Evolution and future of the Knowledge Commons: emerging opportunities and challenges for less developed societies.

Dear Hannah, Jaap, Laxmi, Linda, Marina, Manuel, Patrick and Valerie, and of course, Sebastiao (anyone else reading this who would like to join in is welcome too, of course)

Based on Peter Bury's request, let's try to have a discussion here on Sebastiao's paper with the following planning (because I too see the sense in keeping these sorts of discussions together):

Week 1: Posting of general comments about the paper (starting from Monday 28 May)
Week 2: Posting of specific comments on how the paper can be improved/focused for publication in the journal (starting from Monday 4 June)
Week 3: Sebastiao responds to these comments and there can be some interaction within the whole group related to comments and response (starting from Monday 11 June)

Regards

Sarah

Please see below the original mail I sent to KM4Dev-l:

Dear All

Sebastiao Ferreira - who wrote the paper which appeared in the KM4D
Journal on the New Enlightenment. Remember that one? You can find the
final version here
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/18716340903201470 (If you
can't access the author copy will shortly be available on the KM4Dev
wiki but is currently to be found here:
http://thegiraffe.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/km4d-journal-vol5-iss...)
- has just written a new IKM Working Paper on the knowledge commons.
At my suggestion, Sebastiao is interested in taking part in a peer
review process with a view to using these comments to revise the
working paper for publication in the KM4D Journal. I'm suggesting this
because I think the paper is very interesting and would a good focus
for discussion and reflection.

I think it would be great if we could hold a roundtable peer review -
like the one in which Valerie Brown, Patrick Lambe and Nancy White
reviewed the paper by Alfonso Acuna on ''Knowledge management for
development communities: balancing in the thin divide between tacit
and codified knowledge'' - and I'm looking for volunteers.

Full details comprise:
Sebastiao Darlan Mendonça Ferreira (2012) Evolution and future of the
Knowledge Commons: emerging opportunities and challenges for less
developed societies. IKM Working Paper No. 15 March 2012, 37pp.

Here is the abstract:
This working paper addresses the emerging field of the knowledge
commons in relation to the challenges of international development. It
reviews the history of academic knowledge since the Enlightenment, its
evolution and current trends, with the purpose of exploring the future
of the knowledge commons. Assuming that knowledge is the most
important resource in the twenty-first century, the intention of this
article is to map the conditions necessary to take advantage of this
resource. What are the barriers to accessing and using the common pool
of knowledge that is currently being generated? The supply and the
demand sides of the knowledge sharing equation are reviewed to
understand their particularities and trends. Particular attention is
given to the demand side of this equation in order to identify the
obstacles that prevent people from less developed countries from
taking full advantage of this fast-growing resource.

The Working Paper will be on the IKM website very soon but if you'd
like a copy before then, just let me know.

Regards

Sarah

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Here are my first comments on the above paper. This first quote emphasises the enormous growth in the supply of knowledge:

From 1650 to the current day, 50 million academic articles have accumulated and more than 1.5 million are written each year. Concomitant with this growing wealth of knowledge is the expanding social outreach of digital technologies and mobile devices that facilitate access to the knowledge pool. (p.4)

 

This paper addresses the knowledge commons from the perspective of the challenges of international development. I really like it because it takes a holistic approach to development knowledge and what it calls the knowledge commons. The dualisms of enclosure (intellectual property protection) versus disclosure (open acess) and supply (financial cost, digital divide, language, fragmentation, knowledge and meta-knowledge quality and knowledge structure) versus demand of knowledge are really interesting, I particularly like the emphasis on the demand side, namely cognitive awareness (or blindness), absorptive capacity and conditions for application in developing countries. Sebastiao argues that the demand side is the biggest challenge, and is the one that receives the least attention:

 

To address the challenges of the demand side, the article conceptualizes cognition as a socially distributed phenomenon, analyzing the requirements for absorbing and applying knowledge, and taps into the literature on three types of knowledge communities; such as thought collectives (Fleck, 1979; Sadi, 2001), epistemic communities (Hass, 1992) and communities of practice (Wenger, 2006; Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002). (p.5)

 

The paper reviews the history of academic knowledge since the Enlightenment, its evolution and current trends, with the purpose of exploring the future of the knowledge commons.

 

In more general terms, I think the paper is very well written. I like the way it identifies the premises on which it is based:

 

To approach the relationship between knowledge, technological innovation and economic development, the article relies on the historical work and concepts of knowledge developed by Joel Mokyr (2002a; 2002b; 2005) and Simon Kuznets (1955). To analyze the institutional components of the knowledge commons, the article relies on the Institutional Analysis and Development framework created by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (2007), while the analysis of the absorptive capacity is based on the conceptualization developed by Wesley Cohen and Daniel Levinthal (1990). (p. 5)

 

I also really enjoyed the discussion about different types of knowledge. This is usually quite dry in most articles – and I often think it is too much – but in this case it informed me about the different types of knowledge. I also liked the description of the knowledge commons:

 

Shared knowledge assets refers to knowledge that is collectively held by community members or which is in the public domain, theoretically accessible to everyone, such as basic sciences, mathematics, classical literature, demographic information, or the set of skills that is shared by social groups such as technical and aesthetic skills collectively cultivated by a community of tool makers. Knowledge commons refers to this second type of knowledge asset. (p11)

The only occasion where I don't agree is when Sebastiao writes that 'ideas are non-rivalrous goods' (p. 13). I think that this is not at all the case. Certainly under the pressures of 'publish and perish' which is characteristic of academia, ideas are often highly rivalrous.

I agree with Sarah that the paper is well written with identification of relevant literature. The paper outlines public and private good nature of knowledge, and identifies  the supply side and demand side challenges of knowledge production, storage, exchange, regulation.  While this paper can be a potentially original contribution to the journal addressing the supply side and demand side challenges of knowledge commons thinking in the context of international development, I find that there is enough scope to improve the objective, focus and empirical content of the paper.

From the abstract I feel that this paper is a bit ambitious. I am copying a few lines of the abstract here:

"This article addresses the emerging field of the knowledge commons in relation to the challenges of international development [emphasis added]. It reviews the history of academic knowledge since the Enlightenment, its evolution and current trends, with the purpose of exploring the future of the knowledge commons. Assuming that knowledge is the most important resource in the twenty-first century, the intention of this article is to map the conditions necessary [emphasis added] to take advantage of this resource."

There are a host of challenges in international development and it is not clear which particular challenge this paper aims to address. What conditions are necessary to what end?

Honestly I am not clear about the objective of the paper. Is it addressing demand side challenges of the emerging field of knowledge commons in the context of international development? If this is the case, this paper need to bring literature and empirical material from the field of international development.

If the objective is to map the conditions necessary to put knowledge commons thinking into international development practice, the author may need to discuss Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom's (2007) knowledge commons framework bringing empirical material from international development.

In the current from, I think that the paper has done neither of the above sufficiently and clearly. The paper particularly suffers from a lack of empirical material.

The paper identifies thought collectives, communities of practice and epistemic communities as three types of knowledge communities, but again at the conceptual level. Other missing concepts are communities of interest, strategic alliance, learning alliance and learning networks. The author could identify various knowledge communities in action from the region he is most familiar with, and analyze them using the knowledge commons framework, particularly whether and how these knowledge communities address demand side and supply side challenges to putting knowledge commons thinking into practice. One example could be the zero tillage network in Brazil.

Ekboir, J. (2003). Research and technology policies in innovation systems: zero tillage in Brazil. Research Policy, 32, 537-586. Javier Ekboir may also have written about more recent updates on this initiative.

For me the current from of the paper is more of a well written literature review than empirically grounded research paper. It is also possible to publish this paper as a literature review with some revisions, including the title. Depending on which route Sebastiao decides to go, I can give more specific comments on the paper. For me most attractive route to travel would be putting knowledge commons thinking into international development practice with specific focus on demand side challenges faced be various knowledge commons initiatives. This would also be within the scope of the journal where this paper is being reviewed for publication.

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