rapid Emissions Reduction and Rapid Ecological Footprint Reduction? This is the main overarching question to answer and requires comparing two currents of circularizing the economy. Will these two currents act together in a supportive way or will they be antagonistic? How will an effective and rapid global commons transition plan affect the existing global economy and will it result in stranded global supply chain and production assets?

First we have the efforts to circularize the existing economy, along with its vast and global capital-laden supply chains. This represents an enormous investment in infrastructure. The task of circularizing it is daunting, as are the opportunites. As Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute observes, however, time is the resource we are most low on. If we cannot circularize and reduce the carbon emissions of this existing infrastructure, then we will not avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is the leading organization promoting this approach.

In contrast to this is the second global commons trend as represented by local living economies, transition towns, hackers, makers, etc…This is the trend that OSCE Days falls under, a commons-based approach to globally develop local circular economies. Michel Bauwen’s P2P Foundation, New Economics Foundation, Schumacher Center for a New Economics and Commons Transition, Real Economy Labs are some organizations leading this approach.

These two approaches can be summarized as big, centralized factories with global supply chains vs small and highly distributed factories with local supply chains. Commons-based software approach such as Agile applied to hardware has resulted in rapid innovation, especially distributed, local manufacturing as represented by 3D printers and open source manufacturing equipment such as Open Source Ecology. Could a sufficiently rapid migration and scaleout result in stranded assets of the vast network of global supply chains? If so, what economic impact would this have? Carbon Tracker has revealed the potential stranded assets of fossil fuel and this has become the basis for the global fossil fuel divestment movement. However, an even greater amount of stranded assets is the global capital production and supply chain in a future world that is mostly local. An effective transition strategy must consider the important question of stranded global supply chain and production assets, which could be even greater than the fossil fuel industry’s stranded assets, especially if the global commons accelerates rapidly.One logical way to reduce these stranded assets is to repurpose them.

Most, however, consider that this scenario is unlikely in the short term because local communities and regions simply do not have the resources nor the capacity to produce many of the larger and more complex products we rely on in a resource efficient manner, compared to well capitalized large central factories. It also doesn’t make sense to strand such huge investment of assets. Futurist Jeremy Rifkins, in his Zero Marginal Cost Society sees a hybrid fusion of these two and a reversal of the current dominant capitalist system, playing a subservient role in the future:

“…conventional economists are still betting that the extreme productivity unleashed by the
emerging Internet of Things—even if it speeds the economy ever closer to near zero
marginal costs and the swift rise of the Collaborative Commons—will ultimately be
absorbabe by the capitalist system. But the reverse is much more likely. That is, the two economies
will become accustomed to functioning in more of a hybrid partnership, with the Collaborative
Commons increasingly becoming dominant by the mid-twenty-first century and the capitalist economy
settling into a more supplementary role.”

CH 1b: What types of industry, production and services does it make sense to localize and when? Where is the cutoff point between resource efficient national, regional and community production? To answer this question will also require researching the tradeoff between mass production plus large supply chains vs local production and small low footprint supply chains. The answer probably lies in Preservation Nation’s groundbreaking report: The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse and other Preservation Nation studies on the building industry here.

CH 1b1: In what context do community eco-markets play an important role in a global commons strategy? Gigantic malls require enormous resources to build and maintain plus a carbon intensive supply chain to move people and products there. Distributed eco markets that are embedded within the community could create more community jobs and being so nearby to residences could much more easily support low carbon transport (bikes, walking, wheeled carts). We must compare the carbon footprint of both approaches to see where the best strategy lies. In all likelihood, as guided by the Preservation Nation research, it is probably best to reuse existing structures and retrofit them for maximum circularity whilst new eco-markets make sense in new developments with little existing infrastructure.

CH 1c: How dynamic might community, regional and national cutoff points be? For instance can one type of production not make sense now but make sense in the future? One example is if technological breakthroughs allow semiconductors to be made in small green plants instead of large dirty ones.

CH 1d: Dealing with potential reactionary policy for mainstream perceived threat posed by a global commons movement - Local production can decrease the carbon footprint of global supply chains but they may also leave these as stranded assets. Will transnational corporations and governments who control these supply chains view this as a threat and if so, what kinds of reactionary protective measures against the growth of a global commons movement might we see implemented through policy control?

CH 1e: To what extent does an effective global commons strategy rely on LOCAL ONLY production? - Producers are encouraged to sell goods and services in their own community to lessen carbon pollution and democratize community production. How practical would this be to enforce in light of centuries of a capitalist paradigm in which any producer can grow to infinite size and disallow community producers to benefit?

CH 2: Unifying a virtual community of designers - Unite the entire global community of open source designers consisting of programmers, makers, hackers, industrial designers, engineers, scientists, technologists,urban designers, architects, economic hackers, alternative currency designers, direct democratizers, open governance advocates, commons academics, urban agriculturalists, permies, and provide them with a collaborative platform to break apart silos and enable resource sharing

CH 3: Imparting an empathetic & collaborative culture: Replace an engrained competitive, hero and self-cherishing narrative and culture with an empathetic one that rebalances overemphasis on competition with collaboration, Intellectual Property with a shared commons, protecting ideas with sharing them, what’s-in-it-for-me with what’s-in-it-for-us attitude.

CH 4: Local circular communities - scaling out local holistic community with circular economics - network with local communities around the globe and their leading edge and progressive practitioners of circular economic principles including cooperatives, open spaces, social benefit organizations. local living economy organizations, organizations that hold land and buildings that can be donated to our cause as well as all the progressive brick-and-mortar producers of goods and services in local communities

CH 4a: Circularizing marginalized communities of the planet - This is a major project for the South where most of the most marginalized people of the planet live. There is a need to create prosperous and sustainable communities for the billions at the Base of the Pyramid but in a way that follows the Oxfam Doughnut model, low carbon development that is constrained by planetary boundaries.

CH 4b: The benefits of creating community eco-markets - building distributed eco-markets in communities reusing abandoned or donated buildings that can be renovated or building new low carbon building with low embedded energy costs from scratch to serve a community, become a hub for local circular production and supply the community with needed goods and services.

CH 4c: Community level circular products and services - There is a large plethora of possible products and services that can be produced at the community level which are designed with circular design principles in mind.

CH 5: Circularizing the “economy” in the “circular economy” - developing stages of an alternate internal parallel second global economy - develop an alternative and parallel economy, firstly to pilot for the virtual global design community which bridges 1) the virtual community of Intellectual Non Property (INP) developers with 2) brick-and-mortar producers of goods and services in the SAME community as the virtual developers. This mutual support will enable designers to sustain themselves doing their most important work whilst the producers receive the benefit of implementing the circular designs produced. The economic value system or digital currency would be programmed to favor transactions which are socially and environmentally beneficial. After piloting successfully within the global open source and commons-based designer/maker/producer community, scale out to include everyone.

CH 6: Create a constitution for the community to abide by - apply economic direct democracy and open governance to develop a constitution that supports such a system

CH 7: Create a practical and achievable migration path - develop a rapid migration path from the current ecocidal and inequitable economy to the social and environmentally just one envisioned. This migration path can take a two stage approach with stage 1, applying a migration strategy to the internal community of designers/makers/producers within our ecosystem first to get us as collectively independent of high footprint goods and services as possible by active participation in an alternate, parallel global circular economic value system that hyper-accelerates positive change such as rapid resource reduction, rapid circularization and rapid emissions reduction. Then, in stage 2) we can take the lessons we learn internally and apply globally to the rest of the planet for a rapid scaleout.

CH 8: Digital Platform User Interface incorporating Gamification - gamify the user interface of the platform so that design solutions becomes an emotionally compelling collaborative and rewarding user experience. This excitement will help to attract the important youth demographics, puts some responsibility on their shoulders, and tap into their creativity and energy to create their own future

CH 9: Digital Platform Incorporating Planetary Boundaries - incorporate planetary boundaries into the platform as targets for convergence of open databases in order to provide a centralized and whole, realtime snapshot of current earth system and social development trends

CH 10: Digital Platform incorporating Data Visualization - incorporate data visualization interface screen that shows simple graphical representation of entire converged databases so that users can get a big picture view of what the current health state of the planet is. Representations must be user-friendly and NOT science speak, which is beyond the comprehension of most people

CH 11: Semantic Web Fabric to Accelerate Effective Collaboration - incorporate distributed tools for effective resource sharing, networking, funding and scaling up. These tools can be built from semantic web technology so that users can experience the interface from two perspectives: 1) from their own website (embedded menu on their own webpage from embedded code) or from a central website. Each website owner can choose to make resources available and also posts what types of resources it needs to complete its projects. The semantic web fabric with programmed intelligence will access this resource pool and suggest best matches to optimize and expedite project work.

CH 12: Near Realtime Ecological Footprinting - provide ecological footprint metrics available for any scenario that change agents wish to model so that the solution path with the largest positive impact can be determined. Scaleup effects are modeled to assess global impact.

The digital platform not only serves the communities outlined above, but is open to the entire global community of change agents. The main purpose of this system is to enable the common people who make up 99% of the population to play a more active, unified role in shaping our collective future, to be the driver rather than the passive passenger in a planetary vehicle that is careening out of control. The strategy and platform recognizes the tremendous potential of countless change agents and seeks a way to exponentially multiply their collective power through effective and supported collaboration. There is also a tacit assumption that unless we can measure, collate and summarize in realtime our collective effort and compare it to the global earth system parameter trending towards their planetary boundaries, we cannot know if all our efforts are enough. We need to synchronize local action to the global targets if we are to be effective.


The Circular Economy is being developed from two quite different directions:

  1. existing global capital supply chains
  2. open source, commons, community level

The motivation is the same for both, human civilization needs to rapidly decarbonize. We must reduce our ecological footprint in general and our emissions in particular by enormous amounts. The challenge is daunting. Tyndall Centre for climate change research calculates 10% per annum reduction until zero (Anderson and Bows, 2011) and it must start today if we are to have a good chance of staying under 2 Deg C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. To put into perspective this rate:

  • 1% decarbonization per annum has “been associated with economic recession or upheaval” (Stern, 2006)
  • 5% decarbonization per annum - collapse of the Soviet Economy

Will we be able to both REDUCE consumption AND REDESIGN the entire global supply chain in time?
Where does OUR power lie in order to achieve that? Where is the power of the COMMONS?..It is NOT in money, because we are the 99%, hence we have no capital. The 1% hold the capital. Our power lies in the fact that we ARE the entire market for all the ecocidal goods and services now choking the planet.

The logical strategy then, is to rapidly create an alternative paradigm attractive enough firstly for the entire community of open source designers and change agents to migrate to, and then to take all the communities we live in in the same direction and then everyone else. Local circular economies, as demonstrated by John Boik’s parallel local circular economy modeling have the ability to create tremendous prosperity by putting large number of people back to “work” as well as low virgin resource use and low waste output at the same time. We don’t like to use the term “work” in this case because it is actually activity we love to do, want to do and our lives are being sustained doing what we love and which makes a difference.
Targets and Milestones
We would like to have a reduced-function digital platform ready to use for December 2015 Paris Climate Summit where we want to hold a global “Tipping Point Festival” in communities all around the planet in alignment with the Paris Climate Summit. We can target a variety of communities based on various criteria with the intention of mobilizing small groups of change agents in each community. We can target each country of the planet (196) all major agglomerations of over 1 million people: 533 (City Population, March 2015) as well as the communities belonging to all change agents, change organizations and sustainability networks we come across. The Tipping Point festival will be a commons-based, educational festival for sharing a global commons strategy and begin reaching out to partner with begin exploring the possibility of building a local circular economy in their community.

Local Forum and Workshop
We will lead local forum and workshop in Cape Town on June 13th to frame the entire paradigm. Many challenges for the subsystems will flow out of this.This is definitely a global effort so we welcome global participants. We need to begin the globally unified effort to reclaim the planet for the commons. If we have web access and power (South Africa is experiencing blackouts due to a severely constrained power grid), we can set up a google hangout to speak to other interested global participants.

Circularizing Marginalized Communities of the South
One of the important framework subchallenges applies to deeply marginalized communities, which are traditionally found in the South. Here, where significant percentages of national populations are severely deprived with little infrastructure, it makes sense to build new infrastructure following a local circular economy paradigm. This subchallenge has many challenges as well and will be explored by the Institute of Future Living, whose focus is developing, piloting and scaling out holistic community models with a strong local circular economy movement in the south.


  • alternative economics
  • digital currency design, blockchain design
  • sociology
  • psychology
  • climate science
  • circular economy
  • local living economies (leakage analysis, import substitution)
  • manufacturing
  • industrial design
  • communications / marketing
  • systems analysis
  • ecology
  • software development

Real Economy Lab
Commons Transition
Collective Awareness Platform for Sustainability and Social Change
Collective Awareness Platform EU 2020
CAPS Conference
Virtual Assembly