John Powell and Chris Short have just returned from the beautiful medieval city of Utrecht in the Netherlands after attending the 16th Biennial Global conference ‘Practicing the commons: Self-governance, cooperation, and institutional change’ of The International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC).

The conference was one of the largest ever hosted by the IASC, with over 700 delegates from over 65 countries attending the conference.  Keynote speakers from Colombia, USA and the UK gave presentations and in addition there were over 500 papers presented, a series of workshops, numerous practitioners’ labs, round tables, and clinics.

The conference themes enabled participants to explore a wide range of issues associated with commons governance, including the following:

  • Resilience and cooperation
  • Exclusion and control in the formation and governance of commons
  • Methods and models to study the commons
  • Polycentric governance of global resources
  • Relationships between corporations, governments, and commons
John Powell with staff from Foundation for Ecological Security

The conference was innovative and exciting, for the first time hosting practitioner ‘laboratories’ to encourage engagement between academics and a wider audience.  The event generated a lot of interest among organisations working on various aspects of commons, including land and water rights, urban commons, and the application of experimental games to raise awareness and understanding of commons governance at community level.

As current President of the IASC, John Powell gave a welcoming address at the opening ceremony in St. Martin’s Cathedral (also known as the Dom Church).  His address acknowledged the significant progress made during the past three decades in understanding the nature of common resources, and the development of the principles that underlie sustainable commons management. He noted the significance of the work conducted by Elinor Ostrom, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics 2009.  Her research has created the foundation on which academic members of the IASC are currently building, both informed by and informing, practice.

Keynote speakers included Professor Saskia Sassen who Chairs the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University in the USA. Her presentation explored issues around ‘The rise of extractive logics in our economies’.  Professor Juan Camilo Cárdenas from the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia drew on his extensive experience in the analysis and design of institutions that promote cooperation among individuals and solutions to social dilemmas in a presentation entitled, ‘Experiments as tools for learning: Lessons from 20 years of practicing the artisanship of cooperation in the classroom, lab, and field’.  Closer to home, Jane Humphries, Professor of Economic History and a Fellow of All Souls College Oxford built on her research interests around labour markets, industrialization, links between the family and the economy, and the causes and consequences of economic growth and structural change.  Her presentation explored ‘Condescension and the commons: The value and importance of an open countryside’. Footage of speeches and photographs from the conference is currently being added to the media section of the event website, and can be viewed here.

One of the ‘Young Scholars’ workshops

Chris Short, along with seven other members of the PEGASUS project team, took part in three sessions reviewing preliminary results from the PEGASUS project and the underpinning methodology; the Social-Ecological Systems framework, to understand the social and ecological resilience of different farming and forestry systems across Europe – and, in this context, the provision of environmental and social benefits.  The presentations focused on six case-studies and assessed benefits afforded to people by the environmental and social benefits that agriculture and forestry can provide under some circumstances.  The presentations highlighted the role of institutions as well as issues of resilience and governance, including the regulation of property rights, as critical in shaping the relationships associated with the management of natural resources.  The UK case study was represented by Jenny Phelps from FWAG South West who spoke about the  Water and Integrated Local Delivery (WILD) project in the Upper Thames and there were also presentations from Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at Birdlife Europe and Mr Aard Mulders from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The IASC is the world’s leading professional organisation for the interdisciplinary study of commons, common-pool resources, and other resources that are (or could be) held or used collectively by communities, both in developing and developed countries. The association is devoted to understanding and improving institutions for the management and governance of such resources. A key characteristic of the Association is the importance it places on multi-disciplinary work across the academic/practitioner divide.  The Association integrates academics, policy makers and practitioners into a learning community to explore both old and new commons, ranging from fisheries and land management to ‘knowledge’ commons, and from issues at community level up to global problems such as climate change.

The IASC has a number of regional groups that develop and deliver activities including thematic and regional conferences, workshops and symposia as well as biennial global conferences.  The next IASC international biennial conference will be held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, in Lima, Peru in 2019. If you would like to find out more, why not become a member of the IASC?

John and Chris, together with Kate Ashbrook (Open Spaces Society), recently published a collection of blog posts and other writings associated with attending and organising international IASC conferences, and has been made available as a  FREE download.

The CCRI also offers a series of online short courses (endorsed by the IASC) covering different aspects of commons management.  New dates have just been set for Managing our Common Resources and From source to sea – the governance of water resources. Details can be found on the relevant web pages, but if you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact the course administrator, Carol Markey, on cmarkey@glos.ac.uk

IASC 2017 Organising Team