Acknowledge: Academic Knowledge Pollination

(Started to reply in understandability => malleability thread, but moved to new topic, and copying from an internal topic on Social Coding forum)

I guess the real trick here comes with the addition of “… for everyone involved”. The discussion on formal methods and other CS topics is discussing malleability on a level still far removed from the average Joe/Jane.

I am less academically skilled and focused (with background in technical product management in B2B settings among others). When I look at much of the exciting research work done (e.g. recently Webstrates and referenced publications) I wonder how much of that stays in academic realms. Being exchanged / cross-referenced between researchers. But to what extent does it flow into the FOSS world? And where it does, does it mostly reach only developers? To what extent does it reach people in other roles and with different skillsets? Become exposed to non-technical folks for feedback collection?

My observation of a big weakness in FOSS is that, despite the licensing people are so focused on, most work is still “free beer” for corporations. Keeping the FOSS movement unsustainable, and FOSS participants, while they are exploring the areas of interest, falling back eventually in the rear guard once corporations pounce. It strikes me that the academic world is also very primed for corporations to cherry-pick the best low-hanging fruits of all the academic labour.

:point_right:  Where does most academic value flow to?

:point_right:  Can we increase valorisation of academic work in broader collaborative settings?

An aside…

In (F)OSS we see a much increased focus on the software supply chain. Where companies require much increased level of control on quality and security within their software development process(es). It seems to me that anticipation of this need is also where corporate world is ahead, and that this poses a risk to Free Software in favor of (permissively licensed) OSS. Free software movement should take care not to be sidelined in this trend.

I would like to propose the notion (if it doesn’t exist already) of Academic Knowledge Supply Lines, that:

  1. Makes visible how academic knowledge feeds into the various areas of society.

  2. Allows closer participation of different stakeholder groups to maximise that value.

My particular area of interest here is “collaborative social experiences”, Social experience design (SX) and the role of the Fediverse as supportive technology in this.


There are currently no social structures to link research to social values put forth in a participatory Democratic way.

Corporations have this link with academia because they are entities that accumulate wealth. Citizens on the other hand do not have the ability to fund big projects. They only have enough money to survive.

Thus it is necessary to redistribute value flows to participatory structures for social good.

" The group must find ways to support such a welfare service. In order to understand the magnitude of the cost, Research for new products or production methods need to be part of this welfare service, thus the cost is greater than the current cost on Research. This amounts to 2% of the GDP."

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Regarding formal methods and academic papers, one method I use is to repurpose research that has been used in a different social context for my own values. This is a very common method.

This has been one of the official goals of public research since about WWII. Researchers are supposed to contribute to industrial progress by providing a foundation for research and development in private companies. And that, in turn, was supposed to improve everybody’s lives, a hypothesis that we have since found out to be wrong.

The nascent Open Science movement is changing the perspective, but for now, contributions with industrial value are still important highlights on an academic CV.

One difficulty with a shift towards research of societal relevance is quantifying the latter (as all evaluation in academia is quantitative these days). For now, the only really accepted form of non-industrial societal value is research supporting public policy decisions. But that’s merely the end of your “academic knowledge supply line”.

BTW, I am not particularly fond of the “supply line” meme because it it suggests that all research (or software development) is a contribution towards some predefined goal, and valuable only in view of that goal. As a hard-code bottom-upper, I see the main value of research and development in exploring and augmenting the “adjacent possible”, i.e. the edge of established knowledge and technology.


Nice article @Apostolis. I agree on the gist. And yes, @khinsen, I see how “supply line” is inappropriate. Maybe closer to organic grassroots movements talking about (cross-)pollination and coevolution is better. That also highlights the mutual benefit that it entails.

Your responses relate to a similar “servitude” to a hypercapitalist broken system and the huge challenge to find alternative ways that any commons-oriented structure faces. The need to maintain and sustain.

Yes to both these takes. However, what “supply lines” did convey was the establishment of the connections themself. The pollen vectors if you will. Other than concretely measuring societal relevance and value I’m most interested in the pathways that allows value to flow in the first place.

I mentioned before that I started delightful-open-science curated list (and looking for a curator, as I’m less qualified). The tools I found there showed the field is indeed “nascent” in that they are most focused on providing open alternatives to existing proprietary tools. Intent on spreading knowledge between researchers, and much less beyond to broader audiences.

(There’s a similarity with the Fediverse here, that is most focused on ‘copy/paste’ duplicates of corporate walled garden platforms. Giving very similar Social Media… but federated.)

In the analogy of pollination… if on the furtile soils of open science this beautiful flower (scientific work) grows, there can be pollinators (a wide range of people) that spread the pollen (knowledge) across, and create nectar (synergy). The plant (science team) doesn’t have the luxury to take care of this kind of pollination. It is hard at work, trying to survive and put everything to the growth of its flowers.

A reseacher via open science tools gets a feel for how their work is used elsewhere in the academic world to inspire others. But that is only one of the “five helices”. Where other helices can be reached, most notably civil society and the environment, but also politics, is where other people can lend their helping hand. And where supportive technology can play a major role.

(And of course I’m thinking Fediverse here again, where I see “social experiences” very much include this kind of thing in use cases that go well beyond traditional Social Media.)

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I think that an important bridge between academia and societal impact of research, particularly on grassroots communities can be reach with the approach of Activist Research and Participatory Activist Research . This is the kind of research some friends and I have been doing in some places of the Global South, in dialogue with critical literacies like the ones proposed by Paulo Freire and Orlando Falls Borda, but as usual, they become visible when published by authors and languages from the Global North (particularly English).

In the many advantages of the Activist Research approach are that grassroots communities don’t wait until the enterprises have made the bridge between academia and society and the de-neutralization of research and researchers, underlying the political nature (in the sense of the organization of power discourses/practices) of academia and the relation between knowledge, publishing and power.

For the moment, my own practices happen in the small and relatively unseen as I think happens with many other activist research, specially in the Global South. Some of my work now is related with exploring alternative metrics to showcase the value of different research. Kind of a metric for research output diversity beyond the classical metrics. This underlines the fact that a richer pollination requires diverse knowledge artifacts beyond the indexed paper in particular indexes and diverse metrics that account for how knowledge is engaged and crystalizes with(in) different contexts, subjects and concerns.

I think that artifact malleability is a powerful concept to bring into front such diversities and possible cross-pollination. Thanks for making such possibilities more explicit by starting this thread.


That actually reflects how many researchers, and even more science managers, see Open Science: as a collection of measures to make research more efficient by sharing things more easily and more widely, but still just among professional researchers. The tension between the “efficiency” and the “science-by-and-for-society” camps is rarely expressed openly, because both share immediate technical goals and because they have the benefit of a common enemy: old-school largely closed science.

I love the pollination analogy. I can imagine a nice video explaining Open Science in terms of flowers and bees!


Thank you for those links. It is the first time I heard of the term “Activist Research”. Though I get the idea for using this terminology, it is the first thing I would drop when building ‘pollination vectors’ to other parts of society in innovative ways.

Discussion of why is a bit of a tangent to this topic, maybe warrants a different topic, but I have a general criticism on how many/most activism positions in such way that it detracts from its own cause. Activism is much needed but comes with too much focus on “being an activist” and what that entails.

(My biggest critique is that activists appeal mostly to others already having an ‘activist streak’ and how activism always asks for making ‘sacrifices’ to join the cause. And furthermore how the approach often leads to making moral judgments on people not willing to make this sacrifice and come in the activist camp, leading to an “us vs. them” culture and a too high gap on joining for people who are otherwise in agreement of the cause. “Come to the light through shades of grey” should be facilitated.)

The paper doesn’t give a good definition of “Activist Research”, but another paper on topic of “Activist” Cultural Production already gives examples of this detraction by mentioning left vs. right politics and culture wars. The mere notion of “Activism” brings these into scope, but that is not needed.

One can be activist without naming themself such, or even knowing what they do is a form of activism. Besides that, Open Science that flows directly into society in grassroots, bottom up manners should be the norm, i.e. “normal” and not “activist”.

Maybe instead of “Activist Research” i’d call it Engaged Research. Research that has both feet firmly rooted in society.

Yes, I wholly agree. It is interesting to consider how the average person is confronted with the academic world on a day-to-day basis. Especially in a time where much of news and information consumption more and more goes via the echo-chambered channels people are exposed to. What people see of the scientist is often no more than the single-line soundbite summarizing their work that makes it into a clickbait header or top-level article paragraph they skim. And then the highly opinionated timeline of their followers reactions explain how it should be interpreted (focusing more on doom & gloom and gut-feeling aspects, that are subsequently reinforced by social media algorithms).

But even without this modern day radical shift in information consumption, science and academic activity have always been more aloof and out of reach than they could be. Consider e.g. how physics books in high school go through historic timeline of scientific discoveries made by long-dead famous scientists, but offering very little connections in the entire curriculum with contempary scientists and the work they do. There’s opportunity lost here.

I remember my highschool excursion to University of Utrecht where we did a radioactivity practicum next to their particle accelerator as a highly inspiring experience to our entire class and likely helping some classmates make a choice for pursuing scientific university studies.

That is a real-world offline experience. For an online social experience I might imagine that some people - the pollinators - take interesting contemporary work (e.g. published papers) and make a translation into understandable language for the audience, and chooses interesting nuggets for e.g. a highschool practicum, a CS course, or a MOOC. Makes connections to other artifacts, like prototype software/hardware and then - either with or without the researcher’s direct involvement - create actionable dynamic content. This package itself is open source and malleable. And when it is operated, the social interactions that take place further enrich the experience. They might inform the researcher, first of all to see (and delight in) how their work is used, but also for purposes that helps their practices.

I like ‘pollination’ too. I mentioned in another thread how “Joy of Coding” is an incentive in FOSS world for starting many projects (this notion led Dan North to define CUPID Joyful Coding and me to broaden that into Joyful Creation).

A major way to stimulate people’s creativity and interest is to highlight how “Science is Fun” as well. You might say “Joyful Discovery”. I think that such theme is an important aspect where Open Science can stand out. A unique selling point (USP), if you will.

At birthday parties when I’m talking with a group of friends working in academic circles, it is very striking how much of the discussion is about science being NO FUN at all! They talk about the ridiculously high pressures placed on them to publish anything, even when there’s nothing to publish just yet. Hearing them makes one glad not to be in academic career.