Five Pillars Model of the Commons - a tool for sustainability towards a commons’ economy
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Provide a framework of analysis of open or commons models to identify why and how a project can become sustainable. The framework became a guide for the Transition Programmes and sessions to support projects with the intention to evolve from a market economy or a solidarity economy towards a commons’ economy.

Description of the tool

In the 5 Pillars Model, the pillar of the community and the commons resources are at the centre. The other 4 pillars create 2 axes which need to find a balance: sharing knowledge with governance, and co-production with resources to be mobilised.

  • The central pillar helps identify the value element, the shared commons, which solves the challenge or needs detected, the core of the project to be sustainable, with the Mission, Vision and Values and the community.
  • The pillar of sharing knowledge helps identify what needs to be shared, transmitted, so that the project is durable, reproduced and contributes to the ecosystem of which it is a part and fulfils its mission.
  • The pillar of governance helps identify the agreements and decisions to reach, take care of participation and contributions, how to co-decide and co-govern the project.
  • The pillar of resources to be mobilized helps identify the resources that will be necessary to carry out the activities required by the project.
  • The pillar of co-production helps identify the activities that make it possible to keep the project running, who will do it and how they will be compensated.

Steps of application

“A sustainability model is a modeled definition of how a project works or proposes it to do. Key elements are the value proposition – products or services – what is being done, for which user profiles, how to generate revenue, the organisational and financing model and other elements aimed at the sustainability of the project.

In our environment, business models are predominantly focused on maximising private profits, but not all economic projects follow this logic. There are projects that generate value and profit but have been defined as non-profit, for example the renewable energy cooperative, Som Energia. There are also those that generate value, but it is not monetary or exchange value, but use value, for example an encyclopedia such as Wikipedia. And others that have no source of revenue but generate value for their participants, such as the project. “Business” is a word that can be confusing in these contexts, the term “sustainability model” is more appropriate because it is a search for a model that allows carrying out the project activity and is sustainable over time for the people involved.”

The Five Pillar Model of the Commons is used in transition programmes, workshops and sessions to support the development of new and already existing projects. In the case of the programmes, these projects typically follow a 3-month itinerary (26 sessions), during which the Model of the 5 pillars of sustainability of the commons is used as a guiding thread.

Participants initially learn about the model by playing the Game of the Commons Economy developed to easily explain the model and later use a series of canvas developed specifically to guide the development of their projects.

The Model has identified that in sustainable models there is a fragile balance between the motivations of the different participants: the challenge seems to lie in maximizing the motivation of a sufficiently large and diverse group of people who contribute (in the production model p2p) to important aspects of the project, sharing vision, mission and values ​​and with a policy aligned to share knowledge and governance.

femProcomuns’ transition programmes focus on the commons’ economy as opposed to extractive economies. Extractive economies projects, often StartUp companies, do not have a business model but are often sustained through rounds of financing, from risk investors (business angels) and / or oligopolistic giants, that are not sustainable, neither economically or environmentally, while putting social rights at risk. The Model  aims instead to find ways to produce alternatives to the social market, being it not replicable and trying to do so leads directly to failure. What is sought then is to find alternative models to meet the challenges identified.

During these three months, participating projects make three iterations through the 5 pillars of the commons. The first, in a three-hour session, the “Beta Iteration”, in which each of the projects quickly reflects and imagines how each of the pillars will be configured. In the next 5 training sessions, they make a second iteration, to deepen and expand the knowledge in each of the 5 pillars, with the Canvases of the 5 pillars of the commons, designed specifically for this purpose.

In the last 5 sessions, the third iteration through the 5 pillars will leave the projects prepared, with a roadmap to follow to end up being sustainable and autonomous. Meanwhile, in the collaborative work sessions, participants discuss skills and competencies, sharing the lessons learned, promoting and practicing intercooperation between projects, with cross-microformations and other group activities. Each participant project has a tutor or mentor who supports them along the 3 months, and they also take part in several Advisors Day where they receive expert advice to deepen into each of the 5 pillars.

The Model is a tool that has been elaborated over time. In 2001 Rhishab Ghosh’s team with the FLOSS project (Free Libre Open Source Software), did an in-depth study on sustainability models (so-called business models) in Free Software. At the same time, Creative Commons began offering a simple and practical set of generic licenses, considered “open licenses'' as they “open” the paradigm of “all rights reserved” for everyone to use and make copies; offering all or some of the four freedoms ( These licenses allow the development of open business models, which encourage the sharing of knowledge under open licenses. Paul Stacey and Sarah Pearson worked with Creative Commons to publish a crowdfunded e-book in 2015, “Made With Creative Commons – Open Business Models'', in which they defined five strategies for revenue: digital to physical, directly connected, matchmaking, value-added services and membership. femProcomuns saw it is typical for projects to combine different methods, and for the sustainability model to go beyond revenue sharing and the use of knowledge sharing licenses. According to Alexander Osterwalder, a business model “describes the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value in economic, social, cultural, and other contexts,” [Osterwalder, 2010], but there are other axes that complement a commons sustainability model. Yochai Benkler (Benkler 2002) coined the term “Commons-Based Peer Production, CBPP,” describing a new model of socio-economic production p2p where a large number of people volunteer, usually on the Internet. These types of projects typically have less rigid and hierarchical structures than those based on conventional business models. This production model has generated different production systems alternative to conventional models and can be considered a “third mode of production”, as Michel Bauwens calls it (Bauwens 2006). In 2014, Conaty and Bollier (2014) in the report for the meeting “Toward an Open Co-operativism” promoted by the Commons Strategies Group ” talked about Open Cooperativism, for cooperatives to explore the co-production of the common resources on which they depend. They saw Open Cooperativism as a synthesis or synergy between the emerging movement of production between equals and the commons on one side and innovative elements of the social and solidarity and cooperative economy on the other side.

The Model is inspired and takes directly from all of these sources, and more.


femProcomuns is a non-profit and social initiative, a worker and consumer multi-stakeholder cooperative, created in Catalonia in 2017, with the aim of consolidating a commons ecosystem, based on the principles of open cooperativism, community self-management, human, ecological, economic sustainability, shared knowledge and replicability. 

femProcomuns is building a strategic social tool to make commons activity viable and sustainable. They:

  • work with the model of the 5 pillars of sustainability of the commons: community, participatory governance, resource mobilization, co-production, shared knowledge
  • organize into operating commissions and groups of cooperative activity.
  • use free technological tools to facilitate management, participation, co-work and communication processes.
  • promote the cooperativization of work and opted for the general social security regime.
  • provide cooperative funds and capital to gain solvency and economic strength.
  • work on the sustainability and community management of commons oriented projects, participation, knowledge and free technologies as well as their social application, and we pay special attention to the processes, ways of doing (things), collaborating and co-creating.

femProcomuns is inspired by

  • The commons as a social and economic model based on collective self-management, co-production and shared use.
  • The principles of cooperativism.
  • Open cooperativism and platform cooperativism.
  • The movements of free software, hardware, culture and knowledge.
  • Emancipatory social movements such as feminism and environmentalism.
  • The experiences of self-management of social centers, consumer groups, time banks, communities of makers and developers,…
  • The commons as a social and economic model based on collective self-management, co-production and shared use.

femProcomuns pools and share free and open source technologies

  • That solves the needs of teleworking, storage, management and digital communication of people and organisations with techno-ethical solutions that do not monetise personal data.
  • That facilitates the sharing of knowledge, informative, educational and cultural content, open data and collaborative work.

In its previous experience femProcomuns has

  • created as a cooperative service where people and user entities are partners.
  • promoted as a platform to share openly, re-elaborate and re-use documentation collected collaboratively at events.
  • participated in EduCoop to share educational content and offer an educational program on cooperativism.
  • participated in to promote open data from the solidarity economy.
  • participated in to offer a video conferencing tool under the principles of cooperativism.
  • supported organizations in the migration to free software and techno ethical telematic tools

Context of origin

Visual representation


- Five Pillar Model of the Commons

- “Model de sostenibilitat dels 5 pilars del Procomú”. Wouter Tebbens, David Gómez i Mònica Garriga Sharing Cities Action (Catalan version). Dimmons Research Group, 2019

- Transitant cap al Procomú. David Gómez Fontanills. October 2017ú-La-Comunificadora.pdf 

- Canvas to develop projects



- femProcomuns

- Free Knowledge Institute

- LabCoop