Policies to Promote Public Knowledge Goods and Knowledge Commons


This study examines the relationships among funders, research institutions, and the “units” of knowledge creation and local knowledge governance, which are hosted inside research institutions. Our goal is to uncover the knowledge spaces where commons-based approaches, peer production, and modes of network-mediated innovation have – and have not – emerged, and to examine the conditions under which these approaches either flourish or are discouraged. Our rationale is that the emergence of novel, democratized, and distributed knowledge governance represent a meaningful complement to more traditional systems, with the potential to create new public knowledge goods accessible to a global civil society and spur innovation in previously unforeseen ways.

The first section of this paper is an introduction to distributed knowledge creation and open systems for knowledge transactions (including but not limited to copyrighted and patented knowledge-embedded4 products).

The second section contains a case study of the complex and interlocking system of relationships governing knowledge-embedded products in the field of genomics, as well as some experimental interventions to adjust these relationships with the goal of maximizing either the total knowledge output or the value captured from the knowledge products. Although we have focused our case study on genomics, which offers a rich set of varied knowledge products and cases for study, the rationale we present in this discussion paper is also applicable to a variety of areas, from educational resources to alternative energy related technology.

The third section examines in particular the role of national innovation policy and the specific relationships that research institutions have with public policy and governmental funders, including the role of government and policy mandates (either towards enclosure or openness) as regards knowledge-embedded products. We have chosen to focus on the role of universities because their upstream role in the innovation ecosystem can influence downstream governance of knowledge through creation of cooperation arrangements, the strategic retention of rights, and/or publication and distribution of knowledge products.

Finally, we make a series of provisional recommendations for policymakers, funders, and research institution leadership that might decrease transaction costs for knowledge products, increase the incentive for collaborative knowledge production and reuse, and increase the odds of novel methods of knowledge creation, distribution and transfer emerging from an increasingly connected world.

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