Knowledge and learning challenges
Many ECOLISE members have undertaken initiatives to engage with the formal knowledge sector (research and education) in order to strengthen their own work in knowledge and learning. These experiences have revealed a number of general challenges:
- Inadequate documentation and evaluation.
- Most projects and other activities of CLIs are documented and evaluated inadequately, if at all. Practitioners may not see through documentation and evaluation as an important priority; they may lack the time, energy and/or skills to undertake it effectively; and they rarely have access to suitable infrastructure and specialist support that would allow thorough documentation and robust evaluation. This limits the scope for incremental learning and sharing of experience. It also means that the relatively small number of projects that are well-documented and reported come to dominate understanding, although they may be unrepresentative of community-led movements as a whole.
- Fragmentation and dispersal of learning.
- Knowledge generation processes undertaken by, within, on and in support of CLIs mostly operate on an ad hoc basis. Documentation and analysis are often selective. Outputs may be distributed across different media and formats. Project planning and design are rarely informed by any comprehensive assessment of existing relevant literature and other information. This limits the scope for collective learning and knowledge sharing and co-creation across projects, initiatives, networks and domains of action.
- Extractive research approaches
- Formal research such as that undertaken by universities and other professional research bodies often takes the form of 'mining' communities and CLIs as sources of data and credibility, without offering any direct or indirect benefits and using methods and procedures that limit possibilities for co-creation, benefit sharing, practical application and other forms of constructive engagement
- Difficulty of accessing relevant academic knowledge
- Most academic research outputs are in formats that are not easily put to practical use. Formal academic publications often use inaccessible language and technical concepts. Many are more concerned with academic debates that practical applications. Academic literatures are not easy for non-specialists to find their way around in order to locate documents of interest. Many are hidden behind paywalls and not available to anyone outside universities.
- Lack of recognition of informal knowledge
- Practical, experiential and/or informal knowledge created and held by practitioners is often not valued or taken seriously, treated as something inferior rather than complementary to academic and other formal knowledge. Equitable and inclusive knowledge co-creation is rare, and non-academic knowledge not mobilised and deployed to its full potential.
Addressing these challenges has been a key goal of the work of ECOLISE's knowledge and learning working group, building on and linking closely with prior and ongoing work by the Permaculture Association Research Working Group, Transition Research Network and GEN Research Working Group, with the input of specialised members, particularly in the research field, such as FCiencias.Id, the Schumacher Institute and DRIFT. The current focus is creation of a knowledge commons as a medium for inclusive, open source creation and sharng of knowledge that is adaptable to a range of circumstances and uses.
Creation and operation of a knowledge commons raise their own implementation challenges. These include:
- Initiating and sustaining user communities
- How to ensure that users enjoy immediate and direct benefits to their work, and so are incentivised to use the knowledge commons and contribute to its development
- Adopting new working habits
- Using the knowledge commons as a resource involves adjusting workflows and adopting new working habits that incorporate the relevant tools. This seems onerous at first, and requires an adjustment period and time of reduced apparenty productivity and efficiency before benefits are realised.
- Open source procedures
- Knowledge generation and collaborative working in the knowledge commons can be very transparent, which can be disconcerting for people not used to working that way