IGF 2023 Town Hall #134 The Digital Knowledge Commons: a Global Public Good?

Monday, 9th October, 2023 (23:30 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (00:30 UTC)
WS 8 – Room C-1

Data Free Flow

Birds of a Feather - 60 Min


The Global Digital Compact sets out the importance of the Digital Commons as a global public good, underlining the need for meaningful discussions about how these can be protected, promoted, and governed. A key example is the global knowledge commons which itself receives strong attention in UNESCO’s Futures of Education report as the essential raw material for enabling education, innovation, cultural rights, and much else besides. This session therefore looks to bring together players engaged both in building awareness of the importance of the knowledge commons as a digital public good, and of deepening understanding of how this can and should be governed in order to realise its potential. Key goals of the session include a wider understanding of what the knowledge commons is as a concept, and the ways in which it contributes to wider development goals. It will also look to strengthen discussion in the internet governance space about the governance challenges currently faced, including for example the role of copyright in enabling or undermining global knowledge flows, the importance of norms around privacy and the interests of indigenous peoples, and what different stakeholders can do to ensure maximum inclusion. The session will do this by starting with an exploration of the concept of the knowledge commons, based on the UNESCO Futures of Education Report, and then pass on to a number of short ‘provocation’ interventions designed to highlight potential ‘knowledge commons crises’. We will then invite audience members, online and offline, to share their own ideas for crises, which will be fed into a poll where we will ask participants to prioritise. Panellists and audience members will be asked to comment on this, and then we will brainstorm responses and actions that can be taken in the internet governance space. The result will be a report highlighting how key upcoming internet governance landmarks - notably the Global Digital Compact and WSIS+20 - can also be key moments in promoting a knowledge commons that enables development for all.

As set out above, the idea of the session is to make the session participatory, inviting participants online and offline both to respond to the ‘provocations’ from speakers, and to suggest their own. We will do this through mentimeter as an online tool, meaning that online and onsite participants will be in a similar situation, and will make sure to leave spaces in discussion to engage remote participants. We may have at least one online speaker, in order to ensure that it is clear that both types of participation are equally valued.


🔒International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
Maria Fernanda de Brasdefer, IFLA, Civil Society, Latin America and the Caribbean Teresa Nobre, Communia, Civil Soceity, WEOG


Zeynep Varoglu, UNESCO, Intergovernmental Organisation, WEOG Tomoaki Watanabe, Creative Commons Japan, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Thanos Giannakopoulos, UN Library New York, Intergovernmental Organisation, WEOG Liam Wyatt, Wikimedia Foundation, Civil Society, WEOG Reggie Raju, University of Cape Town, South Africa, Academia, Africa

Onsite Moderator

Maria Feranda de Brasdefer, IFLA, Civil Society, Latin America and Caribbean

Online Moderator

Stephen Wyber, IFLA, Civil Society, WEOG


Stephen Wyber, IFLA, Civil Society, WEOG



Targets: 11.4, 17.6: this session looks at questions around the governance of the knowledge that is available to us and that enables us to innovate, learn and create. The knowledge commons approach is arguably already at work in the scientific information space (and so connects to SDG 17.6), and in the concept of a memory of the world (11.4). However, we need to get beyond narrow conceptions of technology transfer, and look at how we can take access as a starting point.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The digital knowledge commons make a key contribution to what the internet is, with strong potential for growth, through AI, opening collections, and more inclusive practices

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

We need to stop regulating the Internet as if it was only made up of major platforms – this risks harming public interest infrastructures

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Safeguarding the Knowledge Commons


As an introduction to the session, the moderator underlined that while shared knowledge resources had initially been included in definitions provided of digital public goods, they were not such a strong focus of subsequent initiatives. In parallel, UNESCO’s Futures of Education report had placed the concept of a Knowledge Commons at the centre of its vision, seen as a body of knowledge which is not only accessible to all, but to which everyone can make contributions.


Finally, organisations working around knowledge had long promoted the importance of realising the potential of the internet to enable global access to knowledge, and address barriers created in particular by intellectual property laws.  


Tomoaki Watanabe (Creative Commons Japan) underlined the particular questions that new technologies and in particular AI offered, thanks to the generation of new content that could potentially be free of copyright (3D data, scans, AI-generated content). This had the potential to create dramatic new possibilities that could advance innovation, creativity and beyond.


While there clearly were questions to be raised around information governance and AI (not least to highlight AI-generated content), copyright appeared to be a highly inadequate tool for doing this.


Amalia Toledo (Wikimedia Foundation) cited the connection between the concept of the knowledge commons and the need for digital public infrastructures that favoured its protection and spread – something that was ever more important. Wikimedia represented just such an infrastructure, but remained the only such site among the most used on the internet, with a constant risk of underfunding.


Moreover, laws were increasingly made with a focus on commercial platforms, but which caused collateral damage for non-commercial ones such as Wikipedia. Efforts to expand intellectual property laws brought particular risks when they failed to take account of the positives of a true knowledge commons.


Subsequent discussion highlighted the following issues:

  • The knowledge commons as a concept raised interesting questions about governance, and in particular how to ensure that it was inclusive and meaningful for everyone. There was a need for actors applying rules, such as Wikipedia and libraries in order to make it functional and sustainable.
  • The need to look beyond copyright as a tool for regulating information flows, given how blunt it was, and in particular in the context of AI to take care in taking decisions. Too often, Generative AI was mistaken for all AI, and policy choices risked imposing major costs even on research and education uses.
  • The value of a more holistic approach to upholding the knowledge commons in general, and the public domain in particular, in order to safeguard them and realise their potential to support wider efforts to ensure that the internet is a driver of progress and inclusion.