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Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century is a Course

Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century

Ended Aug 18, 2019

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Full course description

Course Date:

Mar 25 - Aug 18, 2019


8 weeks


4-6 hrs/week



Course Type:





Towards Co-operative CommonWealth is a master class in movement building for a new model of political economy that is sustainable, democratic, and socially just. Offered by the Synergia Institute and Athabasca University, it sets out the practical models and pathways for meaningful systems change at multiple levels. The goal: to better secure our basic needs for land, food, livelihood, social care, energy, finance and more in these increasingly difficult times.

The course is suitable for newcomers to social change work as well as veteran activists, practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers. Individuals on their own and people working for social change through organizations, networks, and movements can leverage the course material and the expertise of the Synergia team to advance their own projects and activist work locally.

The course is offered in two sections: Section 1 is 4 modules over 4 weeks starting March 25th, followed by a 4 week intellectual pause to catch your breath from April 22 till May 20th, and Section 2 starts another 4 Modules from May 20th to June 22.

Following the course, feedback from the Synergia team will be available for three weeks to promote application of course ideas & models to your own projects or work.


  • Outline and explain the problematic, and transformative vision.
  • Discuss emerging food system alternatives and strategies for transitioning to just, sustainable food systems.
  • Recognize the role of public policy and bottom-up innovation in renewable community energy.
  • Become familiar with the interplay of assumptions, interests, power, and technology feeding the growing precariousness of livelihoods and the implications for human wellbeing, and to explore emerging sector-, policy-, and place-based alternatives.
  • Outline the philosophy, rationale, and organizational forms of user-controlled models of health and social care.
  • Discuss enclosure, and the alternatives of commons and land trusts.
  • Describe community development finance and co-operative capital raising and their potential to secure democratic and socially directed investment for the common good.
  • Synthesize key ideas and practices that define systemic transition.

Target Audience: We imagine that if you were attracted to this course, you will be someone who shares our general world view and vision, and wants to broaden and deepen it and join us and others to develop it. That is its principal purpose, but a secondary purpose is to link people and projects that share these views in practical ways. You are likely to be people who are already engaged in social change work in three crucial movements – co-operation, commons, and sustainability. Most are already actively working to make this world view a reality. You may be active in the environmental movement, human or animal rights, social equality and development, the solidarity economy, co-operative finance and alternative currencies; the Transition Movement, permaculture, local food, eco-villages, the digital commons, peer-to-peer and open educational resources, community energy or many others.

Course is offered by Athabasca University in collaboration with Synergia.

"System Change Not Climate Change" Banner photo is copyright (c) 2009 by Kris Krüg and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Course Instructors

John Restakis

John Restakis

John Restakis is a co-founder of Synergia Institute and lead author of the Social Care module. Read More.

He is former Executive Director of Community Evolution Foundation and former ED of the BC Co-operative Association in Vancouver, a position he held for sixteen years. His professional background includes community organizing, adult and popular education, and co-op development. He is Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Development, Simon Fraser University, BC and is Research Associate for Co-operatives UK.

Restakis was Research Co-ordinator for the FLOK Project in Ecuador on Social Knowledge and the Social Economy and developed policy on Social Infrastructure and Institutional Innovation. Restakis also advised Syriza on the development of the social and solidarity economy in Greece. He does consulting work on international co-op and community economic development projects, researches and teaches on co-operative economies and the social economy, and lectures widely on the subject of globalization, regional development, and alternative economics. He is the author of Humanizing the Economy – Co-operatives in the Age of Capital.

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

Michael is well known in Canada and internationally as a practitioner, author, educator, and leader in the field of Community Economic Development and the social economy. Read More.

His experience cuts across the full range of functions connected to community renewal and development. He has built and advised a wide range of businesses, organizations and governments all over Canada and internationally. An innovator, activist and thinker with a penchant for linking practice with policy and the micro and macro, Mike is a co-founder of Synergia Institute. He is adjunct professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Athabasca University and co-author (with Pat Conaty) of The Resilience Imperative: Co-Operative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy. He has taken the lead in the design, curation and much of the writing of 7 of the 8 modules and worked in close collaboration with co-lead Dr. Mike Gismondi and several of the module instructors. He will be monitoring and interacting with participants throughout the course.

Julie MacArthur

Julie MacArthur

Julie is instructor and co-author of the Energy module and will moderate the energy democracy week. Read More.

Her research explores the politics of community renewable energy policy and the potential of small-scale project actors to shape the form and effectiveness of new climate policy initiatives. She is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at University of Auckland, and the author of Empowering Electricity: Co-operatives, Sustainability and Power Sector Reform in Canada (2016, UBC Press), together with a range of policy briefs, journal articles and other pieces on energy politics and policy. Julie is also a research associate in the University of Auckland Energy Centre and the Public Policy Institute.

Pat Conaty

Pat Conaty

Pat is co-author of the Livelihood and Finance modules. A Californian working in England and Wales, Pat has worked with New Economics Foundation since 1987 and is research associate of Co-operatives UK. Read More.

He specializes in action research, education and development that focuses on successful methods of social economic innovation. Pat has been working on introducing other innovative forms of co-operative economic democracy, including Union co-ops, community land trusts for housing and workspace, social co-operatives for care services and ecological co-operatives for green energy and local food systems.

Inspired by the work of the late Elinor Ostrom, Pat also specializes in innovative work on Commons solutions, many of which are covered in his 2012 book with Mike Lewis, The Resilience Imperative: Co-operative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy. The theme of the book is practical solutions for the Great Transition that co-develop commonwealth in ways to meet basic needs for equitable co-operative finance, right livelihoods, low-cost housing, local food and renewable energy.

Tim Crabtree

Tim Crabtree

Tim Crabtree is Senior Lecturer in Economics at Schumacher College, working part-time on the MA in Economics for Transition. Read More.

Tim is instructor for the food module. He has been involved in “new economics” for 30 years, after studying economics at Oxford University and then working for the New Economics Foundation for 5 years. He has experience in policy development, local economic development and business advice, and was the co-founder of a number of a successful social enterprises including the Wessex Reinvestment Trust group and Dorset-based Local Food Links Ltd – where he was responsible for developing farmers’ markets, food festivals, community gardening projects, a specialist workspace (the Centre for Local Food, a vocational training programme for young people and a school meals catering service, employing 25 people, which now supplies 33 schools with a turnover in excess of £1 million p.a.

Tim worked for Cardiff University, researching the future direction of the community food sector. He continues to work with one of the Wessex Reinvestment Trust social enterprises - Wessex Community Assets - which co-ordinates the UK's largest programme of community land trust housing, as well as supporting community share issues in areas such as renewable energy and local food. Tim Crabtree helps to co-ordinate Wessex Community Assets’ focus on research and innovation – in particular exploring new approaches in the field of community led housing. This links with an action research PhD he is undertaking with the Plymouth University- Schumacher College Research Node. Tim will be the lead instructor for the Food Module.

Robin Murray

Robin Murray

The late Robin Murray was involved from outset in development of Synergia and the idea of the MOOC. He was the team’s advisor and inspiration. Read More.

An industrial economist Robin was a consultant on industrial strategies and development issues to a wide range of governments, and served as Director of Industry in the Greater London Council in the 1980s and Director of the Ontario Community Economic Development Secretariat in that Canadian province in the 1990s.

In the field of development he co-founded Twin and Twin Trading in 1985. Twin works with existing farmers’ co-operatives, and helps establish new ones, while Twin Trading imports and sells their products in the UK. They have in turn established producer co-owned branding companies, in coffee, chocolate, fresh fruit and nuts. Twin acts as a trading and marketing arm for some 300,000 small farmers in co-operative networks.

Robin also co-founded the environmental partnership Ecologika, whose members work in the fields of waste, energy, transport, food and health. As a group they played a major role in the re-direction of UK waste policy over the past decade, including new venture formation. Robin co-authored The Open Book of Social Innovation.

Mike Gismondi

Mike Gismondi

One of the co-founders of Synergia Institute, an adult educator, and distance education practitioner with Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University, Mike Gismondi worked closely with Mike Lewis and the module authors to guide the online development of the Synergia MOOC. Read More.

He acknowledges the institutional support of Athabasca University, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the people at CANVAS, and his professional colleagues at Athabasca U. Special thanks to Lori Claerhout for her support and accompaniment in life, and for donating many hours of professional help to the Synergia authors and the greater cause.

Mike trained as a sociologist with a focus on bottom-up grassroots initiated social change, whether popular struggles in Central America and the developing world, or the struggles by the public to be heard in environmental conflicts in his own Canadian backyard. He has written widely on public participation, forestry and tar sands issues, and socio-ecological and energy transition topics. He first met many his colleagues in this project while researching social economy in Canada and internationally with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Alliance (BALTA, 2006-2012). Later, he co-led the BALTA Scaling Innovation for Sustainability (SIS) research partnership (2012–2015), where he focused on resolving ecological and social inequality in systems change. Mike co-edited Scaling Up: The Convergence of Social Economy and Sustainability (2016). Currently, he is working with community actors undertaking utility scale solar energy generation projects, researching the obstacles and opportunities for energy democracy in oil rich Alberta, Canada.

Mike and his Synergia colleagues designed this MOOC in a connectivist way, bringing practitioners into the curriculum design and teaching roles, and inviting community changemakers to participate in horizontal discussions with their peers who are working across diverse sectors to advance socially and ecologically just systems change. You can follow our research into using Moocs for changemaking at Mike G's ResearchGate page.