Knowledge commons: starting simple

So much is revealed with an example of very small scope.

Having been unexpectedly busy today, I wanted to write just a short piece starting to talk about the scope of knowledge commons, making it clear first that I'm just talking about how I see things, not what is written in the literature.

Another clarification: to me, the concept of knowledge commons includes information commons, but goes beyond it. So, the scope of knowledge commons includes information commons.

I was looking around to find some really simple examples to start off with a very simple example, and I thought of something that is quite common in many shared households: some kind of wall calendar. This is the simplest example that I can think of that is widely shared, and actually uses some technology, in this case, a writing implement and a writing surface. Some people use a calendar printed on paper or card; other people use a blackboard or whiteboard. If seen examples in many families and communities, including co-housing. So how is this a commons?

Well, there is a body of knowledge there. It's everyday knowledge, of course, and informal. The content is whatever is agreed on, and it is possible that different people put different things on there. Who is here or not on different days? What visitors are coming? Who is cooking, or serving in other ways? Who is going where, and can take others, go shopping, etc.? Shopping lists themselves tend not to be integrated, and to me look less like a knowledge commons.

It is both created and used by the same people, and benefits them, by helping coordination. These people are the commoners. If you have lived with anyone, I probably don't need to tell you about how this isn't as easy or as straightforward as it might appear to people who haven't tried it. And the difficulties point to interesting features of knowledge commons.

People can disagree on the technology. Some people prefer to rely on being told by word of mouth, and relying on memory or just asking when a question comes up. Some people like writing on the wall, but may disagree on the writing technology and the location. Others like some computer-based shared system, where there are also many different choices, and perhaps even more room for different preferences.

The actual content, examples mentioned above, is a big point of possible disagreement and differing opinion. What people might be disagreeing about, underneath, is what information they find useful to be able to read on a shared wall-calendar, and what they prefer to keep in their heads.

But then, perhaps the major point of disagreement, points to the vital aspect of any commons: their governance. Who is going to take the responsibility to put information there? When will it be put there? Is it going to be checked and changed if something changes, so that it is kept up to date, and people can rely on it? Is it intended as a substitute for telling other people face-to-face, so that if you write it on the calendar then you can count that as telling people, or do people need telling directly as well? And if people are going to be told directly anyway, would it not be enough for just one person to maintain it?

It fascinates me how much of commons thinking surfaces in this almost trivial example. And this points, perhaps, to a test for how commons-oriented people are. Can they agree on and maintain a shared wall calendar? If they can't, what does that say about the skills and competences of the people involved?

This starts off addressing the matter of scope from the small end, but it needs more, and maybe next time I'll take a look at the other end of the spectrum. And I hope to return to the topic of the abilities or competences for being a commoner at a later date.


Topics: Knowledge commons


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