Sustainability Knowledge Commons: Sharing sustainability data and knowledge

January 10th, 2022

Project duration

February 2022 – February 2025

The challenge

Digital technology is generating data in ever greater quantities, yet in many cases individuals and communities still lack the knowledge they require to inform sustainability decision-making. It is not enough for data to be collected; to drive change it must be shared as widely as possible, without adversely affecting those who provide it. And data is but one contributor to knowledge, which is created through inherently social processes of sharing, learning, re-framing and understanding. Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource and land managers are demanding knowledge developed from multiple sources and in different ways to support credible and legitimate sustainability action. Our challenge is therefore to move from gathering data to co-producing coherent and cohesive knowledge with sustainability decision-makers.

Our response

This project will consider how historic, current, and alternative institutional arrangements (which includes both ‘hard’ institutions such as governance and ‘soft’ institutions such as cultures and norms) shape how data is shared and knowledge is created. We move away from a focus on knowledge types, such as local and scientific knowledge towards an action-oriented view of knowledge centred on ‘ways of knowing’ and knowledge practices associated with resource management and use. We will consider how economic aspects of private property and common pool resources apply to data, information and knowledge governance. We will investigate what institutions, practices, behaviours and systems govern the development, translation and spread of robust knowledge? What do current institutional arrangements offer—and how could they be strengthened—in terms of information access and equity, co-creation and opportunity for innovation? Addressing such questions aims to ensure we can link data, knowledge and practice effectively and in diverse contexts, in particular through well-targeted institutional design. The first part of this work will consider how the pool of sustainability knowledge has evolved over time and the ways in which historical norms, systems and structures have given rise to current systems functioning. This will cover a range of different sustainability domains, likely to include land-sector carbon sequestration, soil health and function, biodiversity, local provenance and more (linking with other projects across the Valuing Sustainability FSP as much as possible). This will be complemented by a second strand of work applying a more quantitative approach to investigate institutional mechanism design for sustainability knowledge commons, which could be anything from creative commons licenses through data markets to blockchains.


This project will underpin future efforts to build knowledge infrastructure, including social and institutional features, to maximise the chances that our investments in data and information result in useful, and used, sustainability knowledge.


CSIRO: Andrew Reeson (co-lead, Data61), Simon Fielke (co-lead, L&W), K Bernardo Cantone (Postdoctoral Fellow, Data61), Gillian Cornish (Postdoctoral Fellow, L&W), Katie Ricketts (A&F), Cathy Robinson (L&W).