- 1 Introducing our initiative
- 2 Introducing knowledge federation
- 3 Intermission
- 4 Knowledge federation introduces itself
- 5 Introducing our model
- 6 Highlights and summary
Introducing our initiative
A historical parallel
To understand the nature of the vision that motivates our initiative, think about the world at the twilight of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. Recall the devastating religious wars, terrifying epidemics... Bring to mind the iconic image of the scholastics discussing "how many angels can dance on a needle point". And another iconic image, of Galilei in house arrest, a century after Copernicus, whispering eppur si muove into his beard.
Observe that the problems of the epoch were not resolved by focusing on those problems, but by a slow and steady development of an entirely new approach to knowledge. Several centuries of accelerated and sweeping evolution followed. Could a similar advent be in store for us today?
"If I have seen further," Sir Isaac Newton famously declared, "it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The point of departure of our initiative was a discovery. We did not discover that the best ideas of our best minds were drowning in an ocean of glut. Vannevar Bush, a giant, diagnosed that nearly three quarters of a century ago. He urged the scientists to focus on that disturbing trend and find a remedy. But needless to say, this too drowned in glut.
What we did find out, when we began to develop and apply knowledge federation as a remedial praxis, was that now just as in Newton's time, the insights of giants add up to an excitingly novel approach to knowledge. And that just as the case was then, the new approach to knowledge leads to new ways in which core issues are understood and handled.
It is a glimpse of this uncommon opportunity – that a line of work may exist which is at the same time academically fundamental and practically necessary and transformative – that compelled us to apply the best of our abilities to its exploration and development.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality", observed Buckminster Fuller. "To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” So we built knowledge federation as a model or a prototype of a new way to work with knowledge (or technically a paradigm); and of a new institution (or technically a transdiscipline) that is capable of developing this new new approach to knowledge as an academic and real-life practice.
By sharing this model, we do not aim to give conclusive answers. Our aim is indeed much higher – it is to open up a creative frontier where the ways in which knowledge is created and used, and more generally the ways in which our creative efforts are directed, are brought into focus and continuously recreated and improved.
When making this proposal, we do not imply that anything might be wrong with the fine work our academic colleagues are doing. Science rose to prominence owing to its successes in dispelling age-old prejudices, by explaining the natural phenomena; science was not conceived for the role of informing people about basic things in life. We have ample evidence to show that – if our society shall have the kind of benefits that it can and must draw from academic results – then (something like) knowledge federation must also be in place.
We will not solve global problems
Donella Meadows talked about systemic leverage points as those places within a complex system "where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything". She identified "the mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise" as the most impactful kind of systemic leverage points. Our proposal is to act in this most impactful way.
We are proposing an approach to contemporary issues that is complementary to the conventional approaches, which are focused on those issues.
This does not mean that we are proposing to replace or diminish the worthy efforts of our friends and colleagues who are working on specific problems such as the climate change, or on the millennium development goals. Our proposal is to vastly augment the prospects of such efforts to succeed. And to also change the mood from sustaining to creating. We offer a way to add enthusiasm and vigor, and the excitement of discovery.
We will not change the world
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has", wrote Margaret Mead. You'll find evidence of our thoughtfulness and commitment on these pages.
And yet it is clear to us, and it should be clear to you too, that we cannot really change the world. The world is not only us – it is all of us together! Which of course includes you as well.
So if the world will change, that will be a result of your doing; of your thoughtfulness and commitment!
Collaboration is to the new paradigm as competition is to the old one. In Norway (this website is hosted at the University of Oslo) there is a word for this – dugnad (pronounced as doognud). A typical dugnad might be organized by the people in a neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, to gather fallen leaves and branches and do small repairs in the commons, and then share a meal together. Consider this as an invitation to a dugnad – in which fundamental academic work, technoogical innovation and social entrepreneurship will join hands to enkindle society-wide renewal.
Introducing knowledge federation
Knowledge federation is just knowledge creation
As our logo might suggest, knowledge federation means 'connecting the dots' – combining disparate pieces of information and other knowledge resources into higher-order units of meaning. The meaning we assign to this keyword is as in political and institutional federation, where smaller entities unite to achieve higher visibility and impact – while preserving in some suitable degree their identity and autonomy.
One might say that what we are calling knowledge federation is just what we normally do with ideas to turn them into knowledge. You might have an idea in mind – but can you say that you really know it, before you have checked if it's consistent with your other ideas? And with the ideas of others? And even then – can you say that your idea is known before other people have integrated it with their ideas?
Science too federates knowledge; citations and peer reviews are there to secure that. But science does its federation in an idiosyncratic way – by explaining the mechanisms of nature, and the phenomena as their consequence.
Why develop an initiative around such an everyday human activity?
A natural approach to knowledge
What we have undertaken to put in place is what one might call the natural way to federate knowledge; or the natural handling of knowledge. Think on the one side of all the knowledge we own, in academic articles and also broader. Include the heritage of the world traditions. Include the insights reached by creative people daily. Think on the other side of all the questions we need to have answered. Think about the insights that could inform our lives, the rules of thumb that could direct our action. Imagine them occupying distinct levels of generality. The more general an insight is, the more useful it can be. You may now understand knowledge federation as whatever we the people may need to do to maintain, organize, update and keep up to date the various elements of this hierarchy.
Put simply, knowledge federation is the creation and use of knowledge as we may need it – to be able to understand the increasingly complex world around us; to be able to live and act in it in an informed, sustainable or simply better way.
Our vision is of an informed post-traditional or post-industrial society – where our understanding and handling of the core issues of our lives and times reflect the best available knowledge; where knowledge is created and integrated and applied with that goal in mind; and where information technology is developed and used accordingly.
As a way of handling knowledge, knowledge federation is in the proper sense of that word (as Thomas Kuhn defined it and used it) a paradigm. We offer it as an alternative to the approaches to knowledge where the goal is to create a single "reality picture", with which whatever is to be considered "real" or "true" must be consistent. Isn't the dictatorship of any single worldview an impediment to communication; and to evolution of ideas? In knowledge federation the ideas and their authors are allowed to preserve in some suitable degree their autonomy and identity. The goal is still to unify them and make our understanding of the world coherent – but not at all cost! Sometimes good ideas just cannot be reconciled. Sometimes they represent distinct points of view, each of which is useful in its own way.
We would not be echoing Einstein's familiar adage if it did not point so perfectly to the very first step with which our journey together needs to begin. In what ways may our thinking need to be different, if we should be able to understand and help develop an emerging paradigm? We highlight two characteristics which – as everything indeed tends to be in a paradigm – are so closely related that we may as well see them as two sides of a single coin.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
The first characteristic of the new thinking is that we give it the time it requires.
Slow thinking is to "same thinking" as slow food is to fast food – it does take a bit of time, but it also gives far better nourishment and digestion. A paradigm being a harmonious yet complex web of relationships, some mental digestion is mandatory if we should see concretely how to deliver on the general promises we've just made.
The second characteristic of the new thinking is that it's systemic. We now invite you to stop and reflect on what exactly this may mean; and what differences it may make. To help you, we have prepared this brief intuitive introduction to systemic thinking, which will give you a down-to-earth glimpse of some of the social realities we are proposing to look at in this new way – and be empowered to change the very roots from which they have grown.
Knowledge federation introduces itself
Knowledge federation is a language
Science taught us to think in terms of velocities and masses and experiments and natural causes. Knowledge federation too brings a new way to speak. But this new way of speaking is no longer fixed. As we shall see, knowledge federation allows us to create concepts and methods as we need them.
You may think of knowledge federation as a way to liberate science from its disciplinary constraints, combine it with what we've learn about knowledge and knowledge work from journalism, art and communication design, and apply the result to illuminate any question or issue where prejudice and illusion may still need to be dispersed.
We shall now let knowledge federation introduce itself by a metaphorical image or ideogram, and four concepts that in different ways describe its meaning. You'll have no difficulty noticing that those four concepts are really just four ways of saying the same thing – which is that single core insight or idea or rule of thumb from which the details of our initiative most naturally follow.
But before we do that, to give you a hint how exactly knowledge federation extends the conventional science, we provide a very brief (as brief as we are able) historical introduction.
How we got where we are
The rediscovery of Aristotle (whose works had been preserved by the Arabs) was a milestone in the evolution of ideas. But the scholastics used his rational method only to argue the truths of the Scriptures.
Aristotle's natural philosophy was common-sense: Objects tend to fall down; the heavier ones tend to fall faster than the lighter ones. Galilei saw a flaw in his logic and proved him wrong experimentally, by throwing stones from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Galilei – undoubtedly one of Newton's "giants" – also brought mathematics into this affaire: v = gt. The constant g can be measured exactly by an experiment. We can then use the formula to predict precisely what the speed v of an object will be after t seconds of falling.
This approach to knowledge proved to be so superior to what existed before, and so fertile both in explanation and in application, that it naturally became the standard of excellence that all knowledge was expected to emulate.
A curious-looking mathematical formula
But why use only maths?
Ideograms can be understood as a straight-forward generalization of the language of mathematics. Think of the above example as a curious-looking mathematical formula. Just as Galilei's formula did, this ideogram describes a relationship between two things, represented by the bus and its headlights. But while mathematical formulas can express only quantitative relationships, which exist between dry numbers, an ideogram can represent virtually any relationship, even an emotional one. An ideogram can express the nature of a situation!
By depicting modernity as a bus with candle headlights, the Modernity ideogram helps us point to an incongruity and a paradox. This ideogram depicts a situation where in our hither-to modernization we have forgotten to modernize something quite essential – and ended up in peril.
But this situation can be remedied!
When we say epistemology we mean the assumptions and values that determine what knowledge we'll consider worth creating and relying on.
An epistemology is at the core of every paradigm, and of the general paradigm we call science in particular. Galilei was not tried for claiming that the Earth was moving, that was only a technical detail. It was his epistemology that got him into trouble – his belief that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. Galilei was required to "abjure, curse and detest" those opinions (Wikipedia).
So here's an audacious question: What's next? Can you imagine what the next change on that scale might be like? If we "stand on the shoulders of giants" today – what different foundation for creating truth and meaning may we be able we see?
The answer we are proposing is pointed to by the above image. If you'll consider the light of the headlights to be information or knowledge, and the headlights to represent the activities by which knowledge is created and applied, then you'll easily understand this answer. The design epistemology means considering knowledge and knowledge work as man-made things; and as essential building blocks in a much larger thing, or things, or systems. This new epistemology empowers us to develop knowledge and knowledge work and to apply them and to assess their value based on how well they serve their core roles within larger systems – such as 'showing the way'.
But there is also an interesting technicality, which the Modernity ideogram is subtly pointing at. What makes us truly able to depart from the traditional concepts, method and reality pictures and design new ones rigorously yet freely, is what philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine called "truth by convention". While an explanation will be given in Federation through Images, it is important to be aware that the concept definitions we are giving here are "by convention", just as the definitions are in mathematics: "Let x be...". Truth here is as in mathematics – a convention; and there's no point to argue whether things "really are" as defined. Concepts, and also methods, become human-made and ideal "ways of looking at things" – which we can then use to look at human experience in new ways, and to organize it differently. It is this approach to truth that truly makes us able to construct knowledge and knowledge work without raising a controversy; to leave the reality of 'candles' behind and freely create 'light bulbs'.
But the Modernity ideogram here too bears a subtler message: No sequence of improvements of the candle will produce the light bulb. The resolution of our quest is in the exact sense of the word a paradigm – a fundamentally and thoroughly new way to conceive of knowledge and to organize its handling. To create the light bulb, we need to know that this is possible. And we also need a model to guide us. You may now understand what's being told here as a description of that model. It's what we need so that we may waste no time trying to improve 'the candle' – when it's really the 'the light bulb' we should be talking about and creating.
If you consider the movement of the bus to be the result of our creative efforts or of "innovation", then systemic innovation is what resolves the paradox that the Modernity ideogram is pointing to. We practice systemic innovation when our primary goal is to make the whole thing functional or vital or whole. Here "the whole thing" may of course be a whole hierarchy of things, in which what we are doing or creating has a role.
You'll easily understand the reason, why a dramatic improvement in the way we use our capacity to create or innovate is possible, if you just compare the principle the Modernity ideogram is pointing at with the way innovation is directed today. The dollar value of the headlights is course a factor to be considered; but it's insignificant compared to the value of the whole bus (which in reality may be our civilization and all of us in it; or all our technology taken together; or the results of our daily work, which move the 'bus' forward; or whatever else may be organizing our efforts and driving us toward a future). It is this difference in value – between the dollar value of the headlights and the real value of this incomparably larger entity and of all of us in it – that you may bear in mind as systemic innovation's value proposition. The dramatic message of our image is that systemic innovation can make the difference between "the whole thing" being a mass suicide machine – and a vehicle capable of taking us anywhere where we may reasonably want to be.
To see that the change this is pointing to reaches deeper than just industrial innovation, and why we offer systemic innovation as the signature theme of an impending Renaissance-like change, see that the dollar value is just one of our characteristic oversimplifications, which has enabled us to reduce a complex issue (value) in a complex reality to a single parameter – and then apply "scientific thinking" to optimize our behavior, and to develop businesses and industries. The systemic innovation empowers the reason to see its own limits, and correct its own errors – and in that way develop new guidelines to reason, and to creativity, so that they too may be used in more reasonable and more creative ways, evidence based.
Guided evolution of society
If you'll consider the movement of the bus to be our society's travel into the future, or in a word its evolution, then guided evolution of society is what resolves the paradox. Our ride into the future, posits the ideogram, must be illuminated by suitable information. The handling of knowledge we've inherited will not suit this purpose; therefore a more suitable solution to this puzzle must be created.
Stated in this way, the guided evolution of society is of course just an unverified claim, as a scientific formula might be when it's first stated. What we need is a proof – or something that amounts to a proof. A purpose of this website is to provide that.
We took this keyword from Bela H. Banathy, who considered the guided evolution of society to be the second great revolution in our civilization's history – the first one being the agricultural revolution. While in this first revolution we learned to cultivate our bio-physical environment, in the next one we'll learn to cultivate our socio-cultural environment. Here is how Banathy formulated this vision:
We are the first generation of our species that has the privilege, the opportunity, and the burden of responsibility to engage in the process of our own evolution. We are indeed chosen people. We now have the knowledge available to us and we have the power of human and social potential that is required to initiate a new and historical social function: conscious evolution. But we can fulfill this function only if we develop evolutionary competence by evolutionary learning and acquire the will and determination to engage in conscious evolution. These are core requirements, because what evolution did for us up to now we have to learn to do for ourselves by guiding our own evolution.
Introducing our model
Highlights and summary