Democratizing Knowledge with Oakland Wiki

It’s a rare and wonderful thing to be so involved in a city like Oakland, to get to be part of so many awesome organizations, initiatives and projects and to have access to so much rich data and personal knowledge about our city. It’s also challenging to face the fact that so much of our institutional and community knowledge is locked away in the minds of our elders, our colleagues, our servers, and hence is not accessible for our community at large. Unless they schedule time to talk to said people. This creates a problem of knowledge scale and transfer, of concentrated soft power. I’m calling it soft because it doesn’t really make you a boss to know stats or history of a community, but it is still powerful to have access to so much info on your community, in the right setting.

For the past few years I’ve been more focused on publishing our work widely, not to make us look like experts, but to actually share what we do, what we learn, what we care about.  It seems there’s another level needed here too- sharing what we know, and even deeper, sharing what we share with others in intimate settings. Every question asked of you- chances are someone else wants that answer too. And they won’t ever get to ask you.  The data you issue someone in response to a request, the facts you smugly share about something you know that the asker didn’t.  If we only share things once, in non-transferable formats we are not doing all we can to democratize knowledge, to make the best use of what we know.

In the past this has meant we publish our internal project maps and reports for others to use, then we publish raw data, then we make it usable for others.  The next step may be to wiki our responses.

Yes, wiki.

An example from today. Someone mentions something on twitter about neighborhoods and their definitions in Oakland, about how they vary.  In response, to help inform this conversation about a city I love and know something about I have a couple of options. I can make a benign tweet response, I can maybe email a link or share a photo, or I can pass along information in a more permanent way, in a way that can perhaps help others.  This later option is becoming my default. Instead of a light, individual contact with an inquiry or a random interest, I can put down some of what I know, some of what I have (data, reports) and put it in context (hopefully) and make it available for everyone. It turns out that a local wiki like is perfect for this!

It took me about 10 minutes to update a page on a particular neighborhood that was a perfect demonstration of the issue being discussed, (Lower) San Antonio. I can include some of what I know through research, through relationships, share data snippets and content relevant to the community. Fast, easy, permanent and open to anyone.  Instead of just a small channel of communication, I can share a response, a story, a factoid with anyone who bothers to google it. In a sector obsessed with Social Impact, it seems one of the highest yield things we can do is to share what we know, what we have, especially when those things are not openly available to others in our community!


This applies to all of us- is not just a system for “experts”, it’s open for anyone who knows something about Oakland to contribute, to share.  Just like libraries were the place we stored and made available “what we knew”, local wiki’s are increasingly becoming the place where we can all share and access “what we all know”.

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