Knowledge federation is positioned to revolutionize academic work, and the handling of information in general. A prototype of knowledge federation has just been completed. The design challenges and solutions it presents, or its design patterns as we call them, point to the vast and magnificent creative frontier that is opening up.
“The tie between information and action has been severed.”
This diagnosis, which Neil Postman shared in 1990 while addressing the German Informatics Society in a keynote, echoed what Norbert Wiener wrote almost a half-century earlier, while making a case for cybernetics as a new academic field.
Cybernetics was to give us a most basic insight, whose practical importance cannot be overrated—that no system, including our civilization, can be controllable or functional or sustainable, unless it uses information to correct its behavior. But Wiener communicated his message—and so did cybernetics—by relying on that same system in which, as he diagnosed, the tie between information and action had been severed.
And so Wiener’s warning, and cybernetics, failed to have the intended effect.
We are still relying on the system in which the tie between information and action has been severed!
We coined the keyword “Wiener’s paradox” to point to a general problem: Think of our society in dire need of vision; think of all the academic insights trapped on academic bookshelves, unable to impact public opinion and policy; think of all the journalists looking for the next sensation with which to occupy our attention—and you’ll have a glimpse of the creative challenge we call systemic innovation.
To see it fully, we need to generalize Wiener’s paradox.
If the system that has knowledge as goal is so grossly ill-conceived—what about all others? The corporation is another example of a mega-mechanism whose purpose is to turn human work into socially useful effects. How suitable are the structures of those mega-mechanisms for their all-important role?
The challenge we call systemic innovation is to apply our creative abilities toward making systems whole (suitable for their roles in larger systems, so that those larger systems may function and be whole).
Knowledge federation contributes to that timely task by restoring the tie between information and action.
We do that by creating prototypes.
A prototype can be a general insight or a rule of thumb, such as the one that Wiener undertook to foster. Or it can be a systemic solution for an essential social function, such as scientific communication or public informing or governance.
To be complete, a prototype must be embedded in practical reality, and equipped with ways to spread and scale and change the conventional practice. A transdisciplinary community, or a transdiscipline as we are calling it, must be organized around the prototype to create it and update it continuously—and keep it in sync with the state of the art of relevant knowledge.
The 20th century gave us technological inventions, which vastly increased our power.
The socio–technical innovations remain as this century’s creative challenge.
We will create new ways to inform people, have a functioning democracy, disseminate knowledge through public informing and education, and make use of academic results. Tremendous improvements in the efficacy of human work will result—as we find ways to update the institutionalized processes that now waste our efforts, or downright misdirect them!
- The knowledge federation prototype is composed of about forty more specific ones. They detail its various components, and together compose a proof of concept. The “evangelizing prototypes” show how obsolete or wasteful our society’s systems have become; the “systemic prototypes” point to orders-of-magnitude improvements that will result when we make systemic wholeness our goal. Together they delineate systemic innovation as creative frontier—see our prototype portfolio.
- At the workshop Knowledge Federation organized at Stanford University in 2011, within the Triple Helix IX international conference, we pointed to systemic innovation as an informed or scientific or simply necessary and upcoming approach to innovation; and we introduced knowledge federation as “an enabler of systemic innovation”—see this article.
- Our collaboration with the International Society for the Systems Sciences was initiated during my participation in ISSS57 Haiphong in 2013; see my contributed prospectus article Bootstrapping Social-Systemic Evolution where I wrote: “An anomaly that underlies sustainability-related and other contemporary issues is that remedial information is created but not heeded, and not turned into action. We point to a paradigm within which this anomaly can be remedied, and submit it as a natural and up-to-date continuation of the meta-scientific impulse that was the origin of the ISSS. A call to action that follows is to render results and insights not only as printed text, but also as systemic prototypes, and most importantly—as changes to real-world systems.” This collaboration resulted in a series of prototypes for resolving the Wiener’s paradox at its source—within the cybernetics and systems science community. At European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Science in 2014 in Vienna we proposed—and elaborated further in a dedicated workshop—a prototype called Hermes, where (1) a community of researchers federates their core insight or insights, (2) communication designers turn this insight into accessible and comprehensible messages and (3) those messages are strategically given a new life in media informing and politics (concretely through collaboration with Norwegian Green Party). At ISSS59 Berlin in 2015 named “Governing the Anthropocene”, we presented the Wiener’s paradox and proposed a strategy to resolve it. The concrete prototype solution called The Lighthouse was proposed at the next year’s ISSS conference in Boulder, Colorado, and elaborated in a workshop.
- Knowledge federation creates also its own system by federating knowledge. Through collaboration Alexander Laszlo, who in the ISSS community best represents the systemic innovation stream, we co-created the globally first PhD program in systemic innovation. In 1968 Erich Jantsch lobbied for systemic innovation at MIT, as a way for the university to “make structural changes within itself toward a new purpose of enhancing the society’s capacity for continuous self-renewal” and thus fulfill its key contemporary role. A half-century later, we began to materialize Jantsch’s vision at the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology.
“What are the scientists to do next? (…) There is a growing mountain of research. (…) Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.”
This is how Vannevar Bush urged the scientific community to give highest priority to the problem of organizing and communicating the results of academic work—in 1945, ‘now that the war had been won’. Since then “our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research” have not significantly changed; only the “mountain of research” has grown beyond measure. In 1990, in the mentioned keynote to German Informatics Society, Neil Postman warned that “we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don’t know what to do with it”.
Yes, we are still elaborating systemic innovation. Here, however, we take recourse to Bush’s call to action to put the new information technology on our map.
Douglas Engelbart responded to Bush’s call and showed how to achieve distinctly more than Bush asked for. Since I’ve already told their story in A Collective Mind – Part One, and explained the essence of Engelbart’s vision just a couple of weeks ago, I will here only highlight his main point:
To draw from the new information technology the advantages it was intended to afford, systemic innovation must be used.
Engelbart used his keyword “Concurrent Development, Integration and Application of Knowledge” or CoDIAK to point to a principle of operation; it distinguishes the systems that use the new technology correctly, from the ones that evolved through the use of the printing press and other traditional media. We call this principle or paradigm collective mind.
As I explained earlier in this blog, when the new technology is used to implement the traditional processes and systems and make them more efficient, the problem that Bush and Postman pointed to grows worse.
A wonderfully fertile synergy links systemic innovation with the new information technology: In social systems, which are composed of autonomous individuals, communication is the system. The technology we now use to access information and communicate is therefore both enabling and demanding systemic change.
When electricity was sufficiently understood and harnessed, it became possible to create the electrical train, shaver, radio, computer, bicycle… In a closely similar way, the new information technology now both enables and mandates that we recreate our systems.
- A number of prototypes in our prototype portfolio illustrate how exactly the systemic solutions for scientific communication, public informing, education, corporate organization, tourism, healthcare… can be reconfigured to manifest the CoDIAK or collective mind principle of operation; and take advantage of new technology. Each of them constitutes an invention—and invites further inventions.
- Engelbart developed not only the information technology whose benefits we enjoy, but also the main building blocks of the collective mind paradigm—which, as we have seen, is still ignored. On December 9 of 2013, which was the 45th anniversary of Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos”, in the year when Engelbart passed away, Sam Hahn and I organized an event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, titled “Doug Engelbart’s Unfinished Revolution—Program for the Future Challenge”. Our goal was to extend the challenge of understanding and implementing Engelbart’s vision to co-creative teams internationally, and invite them to present their results at the 50th anniversary of the Demo. While we were unable to mobilize sufficient resources to sponsor international teams, we responded to this challenge ourselves. By December 9 of 2018, knowledge federation was completed as a prototype institution for “human system—tool system co-evolution”, which Engelbart identified as the core challenge that remained. And only a month after our Google event, in January 2014, I began a PhD seminar called “Doug Engelbart’s Unfinished Revolution—Program for the Future”, within which Engelbart’s legacy was thoroughly researched and digested. Engelbart’s ideas are woven in our prototypes. The Incredible History of Doug Engelbart will be the lead theme of a book titled “Systemic Innovation”, and subtitled “Cybernetics of Democracy”.
“I cannot understand how anyone can make use of the frameworks of reference developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in order to understand the transformation into the post-traditional cosmopolitan world we live in today. Max Weber’s ‘iron cage’ – in which he thought humanity was condemned to live for the foreseeable future – is to me a prison of categories and basic assumptions of classical social, cultural and political sciences.”
This is how sociologist Urlich Beck pointed to our next design challenge, in “The Risk Society and Beyond”. Imagine us in this “iron cage”, facing the existential challenge to understand our new risks and move beyond—and “looking at the present through a rear-view mirror”, as Marshal McLuhan warned.
A deeper, fundamental issue underlies all three design challenges that we’ve talked about so far—which we call reification. When I type “worldviews”, my word processor underlines the word in red; there can be only one worldview, the one that corresponds to the world. Reification is still the foundation on which our handling of information is conceived.
The reification of concepts prevents us from adapting our “frameworks of reference” to new challenges and realities. The reification of institutions hinders us from adapting them to contemporary purposes, and to any purpose. Journalism, for instance, does not have a purpose by which its practice and system can be gauged. Journalism simply is what the journalists are doing.
While constructing the knowledge federation prototype, we overcame this fundamental problem in two steps.
The first was to resort to truth by convention.
The second was to formulate design epistemology as a convention.
Our lead visual metaphor—the bus with candle headlights—serves to explain what all this means. By convention, information is—just as those headlights are physically—a systemic component in a larger system or systems. It needs to be adapted to the functions it has or may need to have in those larger wholes, so that they can function and be whole and fulfill their functions in still larger wholes.
Knowledge federation models both the ‘headlights’, and the academic field that creates them.
- Keywords are concepts defined by convention. We distinguish them by writing them in italics. Such definitions may be thought of as recycling—whereby old concepts are given new functions and a whole new life. Our definitions of culture, design and visual literacy illustrate how institutions and professions can be redefined; the definition of power structure combines insights from humanities and technical fields to allow us to perceive and control the kind of power that democracy as we have it ignores; the definition of addiction shows how existing concepts can be ‘recycled’—and our way of looking at the world updated.
- In the “Design Epistemology” research article where we extended our design epistemology proposal (published in the special issue of the Information Journal titled “Information: Its Different Modes and Its Relation to Meaning”, edited by Robert K. Logan; and introduced and linked in this blog post), we made it clear that the design epistemology is only one out of many possible ways to implement the methodological approach to knowledge. We drafted a parallel between the modernization of science that can result in this way, and the advent of modern art: By defining a methodology by convention, we can do as the artists did, when they liberated themselves from the demand to mirror reality by emulating the techniques of Old Masters. We can then create the ways in which we practice our profession. Truth by convention may be understood as “a firm place to stand on” or as “Archimedean point”, and the design epistemology as a ‘fulcrum’, which are needed to turn information into a ‘lever’ powerful enough to make the difference that now must be made. The details are in this recording of an informal conversation, which I shared on Skype with a young lady in Vienna named Isis Frisch, while showing her these improvised slides
“…too much information can be dangerous, because it can lead to a situation of meaninglessness…”
Neil Postman’s diagnosis, given in a 1990 televised interview related to the publication of his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, reminds of a similar warning Friedrich Nietzsche issued a century earlier:
“…the abundance of disparate impressions greater than ever… The tempo of this influx prestissimo; the impressions erase each other; one instinctively resists taking in anything, taking anything deeply, to “digest” anything; a weakening of the power to digest results from this. A kind of adaptation to this flood of impressions takes place: men unlearn spontaneous action, they merely react to stimuli from outside. They spend their strength partly in assimilating things, partly in defense, partly in opposition.”
We must find courage to consider the possibility that Nietzsche was profoundly right; that we are now confronted with orders of magnitude more data data than we are able to “digest”.
If it may seem that we are coming back to an issue we’ve already covered, let me reassure you: We are about to look at a whole new dimension of knowledge federation—its methodology.
In addition to known advantages, the methods that the sciences have given us share a dis–advantage: They confine us to disciplinary interests. It is as if we’ve been given a hammer, and keep looking for a nail.
Knowledge federation allows us to create and prioritize information based on contemporary needs of people and society—by providing a general-purpose methodology called Polyscopic Modeling, and nicknamed polyscopy.
How should we create meaning? Naturally, polyscopy too has been created by federating knowledge—from sciences, information design, arts, journalism and other professions. As illustration, here is how we federated some design patterns from computer science, specifically from Object Oriented Methodology.
Object Oriented Methodolgy was created a half-century ago, when rapid increase in the size and complexity of programs demanded a paradigm shift in programming.
Computers can be programmed in any programming language including their machine code. The creators of Object-Oriented Methodology took it upon themselves, however, to enable, or even compel the programmers to create code that would be easy to comprehend, modify and reuse.
Notice this analogy: In the context of the closely similar problem of “too much information”, the academia stands in the role of the creators of the mentioned methodology, but without assuming their attitude or responsibility. The “centuries old” document formats and “methods of transmitting and reviewing the results” are still simply taken for granted.
Can the results of academic research too be made radically easier to comprehend, modify and reuse?
Object-Oriented Methodology offers a signature template for formatting programs called “object”. By “exporting function” and “hiding implementation”, an object enables the programmer to write, comprehend, use and reuse program code in terms of the functions it performs. And to “hide” or “encapsulate” the details of implementation—as an automobile designer would hide the details of the engine and provide the driver only the instruments and the controls. In polyscopy we offer a similar template called information holon. The idea of “holon” was adapted from Arthur Koestler who used it to designate something that is both a whole in itself and a part in a larger whole.
An information holon is ideographically represented as an “i” composed as a circle on top of a square. The circle represents the main point—which is often an insight; the square comprises the details, which are made accessible via distinct points of view or scopes.
“The only efficient way to deal with complicated systems is in a hierarchical fashion. The dynamic system is constructed and understood in terms of high level concepts, which are in turn constructed and understood in terms of lower level concepts, and so forth. This must be reflected in the structure of the program which defines the dynamic system; in some way or another the high level concept will correspond to program components.”
This is how Ole-Johan Dahl, one of the creators of Object Oriented Methodology, motivated its approach to program structure. For similar reasons, polyscopy structures information as information holarchy.
Imagine a world where instead of “information jungle” we have a holarchy of basic insights—which illuminate, and guide, our handling of life’s most basic issues! That is the vision that inspired polyscopy.
Polyscopy makes it possible to create insights to illuminate any chosen theme, on any level of generality.
Knowledge federation is the activity by which the information holarchy is created and maintained, and kept consistent.
- Some of the core design patterns of polyscopy—such as to structure information as a holarchy based on distinct and coherent scopes, and to generalize the scientific method by providing patterns and ideograms—were announced already in 1995, at the Einstein Meets Magritte transdisciplinary conference, and described in two articles in the “Worldviews and the Problem of Synthesis” book of its proceedings. The developed methodology was presented at InfoDesign2000 joint conference of the Information Design Association and Information Design Network in Coventry, Great Britain. This presentation was invited for publication in Information Design Journal, which resulted in two articles, “Designing Information Design” and “Information for Conscious Choice“.
- Book manuscript Information Must Be Designed is both a complete description of polyscopy and an example of application—see its introduction. The book is structured as information holon, where the claim rendered in the title, and also visually by the ideogram on its front page, is justified by first describing the methodology, and then applying it to the task at hand. The claim is that—for a variety of reasons—we must change the relationship we have with information, and instead of simply adopting and reifying the ways of looking at the world we’ve inherited, design them to give us and our society the vision we must have.
“The future will either be an inspired product of a great cultural revival, or there will be no future.”
With this call to action (which Aurelio Peccei—the co-founder and president of The Club of Rome—issued in 1980, based on this international think tank’s research into the future prospects of mankind) we introduce the holotopia as our final, proof-of-concept prototype.
On its website, holotopia is introduced as “an actionable strategy”. It includes a vision of a possible future—which offers more than what Peccei asked for. This vision is made concrete in terms of five insights, which show why radical, Renaissance-like and Enlightenment-like changes are now possible. And it also includes a strategy—which explains why a comprehensive change can be natural and easy, even when smaller and obviously necessary changes may be impossible.
The five insights show how “a great cultural revival” can naturally result from ‘connecting the dots’.
The pursuit of this strategy is made “actionable” by providing an assortment of “tactical assets”.
As of January 1, holotopia is also a prototype and a buddying initiative. As a prototype it models, and empowers us to create, a systemic component that must exist: Those ‘headlights’.
- Holotopia.info provides a complete description of holotopia as “an actionable strategy”. In Conversation with Noah offers an intuitive introduction, which through parables (my son and myself; rabbits on an island) makes an essential general point: To foster a certain specific new meme (metaphorically ‘gardening’, concretely guided evolution of society and technically systemic innovation) is the creative task of our generation. Our children’s future will depend on our success or failure, and quite a bit more. The purpose of Holotopia as a project and prototype is to operationalize this development. And to begin with create a space for it to enfold. I will here make this key related point: This space, and task, belong organizationally and ethically to the university as institution. To have a chance to succeed, this work requires both the thorough and knowledge-based creative work that distinguishes the academic tradition, and the kind of situation that we, academic researchers, solely enjoy, with the benefits of tenure, academic freedom, sponsored travel etc. I will illustrate that point by outlining how the design patterns that are woven in the Holotopia prototype evolved through a series of prototypes; and I’ll let you draw conclusions about the academic nature of this work.
- A book manuscript draft titled “What’s Going on?”, and subtitled “A Cultural Renewal”, I created in the late 1990s, as a way to showcase polyscopy, and specifically its core idea (which is federated from Object Oriented Methodloogy)—that to be comprehensible, and to make our world comprehensible, our information must be structured in terms of simple, coherent views, which are configured together in a manner that represents the structure of the world. Polyscopy uses the metaphor of a mountain, where every standpoint is a viewpoint or scope; and the view from the mountain top as the one showing us the world in such a way that we can easily find directions. The book draft “What’s Going on?” substitutes a single, general insight or ‘mountain-top view’ for a multitude of specific daily events—and answer its title question in a way that both explains our situation, and shows us how to handle it. At that point I was already aware of the fact that we in principle already own the information needed to build (what we now call) holotopia. And that to take advantage of it and “change course”, we must first resolve the fundamental anomalies that are ‘hidden in our culture’s foundations’—which have already been academically reported (by Heisenberg, Einstein and others in physics, as well as in cognitive science, philosophy of language and a variety of other fields). Spontaneous evolution of knowledge of knowledge has brought us to a point where fundamental change is immanent. In the book draft the nature of our situation is rendered through the metaphor of living in a house with failing foundations; instead of trying to fix the ‘cracks in the walls’, the foundations must be repaired first; in other words structural re-building, not fixing, is our approach of choice. The book already shared four facets along which this approach could lead to surprisingly large improvements in our condition.
- The next milestone was an insight into the nature of power, how power changed in modernity so that it can affect both our choices and our awareness in ways we largely ignore. The point is to see how “free competition”, and even what Noah called “just living”, tend to create societal structure that turn us into “the enemy”. To federate this insight, I created a keyword and pattern called power structure, and presented it at InfoDesign 2000 and in the resulting article Information for Conscious Choice, to explain why information must now be used to orient choices. Or in other words, why our relationship with information needs to change. At the conference “Visions of Possible Worlds”, subtitled “Scenarios and Proposals for Sustainability”, which was organized in 2003 as part of the Triennale di Milano under the patronage of the United Nations Environment Program, I placed that proposal in the sustainability context. I outlined the power structure idea, and submitted (which was easy considering that the participants so unequivocally agreed that a revolution in awareness had to take place) a tactical next step: An armed revolution, I observed, would begin by taking control over the information and the media; should we not do the same in this revolution of awareness? The public informing prototype we created at our “An Innovation Ecosystem for Good Journalism” workshop in Barcelona in 2011 was a direct step toward implementing this proposal.
- The next core insight was that—considering the vastness of our information, and the epistemological and power-related nuances that are involved—the creation of vision, or knowledge federation, can only be done by a suitably designed social process. We began to develop ways in which a community of people can organize information, and reach a direction-changing insight or key point. Initially my collaborators and I adapted the topic maps technology to that purpose. I shared this challenge and rationale at TMRA Leipzig in 2007 as Knowledge = Mountain; and proposed it as a necessary component in resolving (what is now) the holotopia challenge at the ALPIS workshop of social scientists studying technology, in Carisolo, Italy in 2007, as How to Begin the Next Renaissance – Preliminary Version. The key point dialog was implemented and applied within KommuneWiki prototype and project in several Norwegian municipalities, as described in the article.
- And then there’s the dialog. It created the academia. And as David Bohm observed, it is once again necessary if we should resolve our power structure-related cognitive entanglement, and the global condition that ensued. We created this dialog entry of the Knowledge Federation wiki to point to the depth and breadth of related work that already exists, and must be considered. Bohm’s dialog, however, has several disadvantages. We developed the key point dialog technique, by which a dialog circle of a community’s opinion leaders is placed it in the context of relevant data (represented in holotopia by five insights), turned into ‘a high-energy cyclotron’, and extended into a public dialog through suitable media. We tested this technique by staging an event in Zagreb called “Buidling the Europe of the Future Together, The Cultural Revival Dialog Zagreb 2008”; scroll down to No. 3 to see the summary.
- Next came the realization—which resulted from our experiences with the BCN2011 journalism prototype—that the busy experts and powerful professionals cannot change their system themselves. And that the only way systems can practically be changed is if they empower their ‘younger’ (in life phase) colleagues to embody and enact change. Knowledge Federation created The Game-Changing Game as a generic way to change systems, and craft the future, in its 2012 Palo Alto workshop, and presented it at The San Francisco Bay Area Future Salon, see this invitation and this Q&A. A description of The Game-Changing Game was subsequently published in the proceedings of the European Academy of Design’s 10th conference titled “Crafting the Future”—this blog post offers a summary and a link to the article. Based on this work we created The Club of Zagreb as an update to The Club of Rome.
- Our collaboration with David Price and Debategraph enabled us to not only use, but when necessary also adapt that premier platform for empowering communities to co-create structured knowledge, vision and solutions. This pioneering project is an invaluable source of insights, tools and techniques.
- Our collaboration with the Relating Systems Thinking and Design community (whose name is practically a synonym to systemic innovation, and whose insights we undertook to federate) resulted in a presentation and a mini-workshop at the community’s yearly symposium in Toronto in 2016, and a year later in Oslo. We developed, shared and experimented with The Paradigm Strategy Poster as “a roadmap to a thrivable future”. Its left-hand side mediates ‘a shared walk to a mountain top’ (by taking advantage of some basic techniques from polyscopy such as vignettes, threads and patterns) from which the key point (that we must focus not on problems, but on changing the paradigm as a whole) is clearly visible. The right-hand side is a collection of prototypes, and a prototype workshop, by which the participants are empowered to pursue the shared vision.
- When all is said and done, a challenge remains and a paradox, larger and older than the Wiener’s. It must be taken care of first, before anything else can be done, the experience with our prototypes has shown. Shall we call it Nietzsche’s paradox? Peccei called it “human quality”; we highlighted some of its cultural determinants in this one-pager. It is a consequence of the human ecology we are immersed in that we lack the willpower, the gift of vision, the ethical sense… to self-organize and do what we must do. As Anthony Giddens remarked, we seek solace for the lack of meaning in the repetitiveness of the everyday and in career pursuits—not in understanding and principled action. That shackles us to power structure. The holotopia strategy is to address this key obstacle strategically and directly. The Liberation book will shine light on this condition and illuminate its alternative. Holotopia, as a strategic–artistic intervention in culture, will follow. In 2018 we created and staged the Earth Sharing art project in Kunsthall 3.14, Bergen, as an immediate precursor to holotopia. Although Debategraph and online deliberation was not yet implemented, David Price was physically present and coordinated the dialog. David, Vibeke (Jensen, Earth Sharing’s artist and architect) and I continued to develop holotopia‘s details.
Knowledge federation is a paradigm.
The knowledge federation prototype is an academic result of an uncommon kind—it is a prototype of a paradigm, and a paradigm proposal. This paradigm is not in a traditional academic field, but in creation and use of information at large. It is only when this is fully understood that we are able to comprehend and appreciate some of the design patterns that distinguish knowledge federation from conventional academic work.
Consider, for instance, the decision to render this prototype as a website, concretely as a MediaWiki, and not as a peer-reviewed article or a collection of such articles.
Well of course, we had to break the spell of the Wiener’s paradox. But that was not the only reason why we made that choice.
While the milestones in the development of knowledge federation were published as conventional peer-reviewed articles to submit them to standard authenticity and validity tests and give them time stamps, their true meaning could only be understood in the context of the proposed paradigm. I described those articles as “cuckoo’s eggs”; what they were intended to ‘hatch’ was well beyond the interests of the disciplines in whose publications they appeared. To render the whole paradigm prototype an information holon seemed appropriate—where a MediaWiki and a WordPress blog are used to make the main ideas accessible, and to aggregate and point to details.
Knowledge federation does not yet have a journal. And it is an interesting question whether it should have one—considering that its reason for existence is to develop a new “social life of information”.
The conclusive reason for choosing the MediWiki as format was, however, the social dynamic that befits a prototype. The peer reviews belong to a tradition that aspired to “objective” or conclusive truth. A prototype is, in contrast, designed to evolve—and continuously approximate the state of the art in relevant fields of knowledge. The very process by which prototypes evolve is designed to evolve. The MediaWiki—which has proven its worth by being used in Wikipedia—enables such evolution; copyrighted paper publications would dis-able it.
Knowledge federation is an experiment.
Being a prototype, Knowledge Federation is also an experiment.
Since socio-technical prototypes are systems embedded in larger systems, they also serve as experiments showing how those larger systems respond—or fail to respond—to attempted change.
The larger system is in our case of course the academia. Notice the value of having this sort of experiment: The academia is the system that takes talented young people and the society’s resources as input; and outputs creative acts. In this historically unique moment, when our repertoire of creative acts must expand beyond the business as usual if our society should have a future—is the academic system structured in a way that enables it to fulfill its vital role?
The experiment is running and collecting data as we speak. But a discussion of its results is beyond the scope of this little essay. I will here only illustrate them by a tiny detail, and let you guess the rest.
When the knowledge federation prototype was completed, I proceeded to make a record of it in an online database we use for reporting academic results called Cristin. As I said, my result is a prototype of a paradigm. But Cristin has neither “prototype” nor “paradigm” as result options.
I did find a way to register my result. It was to click a link and use the old version of Cristin—where the option to register a “website” was still available. A website doesn’t really count as academic result. I imagine that’s why the creators of new Cristin disregarded it.
So from the point of view of the academic system, my work on developing knowledge federation amounted to naught. I spent 25 years on a wild goose chase—and wasted whatever talent I had; and the resources Norway invested in me.