Fostering the commons and commoning


Much of our economy is structured around the belief that the use of resources needs to be managed by states or markets. Markets, so it’s thought, will efficiently allocate resources to those who have most use for them. When markets fail, states can step in and regulate proper use of a resource. But as observed by Kate Raworth: ‘markets only value what is priced and only deliver to those who can pay’. What is more, as shown time and again by economist Elenor Ostrom, in many cases neither markets nor states deliver the best outcomes.

There’s another way: the stewardship of shared resources as a commons, where communities together decide on the use of a resource. Take for instance, a community of fishermen in Nova Scotia, who collectively govern their fish stock. Instead of looking to a government to set fishing quotas, strong social ties between the fishers allow them to collectively set, monitor and enforce rules.

This does not mean that the resources stewarded by this commons are for anyone to use as they please. They are distinct from what is colloquially referred to as a ‘common good’. In fact, the ability to draw a clear boundary around the community that has access to a resource determines the success of this governance model. In Ostrom’s words, well-functioning commons require a “clear definition of the contents of the common pool resource and effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties.”

Beyond Return’s Commons and Commoning Strategy aims to grow, nurture and protect the common stewardship of resources. We look to foster commons of all kinds - ranging from knowledge to land commons -and all sizes.


For those of us who have been raised in market economies it is hard to imagine a way out of ‘tragedy of the commons’ type scenarios. Yet, in reality, many commons around the world are flourishing. We aim to bring these stories to wider audiences and to imagine new commons in all areas of economic life. For instance, what would a global water commons look like?


  • We demand for the commons to be a legally recognised and protected form of resource management.
  • We demand a definition of economic value that extends beyond that which is measurable in monetary value. We hold that GDP is not an appropriate measure of an economy’s success.


We aim to build, grow and nurture new and existing commons in a multitude of spaces. In the digital space, knowledge and data commons can provide a viable alternative to content paywalled by corporations. In the physical space, land and water commons could help protect and steward vital resources in more sustainable and just ways. In the socio-economic space, land commons can help foster communities and guarantee affordable housing.


Until we build ourselves better futures, we need to defend against the worst harms.

  • We must defend our commonly stewarded resources from capture in the form of, for instance, land and water grabbing.
  • We further need to defend against the appropriation of value created by a commons, such as knowledge and ideas. To this end, we focus on the development and promotion of legal tools such as trusts, property rights and licenses to ensure that resources stewarded by a commons stay in the commons.

What you can do right now!

Join our strategy group! We are currently looking for campaigners and social media strategists to join our group. Please sign up to join Beyond Return and join one of our recurring onboarding sessions on Sunday (we announce those on Twitter)!