Government, copyright and the public good

At GovCamp Canberra 2012, the Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan stated:

“When government is the owner of intellectual property, a proprietary approach runs counter to the purpose of government and the public good”.

We couldn’t agree more. Governments exist to serve citizens, not to compete with them. Any form of information produced by governments should belong to the citizenry.

Further, in this age of easy sharing of information there is no reason to restrict this access to the citizenry of one country. There is also no practical way to stop such access. I can and do access the public domain works of the US Federal government, though I’m not a US citizen. A Tanzanian can access works of the Australian government, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

These are sadly rare examples. Governments do tend to slap “Copyright… all rights reserved” notices on their works – including local and state governments in the US, despite the good example of the federal government. In Australia, open licenses are encouraged but not compulsory, and some departments are still struggling with the idea of letting people use the content however they wish. There are fears and misconceptions, but there are also advocates of openness, and change is happening in their corner of the world.

Based on Professor McMillan’s presentation, and on a conversation with someone from his office, he and his office are serious about promoting knowledge sharing by the Australian government. I hope we’ll see this approach followed in more and more governments around the world.

Are there local government councilors and state/provincial representatives reading this? Or representatives from countries that haven’t implemented open licensing yet? Think about your publications on recycling, or energy efficiency, or cycling, or sustainable housing, or foreign aid… Councils such as the City of Sydney and the City of Portland have a large amount of valuable content, and citizens as well as governments would benefit from this information being shared.

What would it take to put a Creative Commons Attribution license on all your publications?

The quote was captured and shared on Twitter by Pia Waugh – wording is accurate to the best of our knowledge.

Open Source Permaculture – 1 day to go

There’s just over a day remaining for the Open Source Permaculture project, at time of writing, and around $3000 more needed to reach the target. Please consider donating if you haven’t already – this will be a real boost for permaculture. See the fundraising status box to the right.

And if you’re reading this after the deadline, there are plenty of ways you can get involved – just leave a comment here and we’ll direct you.

Now for a brief “roundup” – as in the latest news and blogs, not Roundup the chemical herbicide. We use mulch to keep weeds down ;-). Open Source Permaculture has been getting attention, appearing on Treehugger, Ecopreneurist, Inhabitat and many other sites. I want to highlight three particularly interesting links.

Shared vision: Open Source Permaculture

Update: Nothing came of this project, sadly. See comments for details.

Appropedia continues to be committed to free and open knowledge resources for permaculture, and we hope to have more detailed announcements on this soon. – Chris Watkins, 7 Aug 2013.

Original post:

We’ve been speaking with Sophie Novack and Evan Schoepke from the Open Source Permaculture project, and we’re glad to announce that we’ll be working together building the permaculture wiki on Appropedia, and that we’re supporting their fundraising effort.

They state:

We believe that sustainability is for everyone. That’s why we’re creating Open Source Permaculture, a free online resource for anyone who wants to create a more sustainable world.

This resonates with us. We’ve been talking about open source permaculture for some time, and putting the idea out there in the permaculture community. Our “Permaculture wiki” page describes the state of things, noting various attempts which have sadly fallen over and others which have a more limited scope, and inviting others to join us. An open source permaculture wiki page (hosted by our friends the Open Source Ecology wiki0 looks at what we need in a website to really serve this vision.

We’ve made progress. We’re now using an important tool for structured data, Semantic MediaWiki, which we can apply to a permaculture ecology to help map the relationships between inputs, outputs, plants, animals, principles and resources. We’ve cultivated the wiki platform, to enable open source permaculture to grow

But a key part of the ecosystem has been missing, until now: Passionate individuals who know permaculture, who are prepared to study and work on developing materials to explain and teach permaculture. That’s what the Open Source Permaculture project is about and we’re happy to point you to their fundraising effort. This is a vision that deserves funding, and deserves a vote of support. Please check it out, and ask yourself how much this kind of abundant future means to you.

The details of our collaboration are being worked out – it will be based on using Appropedia as the permaculture wiki, and I’m sure we’ll be working together in other ways in this work to create an abundant and sustainable world.

By the way, for those unclear about what permaculture is exactly, here’s a video from a community in San Francisco:
Continue reading “Shared vision: Open Source Permaculture”

Open knowledge in development – conversations start

The Open Knowledge Foundation has launched a new mailing list for open knowledge in development. Jonathan Gray writes:

We encourage you to join – whether you’re interested in:

  • visually representing development related open data (a la OKF Advisory Board member Hans Rosling)
  • sharing development information or making it easier to find and re-use (a la Aidinfo or PublishWhatYouFund)
  • sharing practical information for development, e.g. on sanitation or construction (a la Appropedia or Akvo)
  • open textbooks and open resources for education in developing countries
  • or in any other open knowledge thats related to development!

The full post is on their blog: New mailing list for open knowledge in development

Edit: Note the new Appropedia wiki page, Open aid and development.

Knowledge for development, knowledge as development

Looking at what One Laptop Per Child  is about highlights two aspects to knowledge in development:

  • knowledge as development (OLPC’s educational mission)
  • knowledge for development, which they’re happy to have included in the “content bundles” loaded onto the XO laptops (based on our conversations with them).

Both aspects of knowledge are essential – and so is collaboration to build this knowledge in an open way.

Clean water – open knowledge resources

swiss mountains through a glass of water by Gaetan LeeA fellow Appropedian asked if I’d written any articles on water treatment, as he wants to learn about it. Yes and no – most articles I’ve worked on have been collaborative efforts that remain open to improvement. That can work well,  as described in a recent post.

Putting that aside, where are the open resources that a learner should know about in water treatment?

  • Appropedia’s Water portal is a good place to start – it gives a map of Appropedia’s water content and some highlights, as well as links to other key open resources.
  • Akvo’s Akvopedia (similar name, different site – but they’re good friends of Appropedia). This has great, structured information about specific tech, with a development and appropriate technology focus.
  • Wikipedia’s Water Portal and Water_treatment pages, and the many others in the Water treatment category. There’s also the water section of the appropriate technology article. It’s topical info only, without the how-tos and designs you can find on Appropedia and Akvopedia, but the breadth and organization make this a great resource.
  • Waterwiki.net is a United Nations project, which is less open in a number of ways. Much of the content is posted as PDFs attached to pages (are they covered by the open license too?); you need to jump through some hurdles to join and contribute; and although it’s a polished looking site, it’s not clear at first glance that it also welcomes non-UN contributors. It’s good that the UN is taking steps towards openness – the best thing they could do, though, is make a policy of open licensing all their publications, past present and future.

OpenCourseWare resources are course materials such as podcasts and written materials, often from top universities, that are freely accessible online. The OpenCourseWare Finder yields results such as these:

Then there are great resources which are copyrighted, which we hope will soon be open:

  • CAWST – Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology – Akvo used some of their content in Akvopedia, which is how I found this great knowledge resource, but as there is no copyright or license statement on the site, it’s technically copyright. (I assume Akvo got permission for the pages they used.)
  • BioSandFilter.org – another great resource on a more specific area of technology and design for water treatment. From our conversations, we know they support knowledge sharing – we just hope they go the extra step and choose an open license.


Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, CC-BY. Chosen because: The glass is half full.

Clean water – open knowledge resources

swiss mountains through a glass of water by Gaetan LeeA fellow Appropedian asked if I’d written any articles on water treatment, as he wants to learn about it. Yes and no – most articles I’ve worked on have been collaborative efforts that remain open to improvement. That can work well,  as described in a recent post.

Putting that aside, where are the open resources that a learner should know about in water treatment?

  • Appropedia’s Water portal is a good place to start – it gives a map of Appropedia’s water content and some highlights, as well as links to other key open resources.
  • Akvo’s Akvopedia (similar name, different site – but they’re good friends of Appropedia). This has great, structured information about specific tech, with a development and appropriate technology focus.
  • Wikipedia’s Water Portal and Water_treatment pages, and the many others in the Water treatment category. There’s also the water section of the appropriate technology article. It’s topical info only, without the how-tos and designs you can find on Appropedia and Akvopedia, but the breadth and organization make this a great resource.
  • Waterwiki.net is a United Nations project, which is less open in a number of ways. Much of the content is posted as PDFs attached to pages (are they covered by the open license too?); you need to jump through some hurdles to join and contribute; and although it’s a polished looking site, it’s not clear at first glance that it also welcomes non-UN contributors. It’s good that the UN is taking steps towards openness – the best thing they could do, though, is make a policy of open licensing all their publications, past present and future.

OpenCourseWare resources are course materials such as podcasts and written materials, often from top universities, that are freely accessible online. The OpenCourseWare Finder yields results such as these:

Then there are great resources which are copyrighted, which we hope will soon be open:

  • CAWST – Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology – Akvo used some of their content in Akvopedia, which is how I found this great knowledge resource, but as there is no copyright or license statement on the site, it’s technically copyright. (I assume Akvo got permission for the pages they used.)
  • BioSandFilter.org – another great resource on a more specific area of technology and design for water treatment. From our conversations, we know they support knowledge sharing – we just hope they go the extra step and choose an open license.


Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, CC-BY. Chosen because: The glass is half full.

“Encyclopedia of the future”

In the non-mathematical field there is wide scope for the use of [computing] techniques in things such as filing systems. It is not inconceivable that an automatic encyclopaedia service, operated through the national teleprinter or telephone system, will one day exist.

— Trevor Pearcey, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Australia, 1948. Quoted in Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age. Hat tip to the Downlode Etext Library.

Visionary thinking, 53 years before the launch of Wikipedia.

Let’s do some visionary thinking of our own, and expand the kind and amount of knowledge available freely online, and the ways of making it available.

Do you have knowledge or tech skills? Do you want to help expand the freely available, open knowledge that will help build a thrivable world and give us a chance to get us through the climate crisis? contact us by leaving a comment below.

The impact of open knowledge

“Appropedia? That’s so cool! My daughter built her rainwater catchment system from Appropedia.” Another chance meeting, and a chance discovery of how this sharing of knowledge is impacting people’s lives, and helping us live lightly but richly on our planet.

Looking at that rainwater category – there’s some fantastic content, but it needs some serious work on organizing it. A good structure might be a main topic page, a general how-to page, and a number of specific design pages. (Any volunteers?)