Research and Reports



GSSD Reports

Workshop on CyberPartnership for Sustainability

Session 1
Introduction: The New Cyberpartnership


Good morning. It’s a real pleasure to welcome you here this morning and to look forward to an interesting discussion on the recent developments in the Cybrpartnership. I should tell you first of all that we’re recording these proceedings, because we’d like to be able to have a summary to circulate to you and also to make available on the Internet.

Our focus is knowledge networking for decision-making. Our purpose is to try to improve understandings of and the dilemmas of sustainability as we seek to draw on the vast knowledge base that is being developed nationally and internationally. The panel this morning will look at some broad issues on networking, the importance of the knowledge revolution, knowledge networking, and discussion of the implications for distance learning.

This is the second meeting of this group. We met once before about two years ago when we were trying to decide assess as a group what the potentials might be for making the whole of our interactions greater than the sum of the parts and many of you here today were joining us in the first meeting.
So we are pursuing here the concept of a partnership that is quite operational, since as we go through the program today, the agenda itself represents the pieces and the elements of the collaboration the groups that constitute this evolving partnership. The bottom line here is the need to enhance capacity and the sharing of knowledge for purposes of action.

To give you a sense of the speed with which the use of this particular space and these particular technologies have evolved, we should briefly consider the evolution of Internet domain. The message is really clear, i.e., “more.” But what is not clear is “more” of “what” --in terms of content and more of what in terms of “utility,” and “more” of what in terms of effectiveness. And that’s basically why we are here today.

For those of you here that themselves constitute an electronic network, an information network, we see your presence in our own collaboration as a basis for articulating and implementing a global strategy on of meta networking, meta connectivity, and at the same time enabling the development of meta-knowledge. 

The program is structured today to highlight, and to illustrate, how different policy domains, and subject matters have their own constituencies and their own policy dilemmas and that the connections with other domains might be helpful. Towards the end of today we’ll be talking about mirror-sites and about knowledge nodes. Let me turn to GSSD, the Global System for Sustainable Development.
GSSD also reflects a related set of concerns, central to the issues before us: The G stands for the global meta-knowledge networking, the operational word is knowledge, the S is for structured knowledge. There is a framework that we’re using, it is adaptive, it is changing, it will change as we become, all of us, wiser. The second S is for using state of the art knowledge management, the state of the art is moving fast, and D is for dynamic partnership with the recognition that none of us can really get an understanding of the overall dilemma, sustainability and that each of us sees just a little piece of the complex issue.

For each of the 14 slices of the GSSD platform, we connect with the kind of knowledge, information, data, insight, policy statements about the particular activity involved. For example, related to urbanization, conflict and wars, governments and governance, or with respect to the particular problems that arise from transportation, that arise from energy use, and so on. We also consider data, information, knowledge about experience related to technical solutions that have been proposed or put in place. And this is where a lot of the knowledge providers and provision that is represented in this room, enables us to have access in terms updated and what is going on, on “technical solutions.”

We all know that technical solutions have the remarkable way of generating their own problems, and so we’re very much alert to the necessity of keeping in mind the importance of tracking knowledge about socioeconomic and strategic regulatory solutions put forward related to sectoral sustainability dilemmas, as well as to overall systems sustainability dilemmas. 

The very last ring refers to the set of international accords that are being put in place with the intent of promoting coordinated action. Today we have with us several of the authors, i.e., the writers, of Agenda 21. I share with them the pain of the negotiation of each sentence of that document. But Agenda 21 is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many other, more formal and legally binding agreements. This is the area in which we need to have an integrate sense of what are the commitments the countries have made and this is the area for which is really the hardest thing to do to develop a good sense, a good record of what is going on.

We have put together for your convenience, for your use, a Briefing Book for today. The briefing book illustrates the specific types of pages from the web that are connected to the systems database as we ourselves have identified them. In the long run of course what we would like is for the knowledge providers themselves to make this connections that we don’t have to use our limited knowledge about various sectors for that connectivity.

So with that let me turn it over to our next speaker, Professor Chichilnisky of Columbia University.

C. Chichilnisky: 

I will give you a bit of an economic perspective on the “knowledge revolution,” and the connection with the issue of “sustainability.” I am pleased to say that much of what I’m going to be talking about, you know about, so I will be just linking things in a somewhat unusual way.

The key issue is that, although human beings have lived on earth for several million years, it is only over the last 50 years human activity has reached for the first time the ability to affect environmental processes. I want you to concentrate on the last 50 years. The international market plays a key role. Industrialization is a very resource intensive activity and we all know the way it has been since the industrial revolution and has intensified in the last 50 years.

Given globalization of the world economy since World War II, the intensified pattern of resource use for which the developed nations are responsible in great measure, is due to the extraction of most natural resources which they export through the international market at prices, that often are below the replacement costs. And in economic terms they prices are therefore unreasonably low.

The market has an unparalleled role in terms of importance. And the market is evolving due to two major trends: (a) the “knowledge revolution” and (b) global environmental problems. Both of these factors lead to new and fundamentally different types of markets. Let me just tell you a bit how or why these two trends are connected and why markets play a key role. 

We know that the knowledge sectors as a percentage of GDP are increasing in the United States, and very recently we see that the key old and new economy sectors have very different averages of growth. Several years ago we were really skeptical about the role of universities and knowledge and we thought that if you were really smart, you wouldn’t be learning. You’ll be doing more interesting things, such as making money. It turns out there is a connection between the two activities, which is stronger today than about 20 years ago. 

Knowledge is also related to potential for dematerialization and for reduction of environmental degradation. So the paradox of knowledge is that it is costly to produce, yet once produced, it comes in duplicated without losing it, and it can be shared at no cost. This, you see because it’s a private good, privately produced good, and this is because it’s a public good. So at the level of consumption, you’re dealing with a public good and the level of production you’re definitely dealing with a private good.
This combination of private and public goods poses a challenge to economical organization. You no longer can say, you’re in the realm of the public or the realm of the private.

Now we turn to a paradox. It turns out that because knowledge is costly to produce, without certain forms of property rights, regulations or regimes, there will be no incentive to produce knowledge. Property rights and regulations for knowledge will be as crucial to the knowledge revolution as property rights and capital have been for the industrial revolution. Property rights on capital to lead to major extraordinary debates between socialism and capitalism during this century. But these are not as important as the question that Professor Choucri was telling us in the beginning of this workshop, which she said that the distribution of knowledge is related to technology, to productivity, and so forth.

It is essential to focus on the property rights of knowledge. They are a very important component of transforming the economy from one based on industrialization to one based on knowledge—and that increases the prospects for sustainability. What is being proposed here is to replace the present system of commercial access to knowledge via patents with a compulsory license system which encourages use of knowledge while protecting the rights of the inventor and the incentives for innovation.

N. Choucri: 

We must not lose sight of the potential for technology leapfrogging in developing countries. It is a possibility that many of us are searching for with the objective of reducing the probability of replicating the traditional polluting industrial trajectory of the West. That trajectory has inflicted damage on life supporting properties. The strategic aspect of our concerns here involve understanding how the combination of (1) knowledge provision, (2) strategic development policy, and (3) strategies for capacity building can jointly facilitate technology leapfrogging.
This now brings us to the input side, i.e., to the learning side, and under conditions of distributed networking and long distances.

J. Williams: 

I’m a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering here at MIT and also co-director of a Distance Education Program. It’s the only distance education program at MIT and I’d like to talk a little about the changes about technology is bringing to educational area.

The human mind is really the main spring of progress. It’s becoming a strategic issue how we educate humans and what value of the human mind is. There’s this concept of the “weightless economy” is the industrial revolution where we are moving material goods around. Now we’re moving knowledge which is weightless. And so it’s really changing quite radically the value chain of the educational system.

Our ability to think, and our freedom to think, is our means of survival. It is the freedom of the individual that counts. This country is founded on that and I think you can’t justify what’s good for the majority by taking away the rights of the individual.

As David Landes showed in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, that the absence of freedom leads to disaster.

With the advances in computer and telecommunications we’re suddenly faced with the ability to do things in a very different way from previously. Unfortunately the cost of higher education has risen drastically. At MIT, it’s something like $24,000 to educate, to get a degree here. Roughly the cost of a course at MIT is $3,500. We can compare that with, for example, a distance education program running at the University of Texas at Austin that’s delivering a course to high school students for about $319 a course. So there’s a phenomenal difference, a factor of ten, in the cost between what you can do with distance education and what we’re doing at the moment in the Universities.
The amount of money that’s involved in the educational market is significant. It’s estimated at something like $600 billion for all sectors. Just the adult training sector is a $100 billion market. Some people think that this is going to be the largest market in the next century. It is larger than communication, or telecommunications or banking. Some would argue that it has more strategic value for a country than any other area. Here at MIT we’re in the midst of reviewing what’s our position in this new value chain. I think a number of people have pointed out the numbers of people on the Web and it’s obviously a significant market. These are some of the people that are already some of the players in the educational market.

Perhaps the most well known is the University of Phoenix which was started by venture capitalists. It already has 44,000 students and its estimated value was one billion dollars when it was started three years ago. So, we in education are not alone. Industry is moving into this area very rapidly.

Traditional universities are going to have to review what their role is. We’re certainly going to do this if we are going to compete in this. We’re not going to be able to compete in the traditional way and these are other people. The British are putting 200 million pounds a year into forming a virtual university.

Financial Times Management are already delivering distance education programs. They were here at MIT looking to form a partnership with us to deliver education around the world. And at MIT at the moment we don’t have our vision yet of what role we want to play in this. So, we don’t know if we should partner with them or not.

Our distance education program at the moment is the Systems Design and Management Program. We deliver to different parts of the United States. In the educational value chain there are content producers, content packages, content distributors, marketers, assurers of quality, etc. At the moment the university plays all those roles. We produce our own courses. We do that by giving a professor virtually no resources, and it takes about five years to produce a good course.

A different model is that of “open university” in the UK, for example that spends about two million dollars on a single course, produces it in about six months, and them markets it for five years. Now there’s a lot people that there are going to be just few high quality courses out there. In any particular area, there may be the best professor in the world that’s the five million dollars and is produced an exceptional course. In the weightless economy, you don’t have much advantage with location any more. So there’s an argument that what you’re going to see is just the very best companies are going to survive. The same maybe true in education, that there just may just be very few courses given for example in signal processing. There would be supreme quality, but not very many of them.

The effectiveness of this technology is that it is clean. There isn’t much difference between on-campus education and distance education. In our distance education course we have on campus students taking the same courses. In examinations they don’t perform much better or any better or any better at all. If you can drop the cost drastically, then distance education may be very effective.

To manage these courses, you need some kind of delivery system and management system. We’ve produced one here. There are going to be a lot of different options for this. Our system manages about 50 courses at the moment. So, basically once you register you chose courses and then they are delivered over the web.

We’re just experimenting with videos. Stanford is already delivering courses using streaming video. So basically you just sit at home with your computer and download the material and then you review the lecture when you want to.

So, there are many opportunities here to accelerate learning, to lower the cost education, and to close the gap between advanced and third world countries. Now you can sit in Thailand and immediately see the latest revision of the software that Microsoft has released. There are presently about a thousand corporate universities.

I personally believe that universities and the education system are going to drastically change. We’re going to be in competition. One analogy was that we may be like Broadway, i.e., that sitting at MIT we say we’re really good at research. That may be true, however, you have something like Hollywood springing up out there and maybe we’ll always be Broadway, but there’ll be the film industry. I think distance education will be like that, and a lot of universities and a lot of people have to make decisions about what role they want to play.

The main problem is this infrastructure for knowledge networking. It’s not that straightforward to deliver these courses. At the moment we’ve been going about three years. We faced a lot of difficulties and we have to answer some of the questions about intellectual property rights. There’s a great debate at MIT at the moment who owns courses. Does the faculty own that course? Can the faculty take that course and go and sell it to a company? We have no policy on this at the moment. The analogy is that it should be just like textbooks. In textbook the faculty owns the royalties to the textbook. The university has no rights to those at the moment. With Web courses it’s not going to be the same, but we have no policy. We’re trying to figure out who owns these things and it’s going to be critical.

N. Choucri: 

What we’re trying to do here at MIT with respect to knowledge networking, is to find more effective ways of coupling the networking performances to educational requirements and educational needs. This now leads to a transition team to Professor Williams’ observations, and those of the next speaker, who will talk about the logic knowledge access that are embedded in the Global System for Sustainable Development. These mechanisms are of two types: (a) search mechanisms, and (b) navigation systems, related to sustainability.

When we talk about “knowledge” so far as GSSD is concerned, we simply mean quality controlled abstracts and descriptive pointers to the internet resources and materials generated and provided by others placed on the Web. Our first step has been to focus on institutions that provide information and focus on institutional knowledge. The issues at hand require the input from a wide range of different types of institutions—at different levels of complexity in different part of the world.

S. Millman: 

Professor Choucri talked about the intellectual organization of GSSD, this consists of 14 issue areas and five problem-solution rings. We refer to the issue areas as slices in this system and we have a number of ways for approaching this “data.” Right now there are about two thousand unique Web sites called URL, the acronym for Universal Resource Locators, which is the address for the Web sites that we have found cross-referenced, indexed, written abstracts for and have included here on the various topics regarding global sustainability.

In order to allow a user the broadest access to the materials of interest, we’ve broken the search capacities down to two general types. The first refers to navigators; they allow you to navigate your way through this site by going from one intellectual topic to the next. The second are search mechanisms, for simple and advanced searches, that allow a user to get at a particular piece of information or knowledge that they might be interested in—regardless of where it falls on the conceptual framework of the GSSD.

Of the three navigators, two (a) search by ring and (b) search by slice, are hierarchical navigators. The third search by cell is more of a true navigator, so, I will focus now on search by cell. This allows a user to say, “What I’m primarily interested in are scientific and technical solutions to conflict and war.” The user clicks on that cell is presented with a list of documents and these link directly to the contents of those documents.

The abstracts provide a first view to tell you a little bit the site. They tell you how they’re worked into the conceptual framework, their locations, the data type or the knowledge type, the concept area, etcetera. This provides you with two relevant factors: it lets you know the issue area and then the concept that it falls within (in standard text). This first view gives you a very good idea before you go anywhere which of these most closely associated with the kind of information you’re looking for. Links from this page allow you to link directly to the site externally. The abstracts are prepared (so far) by the MIT site manager.

Basic organizational framework within each abstract include country and region, valid cells, slice and rings, concepts and data types. All of this allows you not only to get good information about the site before you move on to look at it, but it also lets you know where this particular sits fits into the conceptual framework and where else you might look within this conceptual framework to find information that’s valuable to you. For example, it may not have occurred to someone that to look in the various rings under “conflict” and “war.” In some cases, you’ll find a variety of different issue areas that a particular URL falls in and I’m sure you’re all very much aware of the global implications and the wide distribution of some of these sites.

Going back to the other navigators. Search by ring and search by slice are both hierarchical, which means you may be primarily interested with an issue area and not particularly as concerned right off the top with the problems solutions that are involved. It starts with a search of this type and uses simply sequences to browse through, everything here will be in the same issue and then you can just browse your way through. Search by ring is the same idea.

The searches we are all used to are the more classical searches; (the others are navigators or browsers). A simple search is very basic. It allows you to enter a particular search criteria in the text field. It also allows you to sort either by relevance or by date. It allows you to search either by an exact word match or by the word variation defined by a thesaurus to the words that you’ve put into the text.
This search engine also allows you to wait certain terms more than other terms. For instance, if you’re interested in Costa Rican land use, you might be more interested in land use than particularly Costa Rica. So, you can use what’s known as the [term weight] function and say that land use is 80% of what you’re interested in and Costa Rica is 20% of what you’re interested in and therefore when it returns by relevance, I will give a higher relevance rating to those things that say Costa Rica, than [unclear] to land use than Costa Rica.

And the advanced search, takes advantage of the cross referencing and indexing which is throughout the system. Again, you’re given the capacity to put in additional search criteria. That’s another basic text search with the browsing capability, but it also allows you to select one or more issue areas, one or more problem solutions. These are the slices and the rings to narrow down the kind of data you’re looking for. It may be that you’re not interested in events or case studies. Or it maybe that you’re primarily looking for bibliographies. You can click as many of these as you like. We’ve also broken the regions of the world down into what we hope is an intellectually sound geopolitical grouping. And again you can select as many of these as you like.

One word about the “abstracts” related to inputs and population of the data. We get those in two ways. One is that an individual can chose to submit a site. And when they do, they are presented with this page. They are asked for the title, the site’s address, which is the URL—universal resource locator. Type in an abstract what they think about it, country, if they chose to be that specific or select from the regions.

They’re also invited to fill out information by the different data types or knowledge types. So, they usually just fill in one of these and they are directed to do so. When they submit this to us, it doesn’t immediately go on-line. It goes to our server and what you’re looking at right now is the Notes environment. As you might have surmised from the front page, this site was developed on Lotus Notes, with the Domino system, and the very generous support of the Lotus Development Teams. 
We take a look at the sites that are submitted to us. The server end makes the decision what slice, what ring these must accurately reflect. Of course we look for the input for the people who submit their on sites.

The abstract will sometimes be altered in case that it is too long or too short or doesn’t contain a sufficient number of important words for a search engine, our search engine to pick something out of it. And then of course, the country, the region, the valid cells which are in slice combinations, concept, etcetera. The site manager then has the capacity to select on here, published a Web at which point it becomes live.

N. Choucri: 

I’d like to highlight the transition that we’re going to make at this point into our discussion. Steven talked about navigation and searches and how to proceed. Now we will turn to matters of content and questions these raise. How the system is designed to what is it that it we will be have been searching over and the what is it brings us really to the international institutions and other knowledge providers whose material we have all drawn upon. 

The initial version of the system was developing collaboration with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory here and it’s very interesting but very volatile and a cumbersome design and the transition to Lotus Notes made it made it much easier for exportability and much easier for mirror siting around the world. But first, a few moments for discussion.

R. Hurwitz: 

This is very very interesting. It seems to me they enhance value of networks. This may result in greater equity. It would help us to connect access to knowledge of welfare function.

S. Millman: 

If one has a notion that knowledge is not really privately produced, but is produced by collectives—like language is produced by collectives—then one might be able to argue that the better distributed the knowledge is patent rights, not withstanding you’re to get better production of knowledge in the long run.

R. Pollard: 

Defining property rights is crucial here, as we have seen in the domain of intellectual property. If you look at the struggles between the US and China, intellectual property is a major issue there. I think there are also some very significant areas. This affects the distance learning and the corporate university models, namely the model that wasn’t discussed. And I have to admit to being an economist and a mathematician too, by background.

There is also the issue of the role of advertising as the vehicle for facilitating the distribution of knowledge and the potential, very substantial impact that that has on the dynamics of knowledge distribution and, potentially, on the control or effective censorship potentially of the type of knowledge that is distributed. The Web is looking much more and more like commercial television and the question of what is the impact, particularly in relation to sustainability when the financial means that enabling that dissemination is based on the promotion of consumption which is not necessarily in terms of promotion sustainability is a critical one.

R. Alvarez: 

Some people say that the next 50 years the top research institutions will be in the USA and Europe; and probably in 100 years, one institution is going to be from Asia, from Latin America. There will be more gaps between North and South.

P. Eisenberger: 

Certainly our university recognized that the global partnerships and internalizing our educational efforts is a vital priority. Knowledge is going to be critical and education is the vehicle to transfer that knowledge. This makes it clear that one has to have a transfer of educational excellence not only in the United States and Europe, but also in developing countries. In other sessions I have attended, one of the critical issues that was raised by is that knowledge use can be low in physical capital and material intensity.

The generation of your educational infrastructure can in some sense be costly. The question is whether distance learning can reduce those costs in a way that makes it available and the quality that’s relevant is an important one. It seems to me that the two together can be very powerful. That is if you can find a way to both create educational excellence in the developing countries, as well as what Nazli said—provide through these networks a way of leapfrogging to provide recombinant knowledge so that everybody around the globe has knowledge available to them.

The MIT group has really created a very powerful engine for uplifting the whole world economy and, which is implicit in Professor Chichilnisky’s talk, do it in a way that is less damaging to the environment. That is the vision, at least at Columbia that we’re trying to work to. It is certainly the vision behind what Nazli is trying to do here and I think altogether these ideas of networks and knowledge generating and knowledge utility really are very powerful things that all have to be linked together into some integrated system that works. I know MIT is, and I’m sure Nazli can talk about it, making some attempts to begin to internationalize their efforts as well by forming some international partnership.

T. Willard: 

I just wanted to point out that that IISD has been working together with the Canadian International Development Research Center really studying the role of formal knowledge networks in creating new knowledge and how do you build partnerships between people from different countries and the most recent study on that is the formal knowledge networks.

And two of the key conclusions that we found are that formal knowledge networks go beyond building common navigational structures to actually co-creating new knowledge at rapid rates. The second thing that’s important in that is the need for clear governance structures. This is important so that the members of the network know who is enabled to make decisions. So I’m hoping that we can touch on some of those issues more in the afternoon.