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Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice

Editor: Charlotte Hess, Elinor Ostrom
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007
Review Published: October 2009

 REVIEW 1: Colette Wanless-Sobel
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess

It is a pleasure to read such a thoughtful and insightful review of our book. It is really quite an amazing overview of our book in respect to the changed nature of knowledge.

In approaching knowledge as a commons we were investigating whether it made sense to analyze such a complex resource in ways that have previously been applied to natural resource commons. Unlike long-standing natural resource commons, however, knowledge in the electronic environment is pretty much unchartered territory -- or, indeed, an ontological shift. With new and evolving commons, appropriate rules do not already exist to facilitate the governance and maintenance of the resource. As with knowledge, the rules have been carried over from an earlier form -- such as hardcopy books and journals -- and are ill-fitting to the new resource. Likewise, little is known about the new community of users and providers. Even the physical resource itself -- software code -- is not generally understood and it is very hard to assess whether one person's "new" code is actually a copy of someone else's "existing" code.

The reviewer's summary captures the intricate complexity of the nature of knowledge in electronic form which our outstanding authors address in various ways from different perspectives and disciplines. One of our main goals was to outline a new research agenda which positions knowledge as no longer a pure public good but as a "commons" for which there is shared responsibility, growing threats of enclosure, the need for protection, appropriate institutional design, and, at the same time, for which there is unprecedented capacity for new forms of global collective action and collaboration.

We are very grateful to David Bollier, Nancy Kranich, James Boyle, Donald Waters, Peter Suber, Shubha Ghosh, Peter Levine, Charles Schweik, Wendy Pradt Lougee, James Cox and J. Todd Swarthout for their excellent contributions both to the book and to the process of joint learning that occurred as we were working together on this book.

Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess

<ostrom@indiana.edu; hess@syr.edu>

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