“So much valuable knowledge is locally produced but underutilized because it is not freely shared.”~ Leonhard Dobusch (ref1)
What would a region or locality look like if knowledge was freely shared? Would the value within this knowledge be realized in our everyday lives, navigating our towns and cities? These were a few initial questions that lept into my mind when reviewing an account by Laurent Stranskraba of the Open Commons Region Linz event which was held on April 11th 2011 at the VHS Knowledge Tower.
As I thought about these questions I realized first of all that we must appreciate the historical context in which this event was taking place. Going way back to 1979 the city of Linz started the Ars Electronica festival, a showcase for cutting-edge experiments in digital and media arts, which was followed in 1987 with the Prix Ars Electronica, a prestigious international award for the most exemplary, pioneering websites and computer art ~ Bollier (Ref 2). Linz has also been at the centre of Austria’s focus on making open source software a civic priority. Along with Germany, cities of the stature of Vienna, Belin, Stuttgart and Nuremberg have become centre grounds for ‘free initiative’ experimentation. One of the first of these initiatives arose some 15 years ago in 1996 when the servus.at (Citizens Internet network and public ISP) was founded. Servus were joined by Radio FRO and more recently dorfTV, media lab, Johannes Kepler University and the University of Arts Linz.
Connecting the Dots: The Rise of Self-Reflective Awareness
These initiatives hold considerable potential and like the imaginal cells of the caterpillar undergoing early stage metamorphosis they seem to be resonating on a higher frequency (ref 3). Although such initiatives arise and function within capacities produced from technological advances of the Information Age, many such initiatives have bared little resemblance to the super coordinated information highways of the world wide web.
“Some cities have open data platforms and application contests to boost innovation, some have a strong open source industry or libraries that make their artifacts available via open archives, and others have universities that support the open courseware movement. These are all notable initiatives, but they are often scattered and therefore fail to gain momentum and have a broader impact. What would happen if all these efforts could be coordinated on a local level?”
~ Thomas Gegenhuber (ref 4)
Using Bill Veltrop’s re-mixing of the imaginal cells metaphor to one of imaginal souls (ref 5), this quote from Thomas Gegenhuber reflects an inquisitive desire to move away from a current state where cells or souls are isolated towards an interim state, of connecting the dots, where we find ways to “clump and cluster”.
The first speaker at the Linz event last month was Councilwoman Eva Schobesberger of the Green Party. She emphasized that the aims of the party were to democratize the media with the aim to establish networks, based on Linz initiatives and their partners. It is not yet clear on the face of the reports on this event exactly to what extent networks would be supported and promoted but any such moves would appear to enhance the capacity for each initiative to recognize its integral part within the whole thriving living system that has evolved to its present state.
Permeating the Institutional Membranes of Government and Economy
The main presentation at the event was presented by Gerald Kempinger (Managing ICT Linz) and Stefan Pavel (Project Manager for Open Commons Region Linz). The presenters outlined that unlike any previous city Linz has plans to move beyond initial equality measures of open internet access through the Public Space Server Project. The vision: to transform the city its politics, governance, culture and economy through the power of the internet based free-initiative enterprises. David Bollier succinctly sums up:
“Last July city officials announced that it would launch Open Commons Region Linz, a series of region-wide initiatives that aspires to make local information and creativity as open, accessible and shareable as possible. The Green Party and politically minded digital leaders believe that by making it easy for citizens to access and share knowledge on a local basis, it will stimulate digital innovators to produce locally useful information tools while encouraging greater civic engagement and more robust economic development.”
Other speakers in the conference included Nicholas Duerk of X-Net who explained the uses of open source as a business model namely in the areas of administration, training and maintenance. Going further than this Gerin Trautenberger of microgiants (company) spoke on the power behind the Creative Commons license and how it can be used to remove the chains around what is essentially the creative process that companies are engaged with. In the future he predicted, open source collaborative approaches, enhanced design, architecture (e.g. settlers movement), and products that would become “Commons” – shared by all, and owned by no one person.
While reading the various accounts of this event and the initiatives that fuel such discussion I quickly began to feel a soul enriching quality to what I was reading. It appears that the traditional perception that there are clear impenetrable boundaries between people and the institutions that dominate civic life is eroding. In its cold hard place there seems to be a more fluid exchange occurring. The movement towards more fluidic interchange is a direct result of the events that have unfolded in cities like Linz since the first 1979 Ars Electronica festival. By a democratization of media through initiatives such as internet access for all, to the potential for continual political and economic democratization the councillors and political figures in Austria are beginning to tap into what could forseeably be a limitless source of creativity and expression within market, state and commons arenas.
The movement towards this vision reflected in the conversations unravelling in the conference in Linz reflects what Veltrop describes as the Future State:
“Collectively, we begin spawning generative initiatives that are much more like butterflies than caterpillars. These initiatives “infect” our traditional institutions in ways that facilitate their natural evolution into forms that are dramatically more rewarding to all their stakeholders. Once we collectively begin to experience what’s possible in the Age of Conscious Evolution, it will become irreversible.”
Giving Credit to Creative Policies and the Underlying Forces of Change
Blogger Thomas Gegenhuber has a nice account of how the move towards an extension of free initiatives to public policy intiatives evolved:
“The question for city councillor Christian Forsterleitner was how to transfer the knowledge and ideas of the Ars Electronica to city politics. In a session of the city council in October 2008, Forsterleitner put forward a motion that the City of Linz should conduct a study on how to support digital culture and the principles of openness via public policy initiatives. The study was presented to the public in 2010, and introduced the “Open Commons Region Linz.” Johann Mayr, a member of the local government, summarized in a press conference the potential of a thriving public-private ecosystem driven by the initiative: “This project does not only serve the interest of the public and society. The Open Commons Region Linz will boost the economic development of our city.”Ref 4
The work of the Social Democrats and the Green Party can’t be underestimated they are moving in a direction which appears to be beyond ideology. Instead grounded in a sensibility of what will work in practical terms the movement towards open access initiatives continues to gather pace. As important as the decision makers are in this process, if we look deeper beyond the context of time and key events in which this blog has been written there is an inevitability about the whole process. Not an inevitability towards an ideological utopia but an inevitability of consciousness to evolve and expand outwards. This is a co-creative process, a conscious flow, working within and through technological advances, which will give rise to far greater democratic capacities among a multitude of other resources for the creation of our future cities.
This blog post was originally published on http://commonslearningalliance.org/ please visit our large knowledge garden of resources on The Commons and co-create the future with us!
Ref 1 Leonhard Dobusch, editor of the German-language book “Free Networks. Free Knowledge,”
Ref 2 David Bollier, http://www.bollier.org/city-linz-pioneers-regional-information-commons
Ref 3 Norie Huddle on George Por’s Blog of Collective Intelligence at http://blogofcollectiveintelligence.com/2004/05/27/the_collective_intelligence_of
Ref 4 Thomas Gegenhuber of MacroWikinomics http://www.macrowikinomics.com/innovation-communities/ngos-and-the-government/building-an-open-commons-region/