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About the Workshop

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About the Workshop

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.

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.

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

About Knowledge Commons

Knowledge commons means governance of shared knowledge, information, and data resources in some community or collective setting. That material is typically shared either by design or by circumstance or both. Its shared character both creates and solves social dilemmas. (The so-called “tragedy of the commons” is one example of a possible social dilemma, but it’s far from the only possibility.) Society typically looks to governance systems to help us address those dilemmas. For knowledge, information, and data, many governance systems, including intellectual property law and privacy law, usually recommend governance anchored in core concepts of exclusivity and ownership. For much of the same material, knowledge commons usually recommends governance anchored in core concepts of collaboration and community.

Neither style of governance and related law and public policy is inherently better. Both, in context, can be effective in addressing social dilemmas and advancing social goals. Knowing when and knowing how require empirical research as well as theory and ideology.

Knowledge Commons Research

The scope of GKC research as broad as knowledge commons themselves. 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? Change? Fail? What roles do formal legal systems play in reinforcing or undermining knowledge commons governance? What are the strengths and weaknesses of informal norms in advancing knowledge commons governance? What are the roles of the state and of technology in defining conditions under which knowledge commons might flourish – or not?

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. Ostrom’s “design principles” for managing a commons are neither natural starting points nor natural conclusions with respect to shared knowledge resources.

Getting Started: the GKC Framework

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

Last updated: May 2022