Charter for Building a Data Commons for a Free, Fair and Sustainable Future

Nations-States rely on constitutions. Common(er)s find common ground through a Charter. If you are part of the co-creation of a powerful Data Commons – through mapping, coding, data modelling or other activities – this is for you. It is an fundamental building-block for online and offline cooperation.

The following is version 0.6 of what has been called in previously: Charter for Building a Data Commons of Alternative Economies or Mapping for the Commons Manifesto. We, the participants of the Intermapping meeting (March 2017 in Florence), hope to hereby publish a version that provides orientation to the countless mapping processes for a free, fair and sustainable world.

We invite you to work together on the practical issues: how to implement the principles outlined in the Charter (see below)?

Let’s federate our efforts to make the Commons thrive!

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.14.04 PM_0

by. DataCommonsCooperative: The beginnings of a U.S.Solidarity Economy map built on the foundation of All Data Commons tools are open source. Screenshot made in Sept 2015.

Charter for Building a Data Commons for a Free, Fair and Sustainable Future (0.6)


This Charter/Carta provides practical guidance and political orientation for mapping, modeling, managing and sharing data as a Commons. If you follow these guidlines, you will contribute to a Global Data Commons. That is, you will govern your mapping community and manage data differently than people who centralize data control for profit.

The Charter does not describe the vision, scope or values of a specific mapping project, but Data Commons principles. It will help you reimagine how you protect the animating spirit of your mapping project and prevents your data from being co-opted or enclosed.

The Charter as a whole is the maximum „commons denominator“ of mapping projects that aspire to share data for the common good.

Help commonize maps and data! For the people, by the people.


1. **Reflect on your intentions together**
Discuss the core of your project again and again. Everybody involved should always feel in resonance with the direction in which it’s heading.

2. **Make your community thrive**
For the project to be successful, a reliable community is more important than anything else. Care for those who might support you when you need them most.

3. **Separate commons and commerce**
Mapping for the commons is different from producing services or products to compete on the map-market. Make sure you don’t feed power-imbalances or profit-driven agendas and learn how to systematically [separate commons from commerce]( separate commons from commerce).

4. **Design for interoperability**
Think of your map as a node in a network of many maps. Talk with other contributors to the Data Commons to find out if you can use the same data model, licence and approach to mapping.

5. **Care for a living vocabulary**
Vocabularies as entry points to complex social worlds are always incomplete. Learn from other mappers‘ vocabularies. Make sure your vocabulary can be adjusted. Make it explicit and publish it openly, so that others can learn from it too.

6. **Document transparently**
Sharing your working process, learnings and failures allow others to replicate, join and contribute. Don’t leave documentation for after. Do it often and make it understandable. Use technologies designed for open cooperation.

7. **Crowdsource what you can**
Sustain your project whenever possible with money, time, knowledge, storing space, hardware or monitoring from your community or public support. Stay independent!

8. **Use FLOSS tools**
It gives you the freedom to further develop your own project and software according to your needs. And it enables you to contribute to the development of these tools.

9. **Build upon the open web platform**
Open web standards ensure your map, its data and associated applications cannot be enclosed and are prepared for later remixing and integration with other sources.

10. **Own your data**
In the short run, it seems to be a nightmare to refrain from importing or copying what you are not legally entitled to. In the long run, it is the only way to prevent you from being sued or your data being enclosed. Ban Google.

11. **Protect your data**
To own your data is important, but not enough. Make sure nobody dumps your data back into the world of marketization and enclosures. Use appropriate licenses to protect your collective work!

12. **Archive your project**
When it doesn’t work anymore for you, others still might want to build on it in the future.


HOW TO?: first notes here. You can also use this Hackpad to add your comments and suggested changes. If so, please provide a reason. Other sites to provide your feedback:

  • here on this blog
  • on the transformap-discourse platform

PD: gosh, I think that the title is too long. Ideas for a smarter one are very welcome!

9 Gedanken zu „Charter for Building a Data Commons for a Free, Fair and Sustainable Future

  1. One comment to point 3: is it always possible to clearly seperate between commons and commerce? Isn’t it rather that there are commons and commerce elements in many organisations and you can only look at what prevails?

  2. As it happened I was working in Amsterdam with the Reporting 3.0 movement to design a new future fit system (going beyond GRI) for the measurement and reporting of sustainability. Here we also developed a Data Integral for a 21C inclusive, regenerative and open economy. The focus was on a new Social Contract for Sustainability in a region or habitat, with Government, Market, Commons and Science as main actors. From that perspective principle #3 seems rather flawed to me in an age of cooperation and co-creation, while respecting each others role and responsibilities. In short, I would love to discuss this further here or somewhere else.

  3. Pingback: A Charter for How to Build Effective Data (and Mapping) Commons | David Bollier

  4. I work with Reporting 3.0 and I agree with Henk here — I don’t see how one could possibly „separate out“ the commons from commerce, as we humans depend on wise use of the commons (ie agricultural food & medicine production) to support our wellbeing, and commerce is a primary mechanism for transforming common resources for human use. Framing the commons and commerce as inherently at odds seems problematic. Clearly, there are many ways that commercial enterprises currently misuse / abuse the commons, primarily by overdrawing. But the solution seems to be wise management of common resources, eg via the kinds of smart social contracts Henk proposes.

  5. @Dear Bill and Henk,
    I tend to see „commons“ not only as „shared resources to be managed“ but as a different frame/mindset/rationality of human interaction and human-nature-metabolism; based on human needs and freedom. Having said this: a mode of production based on a commons approach and producing commons (instead of commodities) is – indeed – at odds with market based production of commodities (even if mor socially and enviromentally healthy);
    If you blur both and don’t make a distinction between these different mindset and purposes you will end up seeing your commons coopted. That’s the experience. And therefor we dont’t say: „DON’T MAKE COMMERCE“, we say: separated it structurally/ decouple it in such a way that the market logik cannot overtake the commons one, so to speak.

  6. Thank you so much for all your work –

    My two main criticisms of that introductory section are –

    1. It reads to me as if it focuses a bit on ’negatives‘ either by saying what the charter “ does not“ do, or aiming to reassure readers „you will govern… and manage“. What I aimed to do with the re-write is keep the content of those sentences but re-phrasing them as positives such as „The charter respects the autonomy of mapping initiatives“. I also try to balance the tone by following critical statements with positive, affirmative ones.

    2. Even as an native English speaker I regularly encounter difficulties when speaking with people unfamiliar with the language of ‚commons‘. While I enjoy the play on words my concern is that phrases like „maximum commons denominator“ or „commonize maps“ might be more confusing. Additionally for non-native speakers and those who may want to translate the text. For this reason I would leave them out.

    So my edited version is as follows – (NOTE: I’m not sure if I should refer to the Charter or maps as initiatives or projects but that is something easy to change)

    START –

    This Charter provides practical guidelines and political orientation for mapping, modeling, managing and sharing data as a Commons.

    The charter respects the autonomy of mapping initiatives to define their own vision, scope and values, while at the same time offering guidelines, Commons principles, that support a variety of initiatives to share data.

    Too many community mapping initiatives are locked into or dependent on multi-national corporations, proprietary software platforms and file formats, this is a form of commercial capture and enclosure.

    This charter is a non commercial initiative dedicated to supporting grassroots mapping projects to protect the integrity and animating spirit of their work through participation in the creation of a global data commons.

    Sharing data opens the possibility of making local contributions visible at regional, national and international levels, supporting advocacy, activism, cooperation and solidarity.

    Maps by the People for the People. Together, mapping the Common Good for the Common Good.

    – END

  7. Pingback: A Charter for How to Build Effective Data (and Mapping) Commons | P2P Foundation

  8. Dear Silke,

    Sorry for my belated reply, as I seem to have missed a notification. In his book „Think like a Commoner’ (2014) , David Bollier described the Commons using a formula: Commons = a Resource + a Community + a Social Protocol. You are right that it is different from Commerce, and that it also needs to remain different. But my remarks regarding the „Data Charter” weren’t addressing “ mindset, power, purpose or overtaking”. That’s not what I meant, as I was focussed here on the domain of “sustainability” and on the issue of „sustainability measurement and reporting“ , while adjusting to planetary boundaries of resources needed for a safe and just 21C human operating space. To survive, we need new data/metrics, reporting, accounting. So I was focused here on the issue of new data and new metrics.

    As Ostrom and Bauwens explain, the commons is not a silo, as it also exists within an effective relationship with market and state. What forms of markets are compatibel with the commons , and how to relate to the government and pubic interest.? But focussed on maintaining and enhancing the stock of vital resources needed for our well-being (no matter whether privately, publicly or commonly „owned“), not only does the Commons needs to have its own „sustainability“ measurement and reporting system in place , but I think that we also need to have a Charter for shared measurement and data in place…… so Commons, Market and State need to collaborate on data collection etc to be able to co-create policies and to monitor the performance impacts of all on this world.

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