Participatory Commons

Here’s the idea for a Participatory Commons. Everyone contributes hours of their time, or some other service/property into a commons pool. Then you have access to services/property of the commons.

So eg. people with services to offer like massage, editing, mechanic help, cleaning can set aside office hours, or a number of hours each week when their services are free for those participating in the Participatory Commons. You can also offer space for workshops or for crashing at as part of your contribution to the commons. And if people in the commons agree, you can also spend your time on activism causes or community building activities. In addition those who are sick or disabled may be granted access to the commons without having to give as much, or any.

So what we have is a commons where many services/stuff are available to those who contribute.

(* This kind of commons is not strictly a pure gift economy, as you do have to give to it, but the giving does not have to be closely tracked, and there can be a lot of variance in the amount given. The giving is more a sign of goodwill and intention, as in I want to part of the collective)

Moral levels of gift economy

Theres a theory of moral development (by Krebs and Van Hesteren) that can be applied to gift economics.

The levels of moral development are

1: Egocentric accomodation – to fulfill safety and effectance needs
2: Instrumental cooperation – gives in order to get
3: Mutual altruism: sensitive to the audience of generalized others. Aims at fulfilling shared social obligations, avoiding disapproval, upholding bonds of friendship, behaving in socially acceptable manner. There is a sense of we that transcends the me
4: Conscientious altruism – Guided by an internalized sense of responsiblity to the group and a conscience of what is good
5: Autonomous altruism – guided more by higher order principles that uphold human dignity, equal rights, and maximizing benefits for all, than by external norms, laws or social conventions
6: Integrated altruism – The self-other difference becomes transcended. Self’s interests integrated with others. There is understanding that there will be conflicts and decisions are guided by principles of justness, fairness, impartiality. The goal is to foster maximally balanced and integrated social relations
7: Universal self-sacrificial love – stems from feelings of cosmic oneness. It is selfless and stems from agape, an ethic of univeral love, sacrifice, and service. The goal is to mesh with the ultimately transformed world and coordinated non-violent world.

So we can say apply this to gift circles
At a gift circle you may give : from level 2 – so that you can get something.
3. – so that you you are fulfilling the social obligation of the gift circle
4. so that you fulfill your responsibility to the group and to build community
5. because you are guided by higher principles of dignity and maximizing benefits
6. because your self interests are intertwined with others interests. There is a melding of self and others
7. because you feel the cosmic oneness

I’ve noticed that different gift circles can feel quite different, and I think they are operating at different levels on this scale.

[These levels also correspond to Wilbers integral theory levels. 3 blue 4 orange 5 green 6 teal 7 turquoise]

Self-organizing conference

Heres an idea for a participatory, self-organizing, emergent conference.

It consists of several rounds. In the first round everyone ‘speed-dates’ a
number of randomly chosen other people. They then write down for the people they met suggestions for who they might speed date in the second round. In the second round people the ‘speed-dating’ will be then become less random, and more useful since the ‘dates’ are will be informed by others ideas and intuitions. This can go on for another round or two, with people finding more and more useful people to meet.

After these rounds people write down who they would like to give a talk or lead a session at the conference – by this time they will have met with a significant number of people so can have an idea of who has something interesting to say. The most popular selections then give talks or lead facilitated session for the rest of the conference.

The gift circle ecosystem

Gift circles are places where people sit in circle, share their needs, and help each other as a gift  (Gift Circle FAQ). A community grows as a result. Since we launched this project 6 years ago in San Francisco Bay Area, we have watched it grow virally and spread around the world. Gift circles have been held in the USA, Canada, Britain, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, France, Holland, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Australia, Israel, and South Africa.

One of the key insights we have learnt during this time is that while a gift circle can do well on its own, having it be part of an ecosystem of other circles and structures can really help it flourish. This mutually supportive ecosystem is analogous to the idea of a permaculture guild where different plants support each other).

Other structures that help form this ecosystem are:

Generosity party: this is a party where people can perform services for free. At a gift circle people make connections to get services. At the party they can actually then get them. In Eugene Oregon they alternate one week gift circle, one week generosity party.

Community center/ yoga studio: the center provides a physical space to meet and ready inbuilt audience. The center in return gets more community forming at its place. Our gift circle in the San Francisco Bay Area formed a symbiotic relationship with the community center it was a part of.

Free school: this is a list of free workshops which people put on themselves. In a gift circle several people often say they want to learn same thing and someone else says they can teach or facilitate. Then you can put that class or circle on the free school calendar, and also attract an audience from the free school crowd. The free school in return gets more workshops and circles in its offering.

Hoffice ( is someone’s home which others are invited to come cowork at for free. Some of the services that come up in the gift circle could be done during hoffice hours. Hoffice people can also use the gift circle to get help with their projects. In Copenhagen they have a gift circle and a hoffice. They do some of the gift circle organizing in the hoffice and one of its members there setup the portal for all gift circlers.

Facilitator improv is a process where everyone can facilitate the group in a variety if experiential exercises after tuning into the group energy. It can be used as an icebreaker exercise before a gift circle. It can also be a standalone group where people can lead exercises that may have come up as needs in a gift circle eg massage, learning to whistle, or helping someone brainstorm where they could live.…/facilitator-impr…/

An online gift economy social network can help different gift circles connect with each other in a town. Needs that are not met in a gift circle can be put on online. is one such network developed by Benjamin Crandall . In Eugene Oregon the gift circles community also uses Kindista. Kindista is also available and free to use wherever you are in the world.

So if you are starting a gift circle you might look for some of these other structures to pair up with, or also form a group that births these other structures also. A starter circle is group that’s dedicated to birthing a whole variety of structures and circles. It shares insights on how to find location, spread the word, maintain a circle. And its part of a worldwide network of starter circles. (

Tips to help a local currency flourish

Is your community having problems with getting your local currency to gain traction, to have a significant amount of usage?

In the USA and many countries in the West, local currencies have had a hard time staying alive. In Brazil on the other hand local currencies are flourishing and make up a significant amount of the total currency flow in that country. Why is that?

Its because in Brazil they create regular exchange fairs in their communities. People bring their used stuff to the fair. They also think of services they can offer, that they might not normally do as a paid job – e.g. dog walking, cooking a meal for someone, babysitting, cleaning someone’s garage. They can be one off services so you don’t have to build a whole business around it.

The problem with many local currencies in the US and the many countries in the West is that people do not engage in creating new services and passing around used goods because of the currency. It is the activation of that new segment of the economy that makes it so powerful. And what makes the Brazilian local currencies work.

Along this line of thinking, a new way to activate new services is to have many Local Currency Circles in your community. In a Local Currency Circle people sit in circle and express their needs or services they have to offer. Others can then help or receive with a local currency exchange. These local currency circles also activate many heretofore unused services.

The Local Currency Circles (LCC) activate more informal business, which are a complement to more established businesses using the local currency.

Usually local currencies take a bit of effort and town wide coordination to startup, but using Local Currency Circles (LCC) one can get one up and running very quickly. Simply create a currency and invite people over for one of these Circles, where people can exchange the currencies in return for helping each other with their needs. Over time the community can help grow the LCC, and then create more LCC’s. Then gradually formal business owners can be invited to these LCC’s, and then the flow of currency can happen outside the LCC’s too, in the business’s around town.




Related Links:

How to start a local currency

Four steps to beginning a local currency

Local currencies in Brazil

Shareable’s article on community currency

The Atlantic’s article on local currency