Family cottage as a commons?

It’s summer vacation and I am visiting friends who recently purchased a slice of pristine ocean front property in eastern Canada to design and build their dream cottage. Knowing the consciousness and caring that these friends embody every day, I am curious to see how this cottage project will be different than a typical one. I am hopeful for three reasons:

  1. The project is collectively owned. A family of four and their in-laws, from both sides together own this land and the home under construction.
  2. The architect, my dear friend Colleen Lashuk, is a participatory architect. This means that the design decisions are made with non-architects. (Colleen and I met while studying cultural anthropology and we still connect today on issues of collaborative processes and agency)
  3. The building is itself a bold gesture, built from 7 shipping containers.

And with this in mind, I, with my family in tow, turn up to a busy construction site, the first guests to be welcomed within this intriguing project. We arrive with machinery digging alongside the house; the septic system was almost connected before our stay. All five adult owners and two children are present. Workers are tapping cedar shingles onto the exterior walls. The kids all run off to play, more interested in the freedom of space and the joy of rock and beach, than the house itself. We go for a quick tour of the site. Interestingly enough, it seems anyone is capable of giving the tour, not just the architect holds the knowledge of this site.


I am suddenly hit with how gracious they are to welcome us given the crazy amount of work that remains to be done and the little time they have on the site. But living in a way that blends the lightness of summer vacation and the seriousness of the daily challenges of a complex building site is something the group seems to have figured out. And so, someone sets to cleaning out the bunkhouse container to host its first guests, the four children. Others busy themselves putting together the newly arrived BBQ and others organically merge to the dinner preparation.


The well has just been turned on for the first time. Quite naturally we seize the opportunity to chill the bubbly.



Later, on the beach edge as we admire a nearby heron, Colleen shares a genuine concern, revealing the deep respect underlying this project

The real challenge is less the building itself, than how not to ruin this beautiful place.


IMG_8502 (1)

The next morning after breakfast, the site continues its forward movement despite our presence (thankfully so!). Two grandmas apply a second coat of painting on the golden bathtub, only to be called into the group decision making meeting.


I love how this is managed. We are informed of the meeting, a “scrum” of sorts, for those into agile, in which the decisions of the day can be made together. Unfortunately, I was unable to listen in because my own little one insisted on us having our own meeting at the same time, to address our agenda “Emotions and feelings about this house”.

After our respective meetings, the flow of shared leisure and work resumed. Beach walks, tidal exploration, while some set off on errands including purchasing the fridge, stove and washing machine. Yes, the house is off the grid, and the solar panels will power the fridge and washing machine while the stove runs on gas.


If you want to know if the flow is present just watch at the children. Night two and sleeping arrangements shifted. One child takes up his personal challenge of sleeping on his own in a tent for the first time. Two others are invited into grandma’s room/container for the night and another chooses his parents container.

With all those containers there are multiple options for sleeping arrangements, there are three container bedrooms and an 8 person dormitory. The next day, my husband asks the thorny question to the Colleen’s husband. Who gets which room? This question is loaded with everything our culture takes for granted about individual ownership and property. The answer is music to my ears.

Well, we are thinking of taking a needs based approach. That means that you can be bumped from the room you are in if someone else arrives with a greater need for that room.

I am hearing adaptive governance. For myself I think the key to the success of such an open and shared cottage is the capacity of people to be frank and honest communicators and to have fairness for all at the centre. The basis of good collaboration.


I take in new experiences with the awareness of the commons, a community who cares for a shared resource in a way that enables accessibility and sustainability.I find myself making sense of this project through the eight principles for successful commons from the economist and Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom in her landmark book, Governing the commons. This community, for example will need to establish boundaries around this ressource/cottage and, explicit rules of usage they will invariably need to evolve over time.

On returning to Montreal, I was eager to visit the Tiny House festival in Lantier, Quebec. What I saw reminded me that although “Colleen’s” house was no tiny house, there is overlap. Both initiatives are about facilitating our accessibility to housing, land and quality of living through collaboration with others. The more we hone our collective ownership and collective decision making skills it is uncanny what becomes possible.

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Methodologies and tools:

Playing with Open Space Methodology

How far can you stretch an open space methodology? For the facilitator in me, there is nothing like a good ol’ open space to nimbly pass the power and responsability of an event over to the participants. People can forget that I am in the room as the life of self-organization flows. The process leads to new found clarity, ideas, connections that can help unstick thinking, open a field, prepare a decision etc, but the output I appreciate the most is the flip that happens inside people. The “Oh, things can be that simple and real”. And the “Oh, if there is something I care about strongly, that means it’s me who should be doing something about it.” This is great stuff and I have found myself playing with it in ways that are surprising me.

City as open space

Recently, we co-organized a three day event in Montreal on the theme of the commons for 75 participants [Art of Commoning] with three international experts: David Bollier (USA), Silke Helfrich (Germany) and Frédérique Sultan (France). The first two days of the event took place at the natural science museum, Space for Life.


Art of Commoning at the Rio Tinto Planetarium, Montreal

We knew that the venue was not available for the third day and we had made a deliberate decision to NOT rent another venue and try out a wild idea.

What if for day three we trusted the group to self-organise their day in different locations around the city?

This super wide open space had some risks given the time of year was November and the number of people involved,  but the team was up for the experimentation.

I must say it was helpful that the event was pushing self-organization in multiple ways. Lunch for day two was a 75 person potluck  with light instructions to run it efficiently. All dishes, sweet and savoury, were laid out in the centre of a long dining table. With 4 starting points, everyone moved along the table serving themselves. Only once everyone was served did we sit down.


75 person potluck

At the end of day two, we announced that the whole next day was dedicated to working on our projects together in any way we wanted. 15 people stepped up with a project. Each person shared how much time they wanted to work on their project – 3 hours being the most popular. We invited everyone to self organise, where and when they would meet the next day and with whom. There was a period of semi-chaos with lots of noise and some concern that the facilitators should have done more, and then, magically, the dust settled. Everyone knew where things were going to take place the next day, at someone’s home, at a coworking, a fablab. The full schedule was emailed to all later that evening with details of locations, times, project leaders, contact numbers and a one stop emergency number. We all shared a collective online space (framapad) for documentation. Finally, we all agreed to meet up at the end of the day for dinner and celebrations (some people took up the “dinner for 75 challenge”).

The experience was true to open space spirit. The work was engaging, deep, dynamic. Most people attended two sessions, some in different locations.

commons patterns3

Art of Commoning day 3, work session at EchoFab, Montréal

Over the course of the day the projects leapfrogged to their next step. A school of commoning moved to the next level, a community land trust initiative got unstuck, a group contributed to an international initiative of patterns of the commons, a business transitioned and a some projects of  living spaces as commons gathered momentum and much more.


Session on Patterns of commoning with Silke Helfrich

At the evening meeting point, at ECTO co-working cooperative we were all a-buzz, sharing our experiences and projects over a home cooked meal, with a bit of play and  video harvesting and then some good ol’ dancing.


andyDuring the evening  a time bank was set up and those who wanted to made further commitments to the projects of the day. The mutual support that had begun that day was able to continue on.

And so, the light frame that holds the freedom of an open space can extend out even across a city and coming back together  helps the collective field to continue to grow.

Guide to City Wide Open Space

Day Before

  • Invite in a culture of helping each other and a way of working for wiser action.
  • Allow  specific time and space whereby those who hold the projects and those who are keen to help out work out when and where they would like to meet by themselves. Trust that they will be able to figure out what is best to do.
  • Share digitally, web/email the open space market place, with contact info and maps

The day of

  • Allow the magic to happen
  • Share through social media, an online collective writing space (ex. frampad)
  • Come together to see a collective harvest and generally celebrate!
  • Set up a time bank to facilitate continued collaboration.



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Methodologies and tools:

La participation citoyenne, une démarche pédagogique?

Comment les citoyens peuvent-ils vraiment contribuer à des projets majeurs? Est-ce un vœu pieux, peu réaliste, de vouloir les impliquer directement, dès le début, dans la conception et le développement des projets?

Chez percolab, nous croyons profondément à la participation active des citoyens dans la construction de leur environnement de vie et de travail. C’est d’autant plus vrai que, devant la complexité des défis auxquels nous sommes confrontés, on ne peut se priver de leur expertise. La démarche sera plus profitable si les citoyens sont invités à s’y impliquer rapidement. Le plus tôt sera le mieux.

Nous aimons co-développer les démarches de participation citoyenne sur base des quatre principes suivants :

  1. Aller vers le citoyen, dans son milieu, ses routines, son quotidien. Par exemple, dans le cadre du projet Imaginons Saint-Marc, nous avons été à la rencontre des paroissiens après une messe, en offrant du thé et le partage d’un repas léger. C’était le moment idéal pour les interpeller. Ces personnes n’allaient probablement pas se déplacer à un évènement formel, bien qu’elles aient beaucoup d’idées à partager.
  2. Offrir un espace-temps pour s’ouvrir aux possibles et accueillir l’inattendu. Cela peut se faire à travers le partage d’expériences inspirantes, d’anecdotes, ou encore à travers des mises en situation qui permettent d’explorer différentes perspectives. Nous aimons utiliser le prototypage in situ pour permettre aux participants d’entrer dans une démarche de découverte active.
  3. Soutenir le citoyen dans l’appropriation de la complexité d’un projet. Il importe de ne pas submerger le citoyen d’informations mais de lui permettre de saisir la complexité du projet de manière progressive. Il est par exemple possible de délimiter un volet très précis du projet et de proposer aux citoyens de poser toutes les questions qu’ils souhaitent à des professionnels et à des experts afin de mieux saisir les enjeux et les éléments clés du projet. Il est également envisageable d’élaborer un outil pédagogique. Par exemple, dans le cadre d’une démarche concernant l’avenir d’une bibliothèque, nous avons utilisé une affiche (infographie) pour expliquer l’histoire de l’évolution des bibliothèques. Les citoyens ont ainsi eu l’occasion d’explorer la question avec une certaine perspective.
  4. Offrir un espace pour l’émergence d’une voix collective. Nous estimons que la participation citoyenne est bien plus que la somme des avis individuels. Il importe d’aller au-delà de la collecte des points de vue individuels et de chercher à obtenir, à travers les échanges, l’exploration et l’expérimentation, la convergence et l’émergence d’idées fortes, partagées et porteuses d’énergie.

La clé de la réussite dans tout cela? Elle tient dans l’art du design du processus, de la médiation de la démarche et dans une sensibilité andragogique constante – celle qui reconnaît à toute personne une expérience et des acquis qui peuvent servir dans toutes les facettes de sa vie, et ce, y compris en tant que citoyen actif. En tant que designer pédagogique, je suis profondément convaincue de l’importance de cette approche.



part citoyen2

Photos par Kim Auclair, Journée participation citoyenne dans le cadre du Projet secteur Champ-de-Mars (septembre 2014).


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Engineers without Borders meets Art of Hosting

Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) invited the Montreal Art of Hosting community to collaborate at their annual conference, a significant event uniting 750 people for 3 days, 200 of whom participated in a pre-conference leadership day. The collaboration was natural given both communities work on complex issues and questions in service of the common good; EWB’s mandate is to “create systemic change, wherever it’s needed to accelerate Africa’s development and unlock the potential of its people.”

The EWB community had sharp clarity on the themes of this year’s conference, entitled Unite to Unlock: connect, co-create and act. On our end, the Art of Hosting team came to the collaboration with these learning intentions:

1. What is a light but high-impact way of bringing Art of Hosting practice into a more conventionally organized large-scale gathering?

2. How can we host at a huge event with the same lightness and playfulness as at a smaller event?

For the high impact presence of Art of Hosting, we agreed to implement a daily check-in and check-out practice for the four days. This means each day we would offer a short activity at the beginning and end of the day, to amplify the individual learning and collective experience. Leadership day began with a co-created check-in which included reflections on leadership, some conscious walking around the room and a good ol’ collective scream and closed on a completely different note, with a silent sharing of our learning edges.


Since, the conference opened with some powerful storytelling, the check-in naturally focused on “How does my story connect to the stories that have been told?”. In the space that opened up “droplets of humanity” filled the room (as one participant described the experience).

Each check-in and check-out was carefully designed and matched to the beat and rhythm of the conference. At one point, the room burst into a one minute “crazy dance”, a release of energy and an expression of joy that did a world of good. Another day began by by sharing our calling with another person, three times over, a series of exchanges that were both meaningful and helped participants to hone in on what they wished to get from the event. After that particular check-in, the keynote speaker, Dr. Sulley Gariba, shared his surprise and delight with his check-in experience,  in one he encountered an old friend from 30 years ago he hadn’t expected to meet and another  a young engineer.


On the Saturday evening of the conference, we hosted a home-cooked dinner for delegates who wished to discover more about the Art of Hosting community. Engineering students and recent graduates joined some local Art of Hosting practitioners in mutual discovery (including a bit of dancing). When the engineers understood that the Art of Hosting community exists across the country, they were excited about furthering collaborations at their local level.


At the conference, participants and organizers, seeing us on our own learning edges, stepped up, trembling, into their learning edges and wowed themselves and the crowd with their acts of courage and leadership. The conference co-chair took the microphone and, with tears running down her cheek, spoke with heart and clarity on the intention of the gathering. Pushing boundaries requires trusting and trying, and that is what we were all doing, each day, more and more.

The final check-out was a huge improvisation in trust and trying, where an ecosystem of groups/teams organized and ran their own check-out (open space style), allowing a collective, powerful whole to unfold.


What was the impact and learning? The conference organizers say:

“I keep receiving comments about how positive people felt the entire time, and it’s clear that the moments you spent helping people arrive and leave the space each day played an important role in that. ”

“We had an incredibly ambitious vision about how to unite all of these people in an inclusive way and your collective art helped create something even better than we could have imagined.”

“One sponsor said said the check-ins and outs of this conference were some of his favorite moments. A highlight in fact!”

On our end, we held the intention of lightness well. One member of our team sums it up when with these words

“That was so easy. You don’t even notice there are 750 people in the room”.

And as for the connection between EWB and AOH? As usual, I find that we tend to go in with this idea of “bringing” our practice and in the end it’s us who are “getting” a huge gift and learning ourselves. I bow to the powerful, sharp and heart felt system work of the EWB community. My world has widened to include the shifts of the engineering profession and the caring and challenges of their work, and the courageous leadership afoot, here and in Africa. When communities come together in collaboration and inquiry, their collective strength grows.


Montreal Art of Hosting community who partook in the collaboration: Samantha Slade, Jonathan Jubinville, Juan Carlos Londono, Cedric Jamet, Ezra Bridgman, Paul Messer, Lisa Gravel and Hélène Brown.



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Trois astuces pour ouvrir une rencontre en douceur

Il nous arrive fréquemment de participer à une réunion qui commence par une simple question telle que  « Comment ça va aujourd’hui ? ». Cela nous permet d’apprendre que notre collègue fête son 30e anniversaire de mariage, que la nuit a été courte pour un autre parce que son petit était malade, ou encore que la marche dans la neige était particulièrement magique le matin. Cette petite attention informelle nous permet d’accéder à l’humain, de nous rappeler que nous ne sommes pas des machines. Et ça fait du bien !

Ce n’est pas toujours possible ou pertinent de le faire, pensez-vous ? Détrompez-vous ! La plupart du temps, on doit entrer tout de suite dans le vif de l’ordre du jour de la rencontre. Évidemment, il y a tant de choses à faire ! Or, prendre un petit moment en début de réunion est loin d’être du temps perdu ! Il peut servir à améliorer l’efficacité de la rencontre et à la rendre plus agréable, et ce, autant pour des rencontres de travail régulières que pour un grand rassemblement.

Attention, l’art du « check in » demande du soin. Avant toute chose, on doit se rappeler l’intention de la rencontre (= le fil invisible !). Ensuite, on cherche à formuler une question simple, authentique, sans trop se casser la tête. Enfin, on passe notre question à la moulinette d’assurance qualité ! Voici les trois critères que nous utilisons couramment pour concevoir une ouverture de réunion réussie et sympathique :

checkin triangle1. La question nous ouvre (directement ou indirectement) à l’intention de la rencontre.

2. La question nous invite à quitter notre mode intellectuel. Elle nous fait entrer en mode ressenti et elle nous aide à être plus présent. 

3. La démarche tient compte des possibles et des contraintes de la rencontre et elle nous aide à développer un sens du groupe. 

Au besoin, il est possible de valider la question d’ouverture avec une autre personne, surtout dans le cadre d’une rencontre particulièrement stratégique ou d’envergure. Il est également envisageable de travailler la question en équipe.

Concrètement, en pratique, ça ressemble à quoi ? Voici cinq exemples authentiques :

Lorsque les personnes du groupe ne se connaissent pas :

1. Une session de travail de 2 heures avec 15 chercheurs universitaires et des jeunes dans une démarche d’idéation pour des projets environnementaux.

Question : « Partagez un moment vécu en nature cet été. »
(Version de travail :  Pourquoi l’environnement est important pour vous ? )

Déroulement : 10 minutes. Chacun, à tour de rôle, partage sa réponse.

2. Un événement de 3 jours ayant réuni 70 personnes autour du sujet « les biens communs ».

Question :  « Qu’est-ce que les “Communs” pour vous ? »

Déroulement : 15 minutes. Chaque personne se lève et va à la rencontre de quelqu’un pour échanger pendant 2 minutes. Répétition de la situation à quatre reprises, avant un partage de quelques observations en grand groupe.


À l’Espace pour la vie, Biodôme de Montréal, atelier de participation citoyenne : moment d’ouverture.

3. Un atelier de participation citoyenne de 5 heures avec une trentaine de personnes au Biodôme de Montréal.  

Question : « Pourquoi avez-vous choisi de participer à cette journée ? »

Déroulement : 35 minutes. Chaque personne se lève et va à la rencontre d’une personne inconnue au sein du groupe. Elles se  présentent et partagent leurs réponses pendant 5 minutes. Retour en grand groupe pour présenter son/sa partenaire.

Lorsque les personnes du groupe se connaissent déjà :

4. Un conseil d’administration d’un organisme (œuvrant dans le domaine de l’entrepreneuriat) se rencontre pour une journée de réflexion stratégique (12 personnes). 

Question : « Partagez une entreprise que vous avez découvert cet été et qui vous a inspiré. » (Version de travail : Qu’est-ce que l’innovation pour vous ?)

Déroulement : 30 minutes. Chaque personne partage sa réponse à tour de rôle.

5. Formation de 90 minutes sur la créativité avec 50 employés de différents services d’une ville. 

Question :  « Quel lieu, fait, aspect de votre ville avez-vous découvert récemment et apprécié ? »

Déroulement: 10 minutes.  Chaque personne écrit sa réponse sur une fiche et va ensuite à la rencontre d’une autre personne. Elles se présentent, partagent leurs réponses et créent une nouvelle idée à partir des deux fiches. Partage de quelques réponses en grand groupe.

Vous n’êtes pas convaincu que cela marcherait dans votre milieu ? Les questions à imaginer peuvent être créatives et amusantes. Voici quelques exemples ayant bien fonctionné pour nous :

Que deux minutes pour se dire bonjour ? Une question légère, rapide et révélatrice : « Si vous étiez un animal, lequel seriez-vous ? »

Il fait beau et à la dernière minute vous choisissez de déplacer la rencontre au parc ? Posez la question d’ouverture et laissez les gens y répondre en marchant.

Cinq cents personnes, une créneau de 90 minutes et une rencontre téléphonique ? Prendre 10 minutes pour se dire bonjour dans des centaines de petits groupes virtuels de 4 à 5 personnes (grâce à la technologie Maestro) et répondre à la question : «Pourquoi est-ce important pour moi de participer à cet appel ?»

Vous voyez ? Que du plaisir et de la créativité !


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A Tale of Dynamite Social Innovation

This is a story of a dynamite social entrepreneur spearheading social innovation in the domain of housing. The year is 1960 and the entrepreneur is Father Casey, an Irish priest working in England.

I know of the story because my parents, unknowingly, were at the heart of it.

In 1960 my parents were a newly married couple with twin babies in Slough, Berkshire, UK. They lived with my grandmother, a Spanish refugee, in a tiny council flat – what we call social housing in North America. Their housing situation was inadequate and they were struggling to find a way out. At that time in England, most landlords did not allow rentals with children and evictions were common practice. The waiting list for social housing in Slough was four years long and banks would not finance non-established working class citizens.

Enter Father Casey: this Irish priest was assigned to Slough in 1960, specifically to support the needs of the Irish catholic community. Father Casey shares

bishop casey

Father Casey

I felt the first thing to do was to sit down and try and work out what were the special needs and special problems of the Irish community which were not looked after by the normal parish institutions. It was while I was doing this that I came across the housing problem as one of the severest difficulties which not only they but many others were facing.

Soon after his arrival, he met a family with five children who were being evicted. They told him that they had the possibility of purchasing their own home if they could access a 200 pound loan.

Father Casey shares how this was the story that birthed an innovation:

And then it hit me that there must many, many other couples in similar situations who could perhaps solve their housing problem by house purchase if we were able to get them this little loan. I found that this was so and started what we now call the “Bank Loan Scheme”.

Within this scheme the local church guaranteed bank loans thereby making mortgages accessible to a new range of people. During that time my father was an electrician earning 25 pounds a week (100 pounds a month), but he was a refused a loan of 90 pounds from the bank. Without some kind of guarantor my parents were stuck.

Father Casey supported my parents by giving then access to the “Temporary Flat Scheme” he had developed. This would better known as “Half-Way Houses”.

He explains:

We felt that if we could purchase a large house break it into a number of units suitable to the size of the families who were facing the problem and give them security of tenure, reasonable rent and a good standard in the flat, it would give them the opportunity to save the money they needed in order to purchase within a year or two.

For my parents this meant that they (and my 2 brothers) were able to move out of my grandmother’s into a one bedroom appartement in the upstairs portion of one of these half-way houses, also occupied by Tony and Maria and their children at 44 Kings Road, Slough.

44 kings road boys

My brothers during the time my parents lived at the half-way house, 1962

House on the left.

House on the left: Half Way House where my parents lived with Tony and Maria and their children

Rent for my parents was now affordable and the beauty of the scheme, was that the weekly rent included an amount for compulsory savings.  To protect the intention and integrity of the system, this savings was formally treated as rent and could only be accessed by the renter as a deposit for a home purchase.

Within eighteen months my parents had amassed the necessary deposit to purchase their first home at a cost of 2500 pounds.

A cycle of poverty had been broken.

My father’s words speak to his amazement  “It was like magic, it felt like this house was given to us. We didn’t find it, fix it up or deal with the real estate.”  They were now proud home owners at 6 Kings Road, Slough.

Family portrait at 6 Kings Road, Slough

1963 family portrait at 6 Kings Road, Slough

As per the model, the home they purchased, had been turned into a half-way house and they shared it with a young Irish couple, who lived upstairs saving up for their future home purchase. Living space was tight but the long-term benefits for all involved outbalanced the short-term squeeze.

Third door to the left.

Third door to the left: My parents first home, purchased via the Slough housing scheme

coin metre

UK pay-as-you-go coin metre for home electricity, 1960.

House conversions was a key element of the system. When a new home was purchased Father Casey, had a team of skilled tradesmen (ie. plumber, carpenter) who worked on evenings and weekends to install makeshift separations in the dwellings. My father was the electrician and he updated the electrical and separated the electricity systems, included installing a “pay-as-you-go coin metre”.  As my dad says, “this removed a pending issue of contention around electricity costs”. This work was paid up front by Father Casey and the cost was absorbed into the purchase price of the house.

The system allowed many families to establish themselves with adequate housing, many in Slough, some moving back to Ireland or elsewhere in the UK. By the time I arrived in the family my parents had sold this scheme house and moved on (with their now four children!) to a home in Reading, UK.

Within two-and-a-half years in Slough there were 104 families had become home owners via this scheme and there were 24 half-way houses functioning.  Father Casey moved on; he became director of the Catholic Housing Aid Society at the central office in London, spreading this successful model across the UK. The initiative which had begun with a private donation of 1000 pounds, was snowballing.

I wish I could end this story  announcing that the model successfully spread across the UK and beyond eliminating issues around affordable and adequate housing. It did have significant impact in many towns across the UK, however, the issue remains a critical one. The Catholic Housing Aid Society continues its work under the name of Housing Justice.

As I reflect on the model there are two improvements that come to mind if it were to be applied today: first, the integration of a participatory governance, where members of the community (such as my parents) would be able to have a say on the rules by which the community runs (rather than everything being decided by the church).  Secondly, linking the homes to the program so that even when a community member moves on, the home remains part of the scheme. This would strengthen and amplify the scheme’s impact on the ecosystem. With these two tweaks, this tale of social innovation would join the realm of “commoning”.

I did not have to look far to find similar social innovation right here in Montreal (my parents eventually immigrated to Canada). Vivacité is a local social enterprise working hard to bring an innovative home ownership model known as “land trust” to Canada (see Champlain Housing Trust in the USA) as one solution to the challenges of affordable housing, all in a spirit of commoning. When I explain to my parents (now retired home owners in Cape Breton) how this model focuses on the actual buildings so that they are protected from inflation of housing prices for perpetuity (for always), they instantly grasp the merits. The Land Trust system is but a modern version of the church’s role as trustee.

I think Father Casey would approve.

Father Case reminds me that not all social innovation is new. He was a social entrepreneur long before we had the term. His work is a reminder that the social sector needs to get savvy with economics and social impact business models .  The discomfort many of us have around money is not new. In a 1964 interview, Father Casey, was questioned for getting involved in such an ambitious financial venture:

Your scheme has got a great deal of publicity and you personally have been very much involved in this publicity, almost to the extent that some regard you as a sort of tycoon with a Roman collar. Does this image of the priest worry you?

To which he replied:

It does not. I feel that charity of Christ should be found where the human need is greatest. And for anyone living in Britain today housing is the greatest need.

As I have stepped into the world of the commons with fellow commonors one of the questions we asked was: “How do we explain commoning to our parents.?”

Commoning is essentially a community, a resource and some shared rules for shared benefit and good. “Maybe”, one of us wondered out loud, “We should just listen as our parents talk about commoning to us.”

And so I did.

My three brothers and I (far left) at the family home i Reading, post half way house.

My three brothers and I (far left) at the family home in Reading, post half way house.

By Samantha Slade. Based on interviews with my parents Robert Slade and Helen Slade, Sydney Nova Scotia, November 2014.

Eamonn Casey in The Furrow Vol. 15, No. 9 (Sep., 1964), pp. 557-568
Published by: The Furrow
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