Supercharging Inter-Council Knowledge Sharing

by Wayne Eddy

I've thought for a long while that making the knowledge acquired and held by all local governments and their employees, easily and freely available for others within the sector (and beyond) to use and re-use, would go a very long way towards reducing duplication of effort across the sector and making Councils more efficient and more interesting and satisfying places to work.

I've done my best to share my knowledge with others over the past decade or so, through; mailing lists, and forums and especially through the Local Government Knowledge Base, a wiki-based website I've set up that is devoted to Local Government knowledge sharing. I've been successful to a degree, but can't help thinking about all the other knowledge held by other Councils and their employees, and how much better it would be if that knowledge was made available to a wider audience too.

In recent times I've been giving some thought to how to make this happen, and I believe there are four keys to this vision:

I don't think information about all topics needs to be stored in a single place. I do think however it is important that everyone knows where to share information about a particular topic, as this allows many people to contribute to the expansion and enhancement of that information over time.

I think "how" is actually more important than "where", and in my opinion that "how" should be - "on the web under a creative commons sharealike licence".

If you publish something under sharealike licence, derivative works must be published under a sharealike licence too. That is, if someone takes a document that I've published under a sharealike licence and then adds to it or improves it, if they publish it, they have to publish it under a sharealike licence too.

Now, if a few people benefit from my work directly that’s OK.

But, if people benefit from my work AND the work of the people who have benefited from my work that's even better.

BUT, if people benefit from my work AND the work of the people who have benefited from my work AND the work of the people who have benefited from the work of the people who have benefited from my work - that's a chain reaction of benefit that has the potential to change the world.

As for findability, I know from experience that if you publish a quality informative article online under a creative commons licence, it rapidly becomes easy to find via a google search. (Don't take my word for it - search for "Asset Condition" or "Asset Renewal" or any of the other terms listed here.) And the easiest way to create a quality informative article on a particular topic is to have four or five people with an interest in and knowledge of that topic to get together (online or otherwise) to compare notes and put the article together. There are 500 plus Councils in Australia. It should be very easy to find dozens of people with knowledge about a given local government related topic, not just four or five.

This isn't a difficult technical challenge. It is just a matter of:

  1. Identifying which organisations would be willing to host content pages developed by Council staff and published under a creative commons licence,
  2. Identifying which Councils would be willing to encourage their staff to contribute to the development of these content pages,
  3. Creating a mechanism for putting Council staff at participating Councils with an interest in a particular topic in touch with each other with a view to creating a working group that would decide how to develop the page and where to host it,
  4. Getting at least one of the host organisations to maintain an index of all topics for which a working group has been created and a link to the page the working group has agreed to develop.

The real challenge I suspect is a cultural one. And that is the challenge of convincing senior management at a critical mass of Councils of the value of this concept, and getting them to encourage their staff to contribute to the project.

Do you agree or disagree? Should Councils be sharing knowledge openly and learning from each other, or are Local Government employees going to be more productive if they forget about sharing and the big picture and just concentrate on their day-to-day work and their own little insular worlds?