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Published on 24/01/2017

3 questions on… the “commons”

Stéphanie Leyronas, in charge of research on natural resources with the AFD, talks about the notion of the commons and the difficulties relating to making this concept operational.

How can we describe the notion of “the commons”?

The commons refer to a set of highly diverse realities. Traditionally the term is used regarding natural resources around which communities self-organise to ensure their management, preservation and sustainability. These communities subsequently implement a law differentiating the use of these resources and a system of governance to enable conflicts to be resolved. The commons also refer to all civic initiatives implemented in the gaps left by the State and the market.

How can the commons improve the quality of official development assistance (ODA)?

The commons revitalise ODA at several levels. They provide new elements in relation to the ODA approach, founded on global public resources, sustainable development, etc. They provide notions of fairness and refocus debate on issues of processes. They enable modes of governance that are better coordinated between the State, the private sector, civil society and the various stakeholders in the field. The commons are also extremely interesting in terms of international cooperation practices and strategies: they redirect our focus to collective dynamics, and the stakeholders and institutions leading them.

What difficulties have been encountered in terms of making the commons operational?

The commons raise questions on the communities with which we work, processes implemented, funding models and indicators used for evaluating quality and efficiency. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if we are really dealing with an element of the commons. For example, when we support delegation of management of a drinking water service in neighbourhoods to local users’ associations, at what moment do we move from “pure structures for delegation of management” to “commons”, i.e. groups of people who have taken entire ownership of the infrastructures, services and values they lead?
Lastly, the commons have become extensively widespread in the association, political and militant arenas. It is vital to coordinate an audible message focusing on the contribution of the commons in relation to the existing dominant theories.

View the video of the interview with Stéphanie Leyronas (in French only)

Bistro du Gret : Communs & développement – 3… par Gret-videos