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Author: Gaelle Krikorian

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A2K Symposium: Contribution by Yann Moulier Boutang

By Yann Moulier Boutang

Dear all,

I have not yet read extensively the huge and referential book edited by Gaëlle and Amy. No doubt this e-meeting and e-discussion will help every contributor to master it in a more rapid and proper way. Reading a book collectively provide richer insights inasmuch that each of us is overcrowded by many books and starts reading plenty of them without time to absorb them thoroughly.  I find the rule of this exercise (each contributor choose another contribution in the book) a good incentive.

I have chosen the contribution of Yochaï Benkler whose general book The Wealth of Networks I retain a seminal book of the new political economy I am trying to promote with my students. Benkler using such a title, wanted to ring a bell I guess : the bell of the famous The Wealth of Nations of our good old Adam Smith. For its importance and the decisive break through it provide I would preferred to compare it to Ricardo’s Principles and Ronald Coase first farewell to the classic and neo-classic economics. For economists generally so narrow minded when dealing with other disciplines, I find astonishing that a jurist has brought in, all at once, so many contents and bricks for the new building up of economics and in completely different meaning than that of Posner in law economics, since the later has consolidated the traditional axioms of mean stream economic instead of threatening the very basis of both neo-classic and heterodox schools like Benkler did.

Hence I was quite curious of his contribution in the field of political science.

In his “The idea of Access to Knowledge and the Information Commons : Long-Term Trends and Basic Elements” (pp. 217-235 of the Book) Benkler tries to embrace the unity and consistency of the A2K movement as a political movement, that mean something already rooted in institutional and historical political life (not an utopian idea about future politics).
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A2K symposium (Post by Pr Anil Gupta)

By Pr Anil Gupta

Some posers:

If the basic needs of the majority of people in the world remained unmet:  why people’s access to knowledge of other people, institutions and knowledge systems (in their language) is not at the heart of the debate?

Is it because people lack  imagination, ideas, innovations? Is the river of ideas dry?

is it because the institutions which can convert their ideas into enterprises – social or economic, individual or collective are missing?

what will just just access without supporting institutions providing assurances and ability (skills, technology) really then achieve?
What are the resources in which many economically poor people are potentially rich:
• Knowledge, creativity and innovation for survival;
• Ethics and values;
• Institutions (common property institutions, social arrangements for using natural or other resources);
• Kinship and social networks: the social capital;
• Cultural communication channels.

What are the resources they lack:
• Institutions (like gian.org, www.sristi.org nifindia.org) providing handholding support at their doorstep;
• Access to local or nearby labs and workshops to add value to their knowledge or fabricate tools for meeting their need;
• Access to local language multimedia tools / databases of traditional knowledge or grassroots innovations by other communities in the region or around the world (such as Honey Bee database, sristi.org);
• Flexible access to natural resources governed by state or  large private owners;
• Access to micro venture capital and risk funds to support new product development
• Linkage with formal sector scientific labs for validating and valorising their knowledge of herbal healing and other technological claims;

Lack of low transaction costs system of IP protection without preventing people to people learning but ensuring benefit sharing with corporations: why should people disclose their knowledge at all??–a la technology commons (Sinha, 2009, Gupta, 2010)

Whose access: whose knowledge

Madhavi Sunder made an interesting point: local people are left behind just in the proportion that some others people gain advantage through modern ICTs,

But are not we too left behind in gaining access to their, the people’s knowledge, institutions, ethics, values and creativity?

In Which kinds of knowledge do some people are ahead and some behind?

a) database of green grassroots solutions developed poor peers (honey bee database)

b) opportunity for blending formal and informal knowledge

c) acces sto frugal empathetic heuristics: the ways in which grassroots innovators achieve solutions may also teach us new heuristics about solving problems and in the process, sometimes, advance the frontiers of science. One must, however, accept that no one system of knowledge can provide all solutions.
d) Blending of formal and informal science is necessary to produce sustainable outcomes.
In fact, such blending has taken place implicitly in lot of intuitive discoveries and explorations. Why is it then formal scientific applications make reference to them less often?

e) The trade off between accuracy, affordability, accessibility and local adaptability has to be made in technological portfolios by the households, particularly in disadvantaged regions all the time. Social sustainability, therefore, requires recognition of the challenges that emerge on the scientific frontiers.

f) Who will develop a windmill in 120 usd?

Whose knowledge is valuable for whom?
Whose access will make this solution accessible to whom where in world at what cost?

This is the question we have been trying to answer in Honey bee for last twenty years.

The local  knowledge base has tremendous opportunity for generating cross cultural and regional linkages.

Cross-cultural linkages among knowledge systems:

For instance, pastoralists in Mongolia used a home made lick out of onion leaves with wheat germ, sodium bicarbonate and dried milk for the animals. It was found that this lick was very rich in selenium. The deficiency of this element could cause the young calves to die prematurely apart from causing other problems. While discussing the idea of HB network with Akwasasne people in Canada, it was discovered that they were facing a problem in the livestock which was traced to the deficiency of selenium. This is what the potential of Honey Bee network is. A practice in Mongolia documented by a professor in Scotland, published in Honey Bee becomes available for use in Canada or Laddakh.

thus:

The economically poor –knowledge rich people lack a little space in the dreamland of modern knowledge managers
Why are so few knowledge/innovation bases available on the internet in local languages or even in English
Whose access we want to improve, whose transaction costs we want to reduce, at what cost and for whom.

Concept of technology commons:

People to people knowledge exchange free, unrestricted, unhindered.

People or communities to firms: not free, not without due reciprocity, not without PIC, benefit sharing contract.

What myths are we blowing:

Poor are not just consumers, they can also be providers of knowledge, innovations and ideas.

Poor are not at the bottom of all pyramids:  they may be at the bottom of economic pyramid, but are they at the bottom of ethical, innovation and knowledge pyramids.

Innovations are not made only in high tech institutions, these also evolve in the ‘laboratories of life’, at the grassroots level by individuals as well as communities.

Innovations are imperative for survival, these  are not as infrequent as we assume.

Traditional knowledge has not lost its relevance.  The functional elements can be valorised to generate solutions for contemporary problems.

What can we do together:  Honey Bee Network, member institutions and IIMA are willing to join hands with public and private institutions, community initiatives and individuals who want to make a difference without devaluing the local knowledge, innovations and institutions.
Creativity counts,
knowledge matters,
innovations transform,
incentives inspire (not just monetary, also non monetary, collective and not just individual)

www.sristi.org
www.nifindia.org
www.sristi.org/~anilg

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A2K Symposium (Post by Ahmed Abdel Latif): The future of A2K: the risks of dilution and cooptation

By Ahmed Abdel Latif

The publication of Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property is timely to reflect on the future prospects of the A2K movement. In this regard, the first risk it faces, in my view, is ‘dilution’. A dilution which results mainly from the disparate agendas being pursued in an uncoordinated manner by the diverse communities and groups which make up the A2K movement, but also as a result of other factors such as reduced funding, and competing priorities. How can the diversity of the A2K movement, which is a great source of richness and cross-fertilization of ideas and practices, be maintained in the long term while advancing a cohesive agenda? With the ‘dilution’ comes also the risk of loosing ‘policy focus’ where A2K drifts to be confined to an academic abstract discussion.

The second risk is the one of ‘cooptation’. As the A2K movement becomes successful in advancing some of its proposals and models in international fora, such as WIPO, for instance, we witness a tendency in these fora to reproduce ‘A2K friendly’ language and engage in A2K related studies and projects. Does this mean that A2K has achieved its goals and that the change it called for has occurred? Is this the questioning of rules and approaches governing the ownership and dissemination of knowledge that the A2K desired?

Finally, I still find sometimes floating around an assumption that A2K has the same meaning in the North and in the global South, while it isn’t necessarily the case and we shouldn’t loose sight of this dimension. The recent events, in my home, country, during which internet access was ‘cut off’ for several days maybe a good illustration of this.