Monday, May 19, 2008

The Knowledge Commons

The idea of knowledge as a commons, something shared by a group of people and challenged by social dilemmas, is an interesting topic in our digital age and usefully played with in the volume edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), is a good place to start. The essays in this volume are grouped by studying the knowledge commons, protecting the knowledge commons, and building the knowledge commons. And the volume brings together a group of leading researchers and proponents of this concept – including Hess and Ostrom, David Bollier, James Boyle, and Donald Waters – commenting on new standards and initiatives such as the Open Archive Initiative, MIT Dspace, digital libraries, and so forth.

One of the more interesting commentaries comes from Peter Levine in discussing the knowledge commons and community projects, with some connection to what academics do. Levine writes, “Academics are strongly influenced by policies regarding funding, hiring, promotion, and tenure. Often universities that compete internationally for academic prominence do not reward applied research – let alone service – despite rhetoric to the contrary” (p. 261). Levine adds, “Fortunately, universities do reward scholars who break new ground in their disciplines by working with communities. Thus is a strategy of using community engagement to achieve genuine scholarly insight is better suited to the existing academic marketplace than a strategy based on ‘service’” (p. 263). Some interesting ideas to reflect on by faculty in professional schools in research universities.

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