Knowledge federation

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Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric
(Edna St. Vincent Millay).

ALT: Knowledge federation stands for all the activities that are needed to empower knowledge. As in political federation, knowledge resources are united, to give power to an important insight, while preserving their identity and autonomy. You may think of knowledge federation as all the fine movements of the arms and the hands that are needed to complement the crude outward movement we have been relying on almost exclusively – broadcasting, or publishing.

Doug Engelbart, one of Silicon Valley’s greatest innovators, saw the need for this loom and a way to create it in the early 1950s. The technology developed in his laboratory—personal and networked computing, graphical user interface with windows, on-screen conferencing and a number of others—set the development of computing for a half-century. Yet what has been accomplished is only part of his project. What remains is to combine those components into socio-technical systems capable of weaving our personal wisdom and ideas into the fabric of shared insights and answers to the increasingly complex questions that humanity will be facing.

Knowledge Federation is a variant of Engelbart’s loom, creating shared meaning even in a world of disputed issues. It is an ecosystem of people, tools and practices to describe knowledge, weigh its authority, search it, mark it iconically, share it legally, tend it and garden it—an ecosystem where differing views are allowed to coexist in a dynamic relationship, cross-fertilizing each other. Through openness and sharing it democratizes knowledge by allowing a broader constituency to contribute.

Knowledge Federation an international community promotes innovation at a new level through the integration of tools and best practices into a system for knowledge work. The Knowledge Federation community is organized as a transdiscipline, and practices Engelbart’s innovation strategy called ‘bootstrapping,’ where a community develops socio-technical solutions by using itself as a sandbox. The Knowledge Federation transdiscipline consists of IT researchers, system developers, journalists, entrepreneurs and collective intelligence mavens—a diverse mix of backgrounds and talents as necessary for system design on this large scale.

Knowledge federation is

organization of knowledge resources analogous to political federation
practice supporting such organization
(when capitalized) community of interest developing knowledge federation


Our point of departure is to challenge the assumption that something is 'known' when it is published in an academic journal or a newspaper. We undertake to

  • bring together all distinct points of reference, experts, stakeholders, types of expertise, points of view... that can best contribute to reaching a qualified insight, or accomplishing a design task
  • orchestrate the co-creation of insights or community-wide design work, with the help of suitable technology
  • co-develop corresponding social processes and technology
  • bring insights to people, communities and organizations that need them
  • design and put into practice knowledge-work systems that meet current society's needs
  • change real-life knowledge work systems to make them capable of federating knowledge.

In a nutshell, knowledge federation is intended to perform a similar role in a society as the nervous system does in an organism—namely the role of interconnecting, organizing, synthesizing, delivering and moving...

As in a political federation, previously independent or disjoint units are joined together to accomplish a shared purpose, while keeping their identity and relative autonomy. Here too, the challenge of federation is to maintain the right balance between the autonomy (of knowledge workers, and pieces of knowledge, by preserving independence, distinct point of view, creative tension...) and unity (single voice, clarity of vision, ability to act in unison and achieve impact) — and ideally to turn their opposition into synergy.


Political federation is the space of possibilities between two extremes: complete independence, and complete union. Federation also stands for a pair of conflicting demands — the need for autonomy and diversity on one side, and for a strong union on the other — and for the challenge to turn this dichotomy into synergy. In a political federation distinct political units (states) form a single entity under a shared name (the United States) — while preserving their identity and to a chosen degree their autonomy. Similarly in knowledge work there is a need for the autonomy and authenticity of documents, authors and communities of practice; and at the same time there is a need to organize those components together and create reliable, community-wide insights, and concerted knowledge work practices.

Applied to knowledge resources, the word 'federation' may have different interpretations, depending on the nature of those resources:

  • applied to documents, knowledge federation may organize them under a shared topic or summary
  • applied to ideas, knowledge federation may combine them under an insight they support or contest (knowledge federation is here roughly synonymous to collective intelligence)
  • applied to knowledge workers, knowledge federation may unite them under a shared task — and enable collaboration across domains (knowledge federation is here roughly synonymous to systemic innovation).

See also
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