John Powell and Chris Short recently attended the 14th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons in Japan. We actually hosted the 12th conference back in 2009, which was both challenging, but also a great honour. In this Blog post, John reflects on the organisation at the 2013 conference…
Organising and running a major international conference is a huge task. It is even harder when there are multiple organisers divided by language and culture and living on different continents, and made even more difficult when the conference is to be delivered in a rural area with limited facilities.
The 14th IASC Global conference on commons held last week on the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan is therefore something of a triumph. The organisers, particularly Meg McKean and those at Japan’s Research Institute for Humanity and Nature deserve to be congratulated for pulling off such a feat so successfully. It is the first global conference of the IASC to be held on a commons and organised with the support of local commoners. Almost 400 people from around the world were brought together to discuss issues around commons management and governance.
The conference Co-Chairs were Tomoya Akimichi, of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Japan, and Professor Margaret McKean from Duke University, USA. Tetsuzo Yasunari, the Director-General, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan, was President of the Overall Organizing Committee. The conference organisation was complex involving people in Mexico the USA and Japan. Organisations involved included the IASC itself, the commoners of the Onshirin federation of 11 villages holding access rights to the north slope of Mount Fuji (Kita Fuji), the Onshirin Regional Public Organization, and Japan’s Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN).
As the north slopes of Mt Fuji are in a rather rural area the conference was held in three different locations around Fujiyoshida, including the new Citizen’s Hall in the town, and the main building of the Onshirin Regional Public Organization which actually sits on the commons of Kitafuji. The delegates were scattered across the whole area in a large number of small hotels and brought together daily through a complex system of bus transport. Shuttle buses picked up those of us at the far end of Yamanakako Lake and others in outlying districts at seven in the morning and deposited us at one of the three main conference venues for breakfast. Breakfast was a choice of rice, vegetables and miso soup, fruit, bread and the inevitable green tea. At the Onshirin building (the one owned by the Kitafuji commoners themselves) we sat on tatami mats at low tables.
The opening ceremony held in the grounds of the Onshirin Regional Public Organization was impressive with a huge variety of local food, displays from local school children, and traditional dancing. The conference dinner was held in a large hotel in Fujiyoshida proving opportunities to mingle in a relaxed social atmosphere which went with a swing once the barrel of sake had been broken open with large mallets wielded by members of the IASC Executive Council and some of the Ostrom Award winners. Transport back to the hotels in packed buses was a rowdy affair after the event, but as with every other day it ran like clockwork.
The work undertaken by a large team of volunteers recruited from within Japan should not be underestimated, and those managing the process have done a brilliant job. Bringing hundreds of people together from around the world for a few days is a mammoth task – the IASC and all the conference organisers should be congratulated on overcoming their problems, disagreements, difficulties, language and cultural barriers to pull off a truly exceptional conference experience.
It only remains for us participants to say ‘thank you’.