Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ S2000 - Knowledge

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 27, 2000

Ken Stratford, Commissioner for the Greater Victoria Economic Development Corporation, manages and promotes a website called CITISmart ( ) - CITI stands for Community Information Technology Institute. It's a project similar to MuniMall, but with some important differences. I'll comment on that later.

Stratford had as his topic the application of knowledge management in smart communities, and he has an intuitive understanding of the concept. Knowledge management, to Stratford, may be likened to grabbing chunks of information from other sources and using them to develop an argument.

Of course, there are forms of human reason other than argument (and to be precise, three other forms of reason: explanation, description, and definition), but the concept applies equally well elsewhere. Need a taxonomy? Grabs chunks of existing taxonomy from elsewhere and create your own (this ensures that your taxonomy will be interoperable with the others).

Knowledge management techniques, asserts Stratford, will be used in smart communities. This means that - to Stratford - the development of smart communities will resemble architecture and engineering much more than it does, say, art and design.

He didn't say this, but Stratford is probably thinking of the information-theoretic approach to knowledge management and database design, concepts covered by, say, Jan Harrington in Relational Database Design. He is probably also thinking of the principles of RAD - Rapid Application Design - as applied in the computer software industry. And so far as that goes, he is right to do so. So far as that goes.

Stratford's CITI project is built according to those principles. The CITI project is intended to be a resource for municipal administrators and civic officials. Stratford identified a four-step development process:

1.      Build project files around 'best (and worst) practices)

2.      Obtain 'citizen information' through, say, needs analysis

3.      Identify 'communities of practice'

a.       "harvest" the knowledge of the community

b.      adopt that knowledge, adapt it to your needs, innovate, and share

c.      For example: Industry Canada's Information Resource Exchange

 4.      Adopt what KPMG calls a "rapid release" strategy - release a small but impressive body of knowledge bank and make a commitment to grow and devlop from that base

CITI may contain an impressive collection of resources; Stratford asserts that he is aggressively collecting information. People at Smart 2000, for example, are being asked to contribute to CITISmart.

CITI may contain an impressive collection of information, but I don't know. You have to be a member to view this information. Membership (sold at the institutional level) costs $2000.

You can see Stratford's point of view. CITISmart costs money to maintain and expand. But then again, it is possible to build comprehensive sites like, say, Jurist ( ) and make it available to all. It depends on your funding model.

But my question is this: of what benefit is it to anyone to gather all this information, store it in one place, and to lock the door? What incentive, what motivation is there for people to contribute? Stratford argues that the relinquishing of information should be based on selfish interests. Yet there is no upside to providing - for free - a valuable resource to Stratford's copyright domain.

The fact is this: information about any domain is distributed throughout that domain. Information about municipal governance, for example, is distributed throughout the 400 odd municipalities in Alberta, throughout its universities and colleges, throughout similar sites around the world. A centralized collections system will not work. Too much information is missed; too few people get to see it.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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