Charging the Commons

Charging the Commons is a 2-year project and follow up of Circulate (more info below), which will investigate the design of digital platforms for resource communities. First, The project explores how a Situated-design approach can be employed to articulate the (social) values of resource communities. Second, the project examines how these values can be translated into a design for the management of an urban commons, using digital ledger technologies (DLT’s).

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the fields of architecture, area development, design, digital design and technology development see a new “market” emerging in the growing interest in the urban commons. These are local communities in which people share and manage resources such as energy, mobility or housing in a sustainable and pro-social way. SMEs see opportunities to co-create with these communities and develop new services and products that allow residents to manage their resources together. SMEs also see the development of urban commons as a possible solution to pressing social issues and missions in the areas of inclusive housing, sustainability and the energy transition.

For the commons to function well, a clear articulation and implementation of their underlying (societal) values are essential. This requires SMEs to search for new ways of area and technology development in collaboration with residents.

A specific problem here concerns the translation of the commons values into a technological system that enables the joint management of resources. For this, much is expected from digital platforms and distributed ledgers technologies such as the blockchain. These are databases that keep track of exactly who contributes and uses what. They also link such accounts to the rights, duties and reputations of the participants. In setting up such a system, designers must always make choices and take into account tensions between, for example, privacy and transparency, or individual and collective interests.

In this design process, SMEs encounter a knowledge gap. How can the underlying (social) values of commons communities be 1) articulated and 2) translated into a design for the organization of an urban commons using digital platforms? This research explores these questions in a field lab in Amersfoort, at two ‘transfer sites’ in Amsterdam and Birmingham, and with a community of practice partners. Together, a set of design principles and guidelines for the design of DLTs for the urban commons will be developed.

Charging the Commons is financed by Regieorgaan SIA – RAAK-mkb.


Circulate is a research project that explores the design of digital platforms for resource communities. In particular we have looked at the affordances of distributed ledger technologies as administration and governance tools for communities that want to share resources with one another, such as energy collectives, housing coops or shared mobility communities.

The Netherlands have the ambition to become a “circular economy” by 2050. This is an economic and social system in which production of raw materials and services is organised in a sustainable manner, with respect for people and the environment. Until now, the majority of the research conducted in this area is technology-drive and logistical: what technologies can be used to process residues, and how can the different flows of materials and energy be connected?

However, companies developing these technologies realise that a further step is needed: the circular economy must be translated into systems that make it attractive for people to behave in a sustainable manner. Project “Circulate” is a multi-year Design Research effort to explore how digital systems based on blockchain technologies may be used to foster participation to a circular economy in neighborhoods.

Circulate focuses specifically on the issue of “values transparency”. What underlying economic and social values should be given a role in the design of local platforms for the circular economy? How can these values be made explicit and understandable (transparent), with the ultimate goal of making neighborhoods more sustainable and liveable? With a research-through-design approach, Circulate explores the potential for small & medium companies to contribute to social transformation in the field of sustainability. With the ultimate goal of providing companies & designers with guidelines, tools and frameworks that can apply to the further development of local platforms for the circular economy.

Circulate was financed by Regieorgaan SIA – RAAK-mkb.