The Commons will focus on the following Core Priorities at the local level:

Reflecting who we are

We often see our town, city, region from a narrow perspective. The Commons should reflect to users as complete as possible a picture of their community, in all of its dimensions.

Building community

A community is not just a place. A community is made of people. In a healthy and authentic community, people feel like they are a part of something. Residents thrive with the support of strong and diverse relationships, celebrating their identities while being ready to creatively meet new challenges. The Commons should help people connect to each other and strengthen the foundation of community in meaningful ways.

Showing the trajectory from past to present to future

We see things from the perspective of the present, yet understanding where we’ve come from is important to understanding the dynamics of the present. The future is even less known, but unlike the past, we have some say in what it looks like. The Commons should help people to see where things could be going, while also helping them think about where it should be going.

Turning data into information, information into shared knowledge, and shared knowledge into collective wisdom

Today, we have access to more data about more things than ever before. Statistics about people, environmental dynamics, trends – there is no shortage of them. But these are not very helpful to us unless we convert data into useful information. What is the data telling us? What is important? Why is it important? And when we answer those questions, we are better prepared to use information to inform our actions – and to turn information into wisdom.

Helping people surface assumptions

Assumptions are beliefs so deeply buried that they are not usually examined. Often we’re not even aware of them. Yet they underlie all of our daily patterns and the very design of our public institutions. Surfacing the assumptions within the social systems around us is essential to knowing how well those systems actually fit with our values and beliefs and knowledge, and with the needs of the community today and tomorrow. Becoming conscious of our own assumptions is equally powerful. Helping people to surface and to remain conscious of assumptions would be one of the most important things a Commons could do.

Shifting fragmented perspectives to systemic/integrated perspectives

Everything is connected to everything else, directly or indirectly. An action in one area has effects in all other areas. Yet we are used to looking at things in parts and not focusing on the relationships. This makes it more difficult for us to address problems and to design effective solutions. A Commons will highlight relationships and help people see both the whole and the parts.

Helping people effectively define and address complex issues

Many of the challenges we face today have many facets and factors. It is easy for laypersons and experts alike to be overwhelmed by this complexity. The tendency, then, is to focus on the most obvious symptoms while the roots of issues are ignored. There are ways of overcoming this tendency, however. The Commons will equip a community with methods and tools to grapple with complexity and develop more comprehensive, viable, effective, and lasting solutions.

Helping people to idealize and to visualize possibilities

We seldom allow ourselves to dream or to express our ideals because it seems to be unrealistic to do so. Yet our ideals represent our actual core values and core ideas – the things we care most about. They operate in our lives. And when we idealize together and project those ideals as a possible future, we have taken a step toward bringing our community and our institution more in line with what we really want and need. We also shift from reactive approaches to proactive ones. The Commons will encourage people to idealize, to do so together, and to carry those ideals forward from intention into design.

Addressing conflict

Wherever there is diversity of values or ideas, there is conflict. Conflict is a natural, inevitable result of people surfacing their needs and desires. Too often, conflict is avoided out of a fear that it will turn into violence. This, unfortunately, only buries the true needs and desires, hiding the conflict and delaying its resolution. The key, then, is to use conflict as a doorway to understanding each other and to finding creative ways to meet mutual needs – without an over-reliance on mere compromise. The Commons should help people surface conflict and to use it creatively, whether it involve highly polarizing issues or simple disagreements over approach.

Helping people express divergent views and develop convergent solutions

As a society, we believe in freedom of speech, yet we seldom show that we value the expression of viewpoints that diverge from what is popular and accepted. In our search for decisions, we don’t allow much opportunity for the expression of divergent views and ideas. This fails to respect the diversity of our communities and reduces our pool of options. At the same time, we often stop at the mere expression of opinions and ideas and don’t do anything with them. The Commons will encourage the expression of divergent viewpoints and ideas while at the same time helping people use those viewpoints and ideas to converge on better policies, approaches, and solutions.

Raising awareness of our effects and how we can make a difference

People hear all the time about issues facing their neighborhood, community, and society. The larger the scale of the issue, the further away it seems. Yet all of these issues can be traced back to the daily decisions of each person – what to buy and where; whether to get involved or not; what values to apply to a life choice. There is thus a critical gap between what people do and their awareness of how it does, or could, make a difference. A Commons will create “feedback loops” so that this gap is closed. It will help people see their part in the whole, and the whole’s role in their part.

Providing a window, and a doorway, into public decision-making

Many citizens see the extent of their responsibility in governance to go no further than the act of voting. Participation even in this limited way is often at such a low level that it leaves the decision to a small number of people. The result is that the political process is left to partisan groups and special interests. It fails to reflect the diversity of citizens’ needs. The process tends to lack creativity, and it defaults to a narrow range of compromises that lack in vision and fail to inspire. The promise of democracy lies in broad participation, in rich dialogue, creativity, and a stake in the outcome. An effective Commons will help citizens understand the issues being addressed by government at every level and help them find a meaningful voice. It will help government reach out to citizens, and it will help shift the center of political gravity from elected bodies and partisan forces to the community itself.