“The commons is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.” (Bollier, 2011).
A digital commons can provide the framework for open education to flourish but is it possible to create and sustain it?
Enclosure of resources has been the nemesis of a commons based system for centuries and ideas such as the “tragedy of the commons” promote enclosure as the only antidote to what otherwise would result in self-interest exploiting the resources.
Advocates for the commons cite the success of Swiss farmers over 800 years and lament that government regulation and enclosure does not really have a better track record than the commons.
Now to me, Swiss farmers are not the best group to use as an example as it is probably hard to find a more privileged group of people but both sides of the argument seem reasonable.
In a digital context, is the commons different? Yes. The system is reversed with the resources often already existing behind pay walls or licencing. Even when content becomes available, someone has to pay for hosting the environment for the commons to thrive. So the digital commons is opt-in whereas the traditional commons is opt-out.
This is an exciting opportunity as it means that the digital commons is not as fragile, a person can opt out of the community and pursue their own goals and that will have less effect than it would have in the real-world commons.
The digital commons is still at risk from enclosure but the nature of digital is that the commons can always spring up anew in a different part of the web meaning that the opportunities for open education to thrive are massive.