About GKC

Welcome, from the GKC team. The Workshop on Governing Knowledge Commons, or GKC for short, organizes and publishes research on knowledge commons governance, intending to develop a systematic, empirical basis for understanding the virtues, drawbacks, and mechanics of institutions for sharing knowledge, information, and data. The GKC framework, first published in 2010, underlies the entire GKC research project.

For a brief overview of knowledge commons, enjoy this video, produced by the International Association for the Study of Commons.

For a deeper look, begin with this: knowledge commons means shared governance of knowledge, information, and data resources. For that content, many legal systems, including intellectual property law and privacy law, usually recommend exclusivity and ownership. For much of the same material, knowledge commons governance usually recommends collaboration and community.

Neither style of thinking or form of public policy is inherently better. Both, in context, can be effective. Knowing when and knowing how require empirical research as well as theory and ideology. The scope of knowledge commons in practice is vast. Knowledge commons governance is used widely across sectors, from science, medicine, and health, to climate and the environment, to computing systems of all sorts, to arts and culture throughout history, to research and education, to community development, and to industry and agriculture. .

The scope of GKC research is equally broad. How are knowledge, information, and other shared intellectual resources governed? What resources matter?  What challenges and opportunities do they present? How do knowledge commons governance institutions begin? Thrive? Fail? What are the strengths and weaknesses of informal norms shared by self-managed groups?  What are the roles of the state and of technology?

The GKC research framework, which organizes those questions into a systematic form, is motivated by the style of research pioneered by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues, for which Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. Ostrom demonstrated convincingly and empirically that the so-called “tragedy of the commons” was neither a normal nor natural result of sharing resources. Commons, as a form of collective action, could provide a sustainable and successful alternative to governing resources as private property.

While similar in style to Ostrom’s work — pursuing systematic, empirical approach to governance of shared resources — the GKC approach differs in substance. Knowledge, information, and data governance pose opportunities and social dilemmas that aren’t always evident in the world of biophysical resources. Knowledge resources may not be Common Pool Resources; a “tragedy of the commons” may not be the key threat to productive development or distribution of knowledge.

Here are excellent starting points for understanding the GKC research framework and getting started on GKC-themed research:

A brief description of knowledge commons and knowledge commons governance.

A brief explanation of the Governing Knowledge Commons research framework.

Last updated: March 2021