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Towards an Earth and Space Sciences Knowledge Commons

A gathering during the Earth Science Informatics Partners (ESIP) Winter Meeting 2022 to move toward a Community of Practice for an Earth and Space Science Knowledge Commons

Published onJan 18, 2022
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Towards an Earth and Space Sciences Knowledge Commons

Edit this summary | ESIP workshop page | participants + notes | Recording

Our technological and physical expansion into space exemplifies the growing interconnections between Earth and the space environment. The inseparability of the space environment from Earth and life on it reveals cracks and inadequacies in our data and knowledge infrastructure to integrate the different domains. Improved knowledge systems, and better ways of representing our information, are key to a flourishing community of Earth and space research.

The problem of our [outdated] data systems is not one of information, but of access + transparency. Datasets, disciplines, people, projects, institutions are all siloed, resulting in a lack of awareness and usability across silos that make reuse and collective progress impossible. Yet our increasing awareness of complexity has revealed that the distinctions between the silos are artificial, with each new bit of information further revealing the interconnectedness that pervades our world. As John Muir observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

We will highlight important active efforts toward improved knowledge representation systems across the Earth and Space Sciences, emphasizing the importance of thinking in graphs/networks, and spark a discussion toward a framework to address the asymmetries: a knowledge commons [McGranaghan et al., 2021].

A knowledge commons is a combination of intelligent information representation and the openness, governance, and trust required to create a participatory ecosystem whereby the whole community maintains and evolves this shared information space. A knowledge commons is predicated on a central movement from a data society to a knowledge and wisdom society.

A knowledge commons is a core ‘technology’ (defined to include both hardware/software and cultural technologies) of the solution for a more inclusive, open, and equitable space community. In this participatory ecosystem, the whole community maintains and evolves the shared space. We believe that the path towards creating this commons lies in an embrace of radical collaboration, new scales of interaction, and the corresponding changes (in thinking, in community structure, and in support) that must accompany this movement.

A group that cuts across NASA, the American Geophysical Union, the MIT Knowledge Futures Group, industry, and academia have been actively exploring the concept of an Earth and Space Data Knowledge Commons, a collection of software and systems for improved information representation of space data and the platform and governance to make them collaborative, accessible, and equitable. That group is animated to converge various pockets of progress across the community in discussion to shape the idea of a knowledge commons, to feature and connect active projects that will help emerge the dimensions of the data that need to be captured, and to cultivate a community of practice to advance the concept.


  1. Bring together a new community to discuss intelligent data infrastructure for Earth and space science data (both technological and cultural)

  2. Build on the “step zero framework” ( of a knowledge commons, combining intelligent information representation w/ the openness, governance, and trust needed for a participatory ecosystem

  3. Create the network of people and active projects to identify common connections and the dimensions of their data that need to be captured

  4. Create / add to a repository of resources for all participants to use

  5. Invite participants to contribute essays/entries to a space for a living conversation here, in this PubPub community. These pieces will capture knowledge and act as boundary-navigating objects beyond the workshop.

  6. Plan for future virtual workshops around the dimensions of this Commons.

Calls to action

  • Working groups:

    • Data Citation Community of Practice

  • Communication:

    • Submit an essay, visualization, or overview to this community!

  • Platforms in active development that need help:

  • Practices to commit to, to reach a field tipping point:

  • Pitfalls to avoid: (Chris M)

List of existing knowledge commons efforts

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