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Author: David Bollier

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A2K Challenges Ahead

Reflecting on the book and thinking about the future, I am struck by two major challenges for the A2K movement:  the building of new synapses of communication and collaboration among the many fractal parts of the movement, and reducing the gap between A2K expert-practitioners and the general public and key user-constituencies.  The latter are often clueless about the practical political and policy issues at stake, yet their support is critical to moving an A2K agenda forward.  And the limited interconnection of so many A2K initiatives represents an “under-leveraging” of opportunities.

These two challenges — building synergies and consolidating the movement — are related, I believe, and should be discussed in tandem.

Simply by assembling so many essays about A2K, Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property helps show the rich breadth of A2K initiatives and thinking.  This is helpful for both expert-practitioners and the lay public.  We are all parochial in many respects.  The book provides a valuable common body of knowledge so that each of us can begin to take stock of the whole.

But the overview that the book provides also highlights, paradoxically, the many gaps between A2K communities and each one’s relative isolation.  How much are the access to medicine people involved with open access publishing gambits and those, in turn, with free software and commons-based knowledge and innovation communities?  Some, but clearly not enough.

People can debate whether this is good or bad thing, or simply a fact of life in the networked world.  I think that further progress in advancing A2K principles requires that we find new ways to stimulate “inter-tribal” communications and active collaboration on a broader agenda.  The example of the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona is one admirable attempt to address this issue.   Surely there are other ways in which federated cooperation could be intensified, with overall benefits to all A2K factions.  The foundation world could play a useful role in this regard.

As for bridging the gap between A2K practitioners and the general public and key constituencies, this book represents an important step.  However, we need to dream up new ways to engage oblivious mainstream institutions.  This includes not just the “usual suspects” — the press, politicians, universities, etc. — but also many progressive advocacy groups who remain mired in the pre-digital paradigm of centralized institutions, credentialed expertise, proprietary control of knowledge, etc.  As Herve Le Crosnier points out in his post, overcoming cultural prejudices is a long and difficult proposition.  While many elements within higher education, mainstream journalism, government agencies, scientific researchers, cultural nonprofits, and creative sectors understand one or another aspect of the A2K movement, I think we need to cultivate deeper levels of understanding and commitment.

I’m not sure if the challenge is about developing a common language (I have been focused on the commons as a lingua franca, but there may be others) or about developing the working personal relationships.  Or a larger, common agenda.  Or maybe certain game-changing developments in the political culture need to occur (e.g., WikiLeaks, Arab revolts fueled by Internet-based media) before the potency of the A2K and related worldviews can “go mainstream.”  These are some of the questions that I think are worth pondering.