Commons and social security does that go together?

by | Mar 11, 2020

Reading time: 7 minutes

200 years ago we came up with the modern definition of social security in the Netherlands: 'the certainty that everyone can make a meaningful contribution to society and that everyone can develop themselves'. Since then this concept has been put into the Constitution and our solidarity vision of living together has been built on this. But history has not stood still since Thorbecke's time. Our world is changing and the SVB is changing with it. New ways of working together and living together, new ideas about economy and democracy and a revaluation of the collective inspire us to ask the question: how can the government learn from this new solidarity?

Reliability, what's next?

Based on figures from Statistics Netherlands and the Final Report from the Regulation of Work Committee (Borstlap Committee), we see three trends that will influence our work in the coming years:

  • Demography: Families are getting smaller, there are relatively more elderly people and people are getting older, the countryside is running empty and the cities are full
  • Work: Labor pays less and less, workers are increasingly flex (so without certainty) and workplaces disappear / change due to automation
  • Health: More and more people are lonely, depressed and / or overstrained

In all three trends you can see that we are dealing with new challenges that we did not have seventy years ago. To what extent are we as a society equipped for these changes? What do these major changes mean for social security and social security? What solutions do we see around us?

The 'commons': 21st century reciprocity

Major changes require an open view; perhaps other paradigms can mean something to society. Can the ideas of the commons inspire new solutions to these contemporary challenges in the field of livelihoods?

We talk about commons when we describe a system in which a defined community manages a shared resource according to clear rules. Wikipedia is an example of such a system. We call the people in such a system 'commoners' and their daily practice we call 'commoning'. The farmers who have united in the 'Gentlemen farmers' movement are real commoners. And the neighbors who are sitting together in an energy co-op to generate solar energy are commoning. This new, practical reciprocity thus influences people's daily reality, but it also holds the promise of bringing about a broader change in our thinking.

Joint investigation

Together with the Commons Network Foundation, we are investigating what we can learn from the commons about social security. Do the commons perhaps offer us a new insight into the future of Dutch solidarity society and a new design of a future-proof social contract? And what role does the government play in this? In the coming year we will conduct research together and work towards a publication and a meeting on these issues. Are you interested in this project, based on your expertise or daily practice? Then we cordially invite you to think along and participate. Sign up here for the newsletter, in which we will keep you informed of our search:

Update: Where are we now?

This is the October 15, 2020 update.

Sprint 1: Field work, practical research and theoretical source research

In March we started a field study. Novum and Commons Network took the plunge together and made enthusiastic contact with a number of commons initiatives. The interviews we were able to hold with them turned out to be a great way to get to know active citizens who make the commons way leading in their business operations. What beautiful stories came out!

What became clear to us is that not every initiative of commoners is necessarily started from the same principles and needs. Which once again underscored the importance of the phase that Design Thinking calls 'empathizing'. Despite the sudden lockdown, it was great to be able to have no fewer than 13 open conversations with initiators and members of various Dutch commons initiatives. Great that this worked out, thank you commoners!

Based on the interface of three themes that affect social security; labor, care and demographic developments, we started an inductive study. This is a form of research in which no pre-formulated hypotheses are tested, but in which findings arise through field research and exploration of the theory of the subject to be investigated.

In addition to the field research, the literature exploration about new economic models, different views of mankind, legal and philosophical approaches to the Social Contract theory and international cases also provided us with many new insights. Numerous CBS studies, CPB reports and WRR publications were searched. This provided a lot of extra knowledge and nourishment for the broader theoretical program around the exploration of degrowth ideas and working towards a 'caring economy' to which many commoners are committed.

Sprint 2: Blog posts, discussions with experts, analysis of the insights

In order to involve the international community of commons thinkers and activists, it is important to start publishing early on. The diverse stories of experts and pioneers are absolutely worthwhile. We enjoyed the inspiration it gave us. Are you curious about solidarity and reciprocity in practice? Or what it means to be a member of a commons community? The stories tell about it. Read them back via https://www.commonsnetwork.org/news/ and via the links below:

Blog #1 about the local currency the VIX and how people from Alkmaar together regain control of money.
Blog #2 about Bread Funds in the Netherlands and in Leiden in particular, and how the groups give solidarity a face again.
Blog #3 about the tilted food system of the Herenboeren and the farm in Boxtel.
Blog #4 about care cooperative Hoogeloon and how an informal care system fulfills living needs from the community.
Blog #5 about the food cooperative Vokomokum in Amsterdam, which shows that a functioning organization is possible, even when no one is in charge.
Blog #6 about De Waterheuvel, which allows people with a psychiatric background to actively participate again.

In this phase, a lot of attention was paid to the cross-fertilization of theory and practice: the linking of findings from the theoretical research to the fieldwork yielded beautiful new insights. Which needs from practice do we read back in the theory? Are there any similarities in the different initiatives? Do they share the same challenges? During an enthusiastic MIRO session, we distilled a set of building blocks for future security and possible transition paths from the theory and practical insights.

Sprint 3: Peer Consultation, Expert and Thinking session

In the last sprint we let our peers have their say. We asked a number of strategic thinkers from the SVB to respond substantively to the strengths and weaknesses of proposed building blocks and transition paths and also to indicate which insights we still lack and what we should investigate further. Thinkers at the interface of commons and social security were invited to give a review through the Commons Network network. Many experts cooperated. Thanks to the many extensive responses, there is now valuable advice that can be used to enrich the final publication. The latest version of this document will now be used as input for the next phase.

Expert and Thinking session

The end of Sprint 3 is approaching and we are currently working towards the climax of the consultation in the form of an interactive Expert Session and a Thinking Session. Together with a number of experts, the new ways of thinking with regard to a solidarity economy and livelihoods are further elaborated in an interactive way. In this way, we hope to be able to take new steps in the development of possible transition paths for social security in the Netherlands.

The Expertsession is an informal but structured conversation in the Rode Hoed between thinkers from almost all scientific offices of the major national political parties, supplemented by thinkers and doers from the commons movement. Based on our research results, we enter into a dialogue with this illustrious company about reciprocity, communities, solidarity and the future of social security.

Before the Think Session, we will talk to SVB staff. We ask a diverse group of civil servants, strategists, administrators and pioneers in practice to give us advice during a brainstorming afternoon on the elaboration of the building blocks and a possible future scenario.

The insights from these two events, combined with all responses from the previous consultations, form the input for our final publication. This is expected in November. We look forward to presenting you our final results!

What will happen in the near future?

  • 21 October Expert session in the Rode Hoed
  • October 26 Think session remotely via MIRO
  • November Podcast via De Innovatie Civil Servant and Final Publication

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