Knowledge Commons in Victoria and Singapore
= PhD Thesis by Natalie Pang
The Knowledge Commons in Victoria and Singapore: An Exploration of Community Roles in the Shaping of Cultural Institutions
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, September 2008
‘The commons’ is a concept originating from the traditional shared use of land, but which now often refers to any social asset, physical or abstract, that is shared. This research concerns one aspect of the commons, namely the knowledge commons.
The thesis explores community roles in developing and sustaining cultural institutions as key components of the knowledge commons. It focuses particularly on processes of participatory design, and on the capacity of digital technologies to support community engagement. The study takes place across the cultural contexts of the State of Victoria (Australia) and Singapore. The three key aims of the thesis are to explore in what ways and to what extent:
- The emerging concept of the knowledge commons relates to the role of cultural institutions as systems for the creation and sharing of sustainable knowledge resources by their communities.
- The notion of participative design may be applicable to the ongoing development of such systems as multi-stakeholder partnerships to meet community needs.
- Differences in national culture may affect the generality of such an analysis.
The research design employs literature analysis and multiple case studies as a basis for proposing new theorisations and an analytical tool to assist future action by cultural institutions and relevant communities. The main perspective used in framing the literature analysis and case studies is Giddens’ structuration theory. Structuration sees the continuing interplay between social action and social structure as the means by which the cultural patternings known as institutions are recursively produced. A complementary perspective used is Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions. Other theorists from a range of disciplines provide perspectives on particular concepts or aspects, such as the commons and participatory design.
Five chapters are headed ‘Foundations’. These seek to explicate key dimensions of the research, namely the knowledge commons, community knowledge, cultural institutions, participatory design, and the cultural contexts of Victoria and Singapore.
Four chapters are headed ‘Case Study’ and deal with individual cultural institutions, or clusters of institutions, which were the sites of exploratory enquiry (generally consisting of interviews and observation, but in the case of Museum Victoria also elements of action research). The cultural institutions covered by these chapters are Museum Victoria/Women on Farms Gathering, the Asian Civilisations Museum, Public Libraries in Victoria and Public Libraries in Singapore.
These insights are analysed to propose a series of related typologies. The coverage of these typologies includes resource characteristics, collective processes, and cultural dimensions. The typologies come together as components of an integrated, explanatory conceptual model concerning the relationships between the commons, cultural institutions, communities, collective processes (including the role of information and communication technologies) and participatory design within cultural institutions.
In the final chapter answers are formulated for the initiating research questions. Also the integrated model developed by the thesis is used as the basis for a proposed analytical tool to assist action towards enhanced community engagement in the development of cultural institutions. Use of the tool is illustrated by application to several examples of collective action encountered during the research.