Commoners in Transition

Christian Iaione

“The City as Commons” with Professor Christian Iaione

“The race to the bottom that globalization has triggered is no longer an available strategy for a knowledge economy system like Mantova. Economic actors increasingly understand that they should invest in producing collaborative value and create collaborative economic ecosystems that foster creativity, knowledge, identity, and trust.”  Michel Bauwens interviews professor Christian Iaione, a facilitator of  Bologna’s Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons. This interview was originally published in Shareable.


A commons-based economy cannot thrive without appropriate institutions, especially those that represent a “partner state” approach. Professor Christian Iaione of LUISS University in Rome is a pioneer of such institutional innovation in Italian cities. I believe his work with the city of Bologna on Bologna’s Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons is a breakthrough. This regulation allows citizen coalitions to propose improvements to their neighborhoods, and the city to contract with citizens for key assistance. In other words, the municipality functions as an enabler giving citizens individual and collective autonomy.

More than 30 projects have already been approved in this context and dozens of Italian cities are adopting this regulation. The CO-Mantovaproject in Mantua, Italy is one such example. It has been set up for citizen-based social innovation using a multi-stakeholder approach that includes Professor Iaione. In the interview below, we asked him about his motivation, the ideas that have shaped his work, his urban commons projects in Bologna and Mantua, and how he sees the expansion of this approach in cities throughout the world.

Michel Bauwens: Before we explore your work, what sparked your passion for urban commons?

Chris Iaione: I grew up in Southern Italy, but with an Anglo-Saxon imprinting. My parents lived in the US in the sixties. They eventually decided to go back. My father told me they made this choice because they wanted to give back to their country. In the Seventies, they were both Vice-Mayors in their respective hometowns (Contrada and Atripalda, near Avellino). The first time I went to the US was 1980. I was five years old and running away from a catastrophic earthquake that hit my city and its county (Avellino). Schools and other public services were shut down. My mother, my brothers and I fled to New York and New Jersey to stay with friends and relatives. My father decided to stay in Italy to take care of his city and his citizens.

These were the first lessons I learned about life and the US. The sense of duty that my father taught me with his example, and that the US can be a welcoming land for those in need. Almost twenty years later in 1999, I enrolled in the UC Berkeley Extension Program. In Berkeley I learned the importance of becoming a unique human able to collaborate with other unique human beings, rather than competing to be the first of my class. I came back to the States for a third time to intern at the International Law Institute in D.C.—a city where you can feel the immanent presence of power and how distant institutions can be from the needs of citizens and how reluctant they are to innovate, but also how you can find innovators within government.

Lessons learned: if you want to change something you have to change it from the inside by finding those who are willing to work with you. I then had the opportunity to work and develop my academic studies as a research fellow at New York University School of Law. It was there that I developed the theoretical framework for local public entrepreneurship, which is the basis of the CO-Mantova project and the idea of the city as a commons. My study on the tragedy of urban roads and experiments in Bologna lead to this.

You run LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of commons dealing with new commons-centric urban governance, which is part of an important Italian academic institution LUISS University, and, in particular, the International Center on Democracy and Democratizationled by Leonardo Morlino, a prominent international political scientist. What is LabGov?

LabGov is an in-house clinic for social, economic, institutional and legal innovators that carry out empirical work to implement innovations in public policy based on collaborative governance and public collaboration for the commons, subsidiarity, active citizenship, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, shared value, and collective impact. I co-produce the clinic with young people graduating from LUISS University. I designed this program having in mind a powerful new social class which is on the rise. It is a class of active citizens, social innovators, makers, creatives, sharing and collaborative economy practitioners, service designers, co-working and co-production experts, and urban designers.

This social class is pushing or nudging society, business and institutions towards new frontiers. Student should have the opportunity to join this social class and help it move the frontier forward. That is why, through the clinic, student interns develop projects that must come to life. Students must implement innovation in areas where innovation has not been brought yet or amplify the innovation in existing projects. In 2013 LabGov was devoted to the subject “The City as a Commons,” while in 2014 it was focused on “Culture as a Commons.”

In academic year 2014-2015 the focus of study is green governance, to be understood as a social, economic, institutional and legal technology. Therefore, this year the LabGov is devoted to the “land as a commons: environment, agriculture and food.” All the real life projects we design in the Laboratory are then proposed to real life actors that are willing to experiment with the ideas we seed. LabGov is a nonprofit rooted in the university but working on the outside. LabGov intends to update the Triple Helix concept of the university-industry-government relationship because we believe in a Quintuple Helix approach (embedded in LabGov logo) where universities become an active member of the community and facilitate the creation of new forms of partnerships in the general interest between government, industry and businesses, the not for profit sector, social innovators and citizens, and other institutions such as schools, academies, plus research and cultural centers.

You are known as one of the key authors of the new regulation on collaboration for the care and regeneration of urban commons, which was adopted by Bologna and is now being adopted by other Italian cities. What exactly does the “Regolamento sulla collaborazione per i beni comuni urbani” entail, and are there already practical consequences?

The Bologna Regulation is part of the “The City as a Commons” projectthat LabGov started in 2012. It consists of two years of field work and three “urban commons governance labs.” The Bologna regulation is a 30 page regulatory framework outlining how local authorities, citizens and the community at large can manage public and private spaces and assets together (available in English here). As such, it’s a sort of handbook for civic and public collaboration, and also a new vision for government. It reflects the strong belief that we need a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government, moving away from the Leviathan State or Welfare State toward collaborative or polycentric governance. This calls for more public collaboration, nudge regulations, and citytelling.

I have been researching the topic of the commons for quite a long time, and at some point I realized that the city could actually be interpreted as a collaborative commons. I synthesized my research in a paper “City as a Commons” presented at a conference in Utrecht and later published in theIndiana University Digital Library of the Commons. This was the background study for the Bologna and Mantova projects. I am now working with Sheila Foster from Fordham Law School on a more comprehensive study which is going to lay out a theoretical framework building on the background studies I developed in Italian (see an article titled La città come bene comune) and the empirical work I am carrying out in several Italian cities.

 

We met at the presentation of CO-Mantova, an ambitious project to revive the local economy with young social innovators, which also proposes an innovative fivefold local governance scheme. Tell us why Mantova needed this, how the process with youth worked, and how the city, province, and Chamber of Commerce came to accept the process. Above all: what’s next?

CO-Mantova is a prototype of a process to run the city as a collaborative commons, i.e. a “co-city.” A co-city should be based on collaborative governance of the commons whereby urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons are co-managed by the five actors of the collaborative/polycentric governance—social innovators (i.e. active citizens, makers, digital innovators, urban regenerators, rurban innovators, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural academies, etc.)—through an institutionalized public-private-citizen partnership. This partnership will give birth to a local peer-to-peer physical, digital and institutional platform with three main aims: living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production).

The project is supported by the local Chamber of Commerce, the City, the Province, local NGOs, young entrepreneurs, SMEs, and knowledge institutions, such as the Mantua University Foundation, and some very forward-looking local schools.

The first step was “seeding social innovation” through a collaborative call for “Culture as a Commons” to bring forth social innovators in Mantua. Second step was the co-design laboratory “Enterprises for the Commons,” an ideas camp where the seven projects from the call were cultivated and synergies created between projects and with the city. The third phase was the Governance camp, a collaborative governance prototyping stage which led to the drafting of the Collaborative Governance Pact (see the Italian version here, English version forthcoming) the Collaboration Toolkit and the Sustainability Plan, which was presented to the public during the Festival of Cooperation on November 27th last year.

The next step is the fourth and final phase: the governance testing and modeling through the launch of a public consultation in the city on the text of the Pact and a roadshow generating interest in CO-Mantova among possible signatories belonging to the five categories of collaborative governance actors. We are also may have CO-Mantova opening up a Commons School.

The CO-Mantova salamander mascot

 

 

What are the prospects for public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes? What do you see happening elsewhere and what do you want to see change in the near future?

This really depends on the local context. In my opinion, people are what matters the most, and the best entry point is always to find the people or group who believe in change, and in doing things better by pushing the boundaries of institutional innovation. You need people with around-the-clock commitment beyond their official duty both to the community, the institution and to excellence.

You always have to take into account that public officials are likely to be very cautious, since changing one thing tends to impact other things. Innovation is not the result of revolution, but it’s quiet, not necessarily slow, but difficult and involves a continuous negotiation process. This is something that you have to “figure out on the ground.” If you manage to implement change with the public administration rather than using political drivers, your change and is much more likely to be permanent.

There are some good example on how public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes are taking place. Florence is one example where collaboration has been seeded in several institutions and projects that the city is already running. The new mayor and new commissioners have already showed interest in expanding the reach of a collaborative approach within the city government.

Moreover, a growing community of innovators is working in Italy to foster collaborative practices, sharing economy and social innovation. For example the Sharing School that was held from 23 to 26 of January in Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture.

What else are you working on? What are your long-term goals?

We are talking about a cultural shift. The new governance model proposed is a new way for us to relate to almost everything, from economy to society as a whole and to other people, in other words: our vision of the world changes. Whether this cultural paradigm takes expression in sharing a car, or caring about where the trash ends up, this is all part of a 21st century way of living: a way of sharing things, sharing services, sharing spaces, sharing production and sharing responsibilities.

You need a “nudging class” instead of a ruling class, a class that has the drive to convince and nudge society and institutions towards a sharing and collaborative paradigm. But you cannot force change, you have to nudge people to share and collaborate.

For this reason, since 2012, I’ve suggested the creation of a federalized network of local hubs of expertise gathering best practices, starting up experimentations in different territories, spreading governance culture and disseminating knowledge among Italian territories. This National Collaboration Network could become a hub that provides collaboration toolkits, regulations and governance schemes, as well as training programs and day-by-day assistance for local administrators to help them drive change toward sharing and governance of the commons. This could accelerate the shift towards a 21st century paradigm of public administration.

What other cities are you allied with or are learning from? Is CO-Mantova part of any networks or associations that support commons-based urban development?

Many other cities are taking the route synthesized by CO-Mantova and opened by Bologna with its regulation on collaboration for urban commons. Milano, Firenze, Roma, Naples, Battipaglia, and Palermo have decided or are deciding to invest energy, skills, and other resources on the challenge of collaboration. They increasingly believe that only through co-design and bottom-up processes of civic and economic empowerment is it possible to face the challenges that congestion, agglomeration, and density that cities will face in the future.

How are LUISS students or LabGov interns involved in Co-Mantova? And what feedback are you getting from them so far?

Labgovers, as we call LabGov interns, participated actively during all the phases of the Mantova project. They supported project design and field implementation. They handled internal and external communication, organized the workshops and conferences, and facilitated the different project working groups, which, for instance, created the Collaboration Pact, the Collaboration Toolkit, and the Sustainability Plan.

For them, CO-Mantova was their first fieldwork and occasion to test the competencies acquired during their University study, and through the colloquium that LabGov holds every year on commons governance, sharing economy, social innovation, nudge regulation. LabGov helps young, talented students develop useful skills for their careers. All skills that due to the continuous transformation of society, you will not find in books or learn in a classroom. For this reason, LabGov teaches collaboration, service design, project management, and the sharing of roles and responsibilities through a “learning by doing” approach. Thanks to LabGov, young students and graduates enter the working world better prepared than their colleagues. I am confident that Labgovers will hold important positions in society and will be the driving force of change by fostering collaboration and a commons-oriented economic approach.

In conclusion, how do you see the inter-relationship of the commons, city governments, citizens, market players and market institutions?

The job of city governments, and maybe every government layer, is changing. Their function is less about commanding or providing. They are increasingly acting as a platform that enables collaboration between citizens and social innovators, not for profit organizations, businesses and universities — the five actors of collaborative governance — to unleash the full potential of urban, cultural, and environmental commons, promote a sustainable commons-oriented development paradigm, updating the concept of State or government and therefore implying as Neal Gorenflo would say a “shift in power and social relations.” Market institutions are more interested in this process than one might think. This is the main take away of the Mantova experiment. In fact, it is the local Chamber of Commerce, the local cooperative movement, the local businesses and the young entrepreneurs that are investing more in this innovative project than other sectors. SMEs and big companies alike are looking for new, innovative approaches to the way value is produced.

The race to the bottom that globalization has triggered is no longer an available strategy for a knowledge economy system like Mantova. Economic actors increasingly understand that they should invest in producing collaborative value and create collaborative economic ecosystems that foster creativity, knowledge, identity, and trust.

This new phenomenon represents an opportunity to revolutionize the current state of play of the society, economy, institutions and law. This new social, economic, institutional and legal paradigm is going to characterize the 21st century as the “CO-century,” the century of COmmons, COllaboration, COoperation, COmmunity, COmmunication, CO-design, CO-production, CO-management, COexistence, CO-living. For all these reasons, it is urgent to design the rules and institutions of this new century. LabGov.it is working on this frontier and is doing it together with experts, organizations, and individuals that represent what we think is a newly rising social class, a class of economic and institutional innovators.

“If you are looking for glory, you are probably not a very good innovation agent”.

1 Comment

  1. adriaan kamp

    Dear professor christiani iaioni,

    Very very good. Salute! Compliments and way to go.

    I would be most happy to briefly speak with you and introduce my field of work. Pwrhaps we see good synergies and opportunities,

    Best regards,
    Adriaan Kamp- Energy For One World

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