EcoliseWiki:A knowledge commons for community-led action on sustainability and climate change
ECOLISE is developing this new framework for collaborative production, sharing and implementation of knowledge. Integrating formal and informal modes of inquiry, documentation and evaluation, it is intended to be a tool to support and strengthen ongoing processes of action learning that lie at the heart of community-led action. For ECOLISE, it recognises the central role of knowledge and learning in our work and that of our members, as both networks and organisations, and seeks to support the relationships between Knowledge and Learning and the other key ECOLISE pillars of Communications and Policy. Operating in a federated fashion and based on open source platforms and working processes, it aims to meet the needs of diverse users and user groups throughout ECOLISE and wider allied networks.
The Knowledge Commons includes technical and social components: an information archive and user community. The information archive covers five main thematic areas: research, education, practice, mapping and media. In each of these areas, it combines technical platforms for the compilation, curation and generation of information at three successively more abstract levels: data, documents and patterns. Patterns synthesise the current state of knowledge on any topic, whether of greater or lesser scope, as multi-authored, mobile and dynamic information artefacts. The creation, application, evaluation and ongoing revision of patterns is envisaged to be the heart of the collaborative knowledge production processes undertaken by the user community.
The user community operates and maintains the knowledge commons via an agreed set of rules in use. These rules identify the rights and associated responsibilities of different users, describe how such rights are acquired and lost, and specify procedures for ensuring responsibilities are maintained and introducing appropriate sanctions when they are not. Users may potentially include anyone involved in or allied with ECOLISE able to benefit from and in some way contribute to the information archive (bearing in mind that usage alone constitutes a form of contribution). The ability to federate knowledge – to duplicate and separately modify fragments of the information archive, and selectively incorporate useful changes back into the main archive – allows user groups to work with autonomously, and the archive itself to capture a wide range of collective wisdom.
This wiki has been set up for development of the patterns that will form a key element of the information archive. For detailed information on the design of the knowledge commons and information archive and the conceptual ideas behind them, refer to the background pages.
Rationale and Concept
A key challenge for ECOLISE and many of its member organisations and networks is mobilising suitable evidence to help improve practice, inform strategic decisions, justify applications for funding and other support, and make a robust case for policy interventions. The existing evidence base is substantial, but highly fragmented and partial, much of it in forms that are not visible, available and/or accessible to practitioners and supporting organisations. No thorough overview of relevant information exists, nor are research and reporting efforts coordinated or integrated in any meaningful fashion. The contributions of research to practice are therefore haphazard at best. The overall research effort and levels of resourcing are tiny relative to the scale and importance of the subject area, and in the absence of any strategic coordination not leveraged to their full potential.
ECOLISE member organisations have made various efforts to address this situation, most notably development and implementation of the Research Strategy of the Permaculture Association (Britain) (leading to establishment of the Permaculture International Research Network), and establishment of the Transition Research Network (TRN) and GEN’s Ecovillage Research Working Group. All of these initiatives have been so far constrained by scarce and precarious access to funding and other resources. They share an understanding that all these movements operate as action learning networks: learning, monitoring and evaluation processes of varying degrees of formality are intrinsic to practice at all levels, and can exist in mutually enhancing relationships with more centralised and/or formal research. Each has developed in its own way, acquiring a particular set of insights, strengths and competences as well as weaknesses and unexplored areas.
The knowledge commons will serve to support, interconnect, integrate and harness synergies among these diverse efforts, and with relevant formal research. It will provide a shared platform for collaboration at all stages in the research cycle: problem definition, survey of existing knowledge, project conception and development, data gathering, analysis, interpretation, dissemination and overall reflection/evaluation. It will provide both technical resources and enhanced social and cultural capacity for such collaboration, within, across and beyond our member organisations and networks.
Learning from Nature: Endosymbiogenesis
A model for this effect drawn from nature is the process of endosymbiosis, through which several kinds of bacterial cell, having evolved in different ways, successively merged to form the first eukaryote cells. The emergent properties of this more complex cell type allowed it to become the basis of new forms of life, including the ancestors of all multicellular organisms, i.e. all animals, plants and fungi, including humans (Figure 1). The knowledge commons is intended to support a similar process of emergence among currently dispersed efforts at linking research and practical action, opening new possibilities beyond what has been achievable, perhaps even imaginable, until now.
File:Endosymbiogenesis.jpg Figure 1: Endosymbiotic Origins of the Eukaryote Cell
Aims of the Knowledge Commons:
- Create and maintain a dynamic and topical base of information on ECOLISE member networks and initiatives, their activities, projects and educational programmes, and associated research and publications
- Support integration, collaboration, synergy and emergence among various efforts at research networking and collaboration by ECOLISE members and their research partners (e.g. Transition Research Network, Permaculture International Research Network, Ecovillage Research, ECOLISE-RN)
- Enable research data, findings and outputs to feed into ECOLISE Communication and Policy work, as well as into the work of members and local initiatives, via clear and simple workflows
- Improve accessibility, dissemination, interpretation, communication, operationalisation and discussion of existing relevant research to ECOLISE and member organisations, initiatives and practitioners
- Facilitate interconnection and integration of formal research with practitioner-led and/or practitioner-focused research and informal action learning processes already taking place within practitioner networks
- Enable systemic thinking and systemic interventions
Objectives for the First Phase (to December 2017):
- Create and populate a prototype online platform for a shared knowledge base
- Create a draft set of working methods for building and sustaining user communities
- Establish and pilot internal workflows via use of the knowledge base to support creation of key ECOLISE outputs: Summary Report (Sept 2017), Status Report (March 2018) and one or more Policy Briefs
- Establish and pilot inter-organisational workflows via engagement with the Information for Action on Climate Change project (lead Permaculture Association)
- Set up and support pilot user/custodian communities in key subject areas (provisionally: Psychology of Change, Community-Local Government Interactions, Monitoring and Evaluation, Economic Alternatives)
- Identify key knowledge gaps and needs, hence support identification of research and learning priorities
- Evaluate all of the above and modify pilot processes and structure accordingly
Major Components of the Knowledge Commons
According to an analytical framework for understanding knowledge commons developed by Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess, an information commons has three main components:
1. An information archive (its technical medium, information content, and organisational architecture)
2. A set of agreed rules for its use and governance ('Rules-in-Use')
3. A defined community of users and curators who maintain the archive, determine and enforce the rules-in-use, monitor their outcomes, and on the basis of this adapt both the archive itself and the rules in use in ongoing fashion.
A knowledge commons additionally includes the wider field of deployment of this information in practical action. In the case of ECOLISE this consists of the ongoing work of member organisations, projects and initiatives. The curator community is a subset of this user community, mandated by this community to hold defined rights that allow them to exercise specific responsibilities in relation to governance and decision-making. The key concern at this point is design of the information archive. Treating current internal projects (production of a Summary Report and Status Report) as a rapid prototype of this provides an opportunity to help reconcile short-term priorities for timely delivery with the creation of effective working methods and tools sustainable in the longer term.