Libre knowledge and sustainability
This page was prompted by the discussion "Community Note on Development knowledge ecology" on the KM4Dev mailing list (May 2011). An essay on this topic would be a useful link for several pages which mention sustainability in the context of libre knowledge (e.g. Declaration on libre knowledge and the Libre knowledge page itself - see Resources and Related Pages below).
I also find ecological metaphors and language useful for describing and reaching new insights concerning "socially based living systems". Just one thing concerns me at times when thinking about knowledge resources, business models and sustainability.
By knowledge resources I mean digital resources such as software, e-books and other on-line knowledge/learning resources.
These are non-rivalrous - if I give you a copy, I still have mine (no matter how many copies are made), and if the resource may be adapted for (and by) the recipient who may improve the resource and share the result, we all gain.
This approach leads to "services-based" business models: e.g. selling know-how (time) while offering services such as translation, localisation, custom packaging, learning design innovation, training, support, distribution, ....
An alternative approach is "product-based": selling the knowledge resources themselves or licences to use them. For this to be effective, the seller has to create a type of artificial scarcity so that the resources may not be shared freely (by restricting access in some way).
Apart from the ethical problems with the latter approach (restricting freedom to help one's neighbour and community), selling non-rivalrous resources while consuming rivalrous resources (food, oil, ...) purchased via the profits and generating waste is not sustainable.
If we think of knowledge resources (non-rivalrous) in the same way we think of natural resources (rivalrous), unsustainable "ecosystems" will result (where these ecosystems include the natural ecosystems on which the people involved depend for survival).
There may be times when an analogy is taken too far, and some of the assumptions need to be checked and made explicit.
On the other hand, perhaps the analogy should be extended to embrace us and what we are doing. We, as part of the "socially based living systems" we love to describe in ecological terms are also part of a real ecological system (on planet earth) and should be mindful of the interconnections.
Disentangling interconnections across social, economic and biophysical systems is always challenging.
In this context (km4[s]dev), legal systems currently provide incentives to enclose knowledge. For example, long copyright terms (see a brief history of copyright) provide an incentive towards unsustainable approaches (above). A work-around for this problem is to use the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence which is not only the most "pro-freedom" of the Creative Commons licences, but also the most "pro-sustainability".
- In general, the main point which needs to be clarified is the interdependence of social, economic and biophysical factors inherent in the word "sustainability".
- This usually requires a broader and longer term view of sustainability (e.g. beyond business viability from year to year).
- In the longer term, social factors may come into play e.g. if one does not consider transparency, inclucivity, equality and freedom from inception.
- If an electronic book costs more than its printed equivalent, what does that say for sustainability?
- How many people are making a living in an unsustainable industry?
- With current technology, the oil industry would be an example.
- Is the proprietary software industry another? (supporting their sales people, lawyers, software developers, executives, etc.)
- How can we change?
Resources and Related Pages
The following are also of relevance to knowledge management for sustainable development:
- Declaration on libre knowledge
- Barcelona Charter for Innovation Creativity and Access to Knowledge - Libre Interpretation
- Say libre
- Libre knowledge/discussion topics/cc-by vs cc-by-sa
Regarding how can we change, the following external resources might be of interest:
- Chris Jordan pictures some shocking stats - first understand who we are ....
- The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)