Commons are resources that groups of people hold in common, self-govern according to agreed rules, and manage for individual and collective benefit.
For decades, mainstream economists argued that common resources are inevitably depleted or exploited. They claimed the only options were privatization, letting a private owner manage a resource, or nationalization, letting the state manage through top-down regulation.
Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics for showing an alternative. She studied traditional communities that have successfully and sustainably managed natural resource commons, like forests, fields, grazing lands, irrigation systems, and fisheries, and found they shared design principles. The same principles are evident in modern digital commons like Wikipedia and free and open source software projects.
Because the word “market” is often used as shorthand for exchange between profit-maximizing private enterprise, the idea of a marketplace commons can seem counterintuitive. It’s helpful to remember that marketplaces are social institutions. We humans make the rules, and the rules can change over time. How we choose to exchange with each other is a reflection of our values and our priorities. For participants in the new economy movement, a marketplace commons can help catalyze the transition to an economic system that is inclusive, equitable, and regenerative.
The new economy movement is highly diverse. Participants are using different language, testing different approaches, and trying to find solutions to local and sector-specific issues. This creativity and diversity is important for the evolution of a resilient new system, but it means the full scale of the movement is not visible. When there are hundreds of different certifications, networks, and marketplaces, they can appear siloed. A marketplace commons enables participants in the new economy (including existing certifications, networks, and marketplaces) to come together and increase the visibility of their own work and the broader movement. This makes it easier to find each other across traditional divides, and it makes it easier for new people to get involved.
Traditionally, marketplaces in villages and towns were a space for ongoing relationships. One-off transactions would have been rare. Ongoing relationships build trust and enable new forms of partnership and collaboration. A marketplace commons with clear curation standards and boundaries can create a sense of community and support trust and relationships within the new economy movement. It can make it easier for people to share information, trade, partner, and collaborate.
Private online marketplaces tend to prioritize profit-generating transactions. They try to minimize direct connection between users because they want all transactions to happen within the marketplace platform. Operating as a marketplace commons opens up new opportunities for exchange. It makes it possible to include initiatives that freely share information, focus on voluntary action, or are testing gift economy or mutual aid approaches. It also makes it possible to support integrations and off-platform connections that benefit the community.
In order to fully transition to a new economic system, we need to change corporate and government policy and system level rules. A bounded marketplace commons provides space to test new standards and rules and demonstrate that they work. It makes it easier to identify ecosystem gaps (financial services, for example) and find creative ways to fill them. As new standards and approaches are tested and demonstrated, it becomes easier to mainstream them and change the system level story and rules.
Good Market follows Elinor Ostrom’s 8 design principles for self-governing and sustaining a commons:
The identity of the group and the boundaries of the shared resource are clearly delineated.
The shared resource is the community curation process and the platform to support connection. The community is limited to cocreators and social enterprises, cooperatives, responsible businesses, voluntary initiatives, networks, and changemakers that have been through the curation process and are recognized as Good Market approved.
Benefits are earned. Members are rewarded for contribution.
The information on the platform is public, which means anyone can find and connect with community members and access products, services, and information through the marketplace. In order to have a public profile and add to the marketplace, enterprises must go through the curation process and be recognized as Good Market approved. In order to participate in decision making and governance, individuals and enterprises must contribute time or resources.
Those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
The rules of the marketplace—the minimum standards, the curation process, and community guidelines—were developed by community members and can be updated and improved by community members.
Norm-abiding members of the group are able to detect free-riding and exploitation at relatively low cost.
The platform has a crowdsourced monitoring system. All Good Market approved enterprises have a public profile page with transparent claims. Customers, workers, suppliers, partners, and community members can flag an enterprise if they have evidence that they are making false claims or not meeting the minimum standards.
Community has mechanisms to resolve conflicts quickly and consistently.
Flagging starts a review process. Enterprises are asked to submit additional supporting information or take corrective action. The majority of reviews are straightforward and closed within a week. If new issues arise, a committee of Good Market approved enterprises with sector-specific expertise is available to oversee the review.
The consequences for violating rules depends on the seriousness and context of the offense. Sanctions are stronger for repeat offenses.
The review process can result in the flagged enterprise improving their communication, updating their claims, taking corrective action, or losing their status as Good Market approved and being removed from the platform.
The group has the right to organize and the authority to conduct its own affairs.
Good Market is registered as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, which means there are no private owners, and the community has legal space to operate and self-govern.
If groups are part of a larger social system, activities are coordinated at the appropriate scale.
Good Market was designed to support local community groups and networks that have emerged around different sectors, issues, and regions. The minimum standards and curation process provide a common baseline for everyone on the platform. Networks may have additional criteria and a secondary curation process. They use their network page on the platform to show the community members that meet their standards. This polycentric approach makes it possible to weave together a network of networks across different sectors, issues, and regions.