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Concept | INSIEME

local and Intercultural Drinks

An open source project that activates a process of cultural exchange and co-learining
by creating a framework of interaction and co-production.

The project aims to bring people together through the culture of drinks. Preparing drinks is a common practice shared by many different cultures all over the world.
Thus we developed this project as a collaborative process of learning about, experimenting with and exploring the possibilities of transforming plants that grow in common spaces into drinks.

Moreover the concept was created in order to enable social inclusion and to create a framework that can be replicated in various communities. The workshops are designed in a way that we address on the one hand an educational part (learning about the production of beverages) on the other hand we created a structure and specific artifacts that facilitated the communication and exchange between the different participants.

Perspective on Commons and Alternative Concepts of Ownership

The framework we designed is based on the collaboration with a community garden. Community gardens can be seen as the new experimentation spaces for various social practices for a sustainable future. We especially want to look at the way how these gardens are used and managed as commons, since the gardeners do not personally own the land.

The traditional liberal theory is that an economy based on common property can not function because goods belonging to the community are not cultivated and because the individual is not willing to engage without individual advantage. This is described by the term “tragedy of the commons”, published in an essay by the biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968. But Hardin in fact did not talk about commons as we understand them and how they are described by the Commons-Insitiut e.V.: “Commons are institutions in which people in a self-determined way organize reproduction and / or production based on common resources, jointly meeting their needs while also re-/producing the shared resources.” Hardin describes an approach that is based on the human image of the homo oeconomicus, who is rationally following his own interest. Hardin therefore is actually not picturing the “tragedy of the commons” but the “tragedy of the markets” as he establishes as a premise an open system without jointly negotiated rules that has no community (Bollier 2015).

But his thesis has been thoroughly disproved: The US economist Elinor Ostrom showed that traditional communal goods like pasture or forestry, near-natural fish stocks, irrigation systems, roads or buildings were collectively used and sustained over centuries by communities. And this happened in self-organized systems, where infringement was punishable, but there was no state-run control authority. Ostrom’s studies also centered on the question of the prerequisites for self-organized systems of common property to function. For example, the rules must be developed and changed together, there must be some monitoring and the possibility of penalties which, however, should not be too restrictive (Ostrom 2009).

Consequently the prerequisites for a commons based economy is a functioning community and this needs communication and cooperation, an aspect that is also embedded in the concept of “Vorsorgendes Wirtschaften” where cooperation instead of competition is one of the three main principles of action. The activity of the communal definition and negotiation of rules is called commoning. This process is explicitly important in a surrounding that deals with the organization of common property. When people are involved in the definition of rules and perceive them as meaningful, they are much more likely to accept them. Furthermore this process of finding shared solutions carries the possibility for personal growth and the development of self-confidence, deeper connections to others and a stronger care for the community (Acksel 2015).

In this process, community gardens play an important role and our project INSIEME has a strong contribution to this development, since one of the two core aims of the project is community-building by involving people in community action through structuring a framework of interaction and collaboration and thus raising the sense of responsibility for and connectedness to the own neighborhood. Consequently, we would go so far as to define a subfield of Eco-Social Design described as design for commoning that deliberately creates opportunities and learning spaces of community building and other capacities for alternative economic practices, in contrast to – how we would call it – design for individualization, which reproduces the ideals of neoliberalism.

Another aspect in our project that also affects alternative concepts of ownership is the fact that we provide our whole process, our methods and materials online, free for others to redo the project (e.g. in other community gardens), to use our material, to adjust and develop the idea further. This open source aspect is especially important for us since we as designers see ourselves as facilitators to enable others to continue the idea in a self-organized way and to recreate and implement the idea in other contexts.

This represents our second core aim: We designed the project as a process of co-learning and exchange of knowledge. We follow the maxim that everybody benefits from sharing knowledge and that after all, people have more fruitful learning experiences by learning from each other in real life, face-to-face situations.

Of course relearning skills that have been lost in the course of division of labour, industrialization, external supply and mass production is also an important step towards a more sustainable future and the building of more resilient and self-sufficient communities. Offering these workshops of co-learning fosters the implementation of subsistence-oriented practices into everyday life and helps setting oneself apart from a life of consuming industrial products. Focusing on the topic of producing beverages supports this effect since drinking is a fundamental human need and daily action. Also the joint elaboration of knowledge about wild herbs and the medical properties of the plants strengthens self-sufficiency. The final (physical) product, the beverages, are – in the current state of the project – intended for self-consumption.

We also see the physical results as an important part of the project as they are community-products created from local resources in a valuable process of co-learning and interaction that fosters social inclusion and therefore also stands as a symbol of a shared vision for a sustainable, just and caring way of living.

Acksel, Britta et. al. (2015): Commoning- Perspectives on Conviviality. Commoners reply to the Convivilist Manifesto.

Bollier, David (2015): To Make Hope Possible Rather Than Despair Convincing. Remarkts by David Bollier, Commons Strategies Group (Bolliers Hampshire Talk)

Ostrom, Elinor (2009): Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. Nobel Price Lecture


Author: Isabella Kellermeier


Environmental Perspective

For the classical economic view, nature is only perceived as world stock of natural assets that enable humans to flourish and that goes under the name of natural capital. Therefore Nature is seen as a supplier of resources necessary and as a collection sink for our waste. This idea was born during three hundred years of economics theories and is due to the category of separation according to which humans and economies are disconnected from nature that is heeded as endlessly productive. Opposite to this, the project INSIEME promotes the vision of nature as a cooperative economic actor. The idea of working with nature and with what is given within our boundaries of intervention are the founding principle of the project.

The project INSIEME has been run also within the new concept of (re)productivity introduced by the theories of Eco-Social Economics that point out how economies must “focus on natural productivity rather than on natural capital and on processes rather than on stocks.” (ppt. 2 – Consequence for Eco-Social Economics) (Re)productivity is a mediation category in opposition to the mainstream separation category and consists of two main points. The first one means to integrate the production and consumption process into nature. The second step, however, involves the integration of unpaid labour and this mainly concerns the social sphere of sustainable development.

Concerning this two concepts described, the project INSIEME can be seen as a step forward environmental sustainability according to four choices the team made. First of all the choice of making drinks was partly driven by the dimension of the garden and the observation of plants that grow there. Moreover producing and consuming vegetable would have overcome the effective dimensions and possibility of comun’Orto. Instead in this way we were able to use a smaller amount of plants in order to maintain the reproductivity of the garden and enough free space to be cultivated by other people. The second aspect has been the attention we gave to the quantity of certain plants we could gather. For example, we decided not to pick raspberry leaves to be dried according to the life cycle of these plants. In Fact, they fructify all the summertime and depriving them of too many leaves would have meant reducing their productivity. The third choice concerns the choice of packaging. We decided to ask participants to carry reused jars. In addition, we also prefer to upcycle rubber bands rather than glue to apply our etiquettes to the product. Moreover, we decided to package the herbal teas using baking paper and coloured tape, materials that can be normally found in every house. Finally the last aspect we would like to point out concerns the choice of building a solar dryer that facilitates the process of drying plants and fruits without consuming electricity. Furthermore, we designed this artifact according to the material that was already present in the workshop where we build it and trying to reduce wood leftover to the minimum.


Author: Anita Ferro Milone

Social Perspective

This project wants to lay the bases to create a community based on principles of cooperation. The workshops proposed the method of interaction within the participants to establish social exchange and utilize commons based open source knowledge.

In the feminist economics the concept of (re)productivity became the dominant mode of all active life. In the feminist concept the labour change its meaning by integrating the reproductive work and the caring economy. In our case the concept of caring labour has a particular meaning. In the project there are cases of not paid work that nevertheless might be solved with the creation of partnerships with the municipality and local associations. This, for example, happens already with the social workers of Hotel Quercia and Carlo Bettinelli, who is responsible of organizing the community garden.

Another aspect of the feminist economy that is very important in our project is the idea that all persons are necessary, including every race, age and gender. Everybody is needed and included. In fact one of the central aspects of the project is that of creating connections between people with different cultures, age and gender. The educational aspect the skills shared are evident in the project INSIEME, through a participatory method the people were able, during the workshops, to combine their skills and learn from each other. In our case we were using the socratic method, also known as maieutics method. This is a “form of cooperative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions”. In the project this dialectical method was involving the participants in activities that enables the discussion. We designed different kinds of media for the workshops that help the people to interact. For example in the first workshop of making syrups we designed a booklet that always two people who did not know each other before were filling out together. There were personal questions about the cultures, different ways of preparing and consuming drinks and a part of creating a new recipe. So the booklet was the mediator that fostered the communication between the participants.

In the second workshop about wild edible plants we prepared posters that, after a short walk with an expert, could be filled out together. The task was creating a summary of important information of the wild plants by researching together in specific books and asking the expert. Another aspect of this activity was to design a sensual description of the plant. This especially involved a lot of personal exchange and discussion. We could observe that the activities were resulting in fruitful conversations during the workshops. Also the artifacts were supporting the crossing of the language barriers that were present in some cases. Concerning the language barrier we were also using images to explain important parts of the workshops.


Author: Ivana Bertola

Prospective View of the Concept

One of the future potentials of the project is the creation of a community enterprise for those produced drinks. This includes the possibility to provide also some monetary outcome and especially meets the needs of refugees and asylum seekers who are looking for job opportunities. Imaginable ways of distributing the products are to offer the drinks at events, to build a system that follows the example of community-supported agriculture or providing them through a GAS (gruppo di acquisto solidale).

Of course, pursuing this approach it must be borne in mind that the original ideals and values are not lost and only the production is at the forefront. The plan of building a community-run business model requires again a distinct and careful process of commoning in order to prevent the danger of turning this common space of self-development and freedom into a market oriented place and it has to be mediated how the profit that is being made is distributed.