Commons Governance


Governance is a process, not a thing. In recognising this, and given that our projects are in their early days, we know that our understanding of governance processes is not fully developed.

On the other hand, we have sufficient experience of a wide variety of organisations to know that failing to plan around governance issues from the outset is a mistake. Once an emergency arises, it is too late to discuss governance structures.

Accordingly, we have developed some core governance considerations and assumptions, to provide a foundation.

In brief, we pay attention to Viable System Model thinking, and introduce sociocratic techniques to implement varieties of Elinor Ostroms commons governance principles.

Governance Foundations

Governance for all projects is developed as part of the co-design process, but we start with some base assumptions:

Human Scale 

Governance works best at human scale with people, directly interested in, and affected by, the outcome of the work in social settings.

While a group is small, this can involve all members who care enough to take part. As group size grows, different approaches are possible to maintain human-scale conditions. These need to be carefully designed to avoid issues like group-think, management or clique capture, and decision fatigue.

Thankfully there is ample literature and experience of such approaches from deliberative democracy


A base assumption for Mutual Credit Services is that economic contexts should be owned and governed by their members on an equitable basis, with mutual agreements as the basis for membership. This establishes several important things:

Common Pool Resource

Economic contexts as developed with groups by MCS are considered to have the characteristics described by Ostrom as Common Pool Resource (CPR) conditions. In brief, these exist where there is a resource which members of the context manage, in order to exploit such exploitation presenting the risk of vitiation. In our work, we typically describe this resource as trust or willingness to collaborate.

In Governing the Commons, Ostrom, on the basis of extensive research into many functioning commons contexts worldwide, identifies key Design principles for Common Pool Resource institutions, as follows:

Further reading

Governing the Commons, Elinor Ostrom, 2015, Cambridge University Press.

Nondominium, P2P Foundation Wiki,

The Viable Systems Model Guide, Jon Walker, 2020.

Membership Agreement – Alpha Phase, Open Credit Network,