Our call for applications 2022: Access to knowledge is a matter of equity

In 2022, the UNLOCK Accelerator program will look into innovations that support knowledge equity – breaking down social and technical barriers that prevent people from both accessing and contributing to free knowledge.

  • Kannika Thaimai
  • Lucia Obst
  • 6. April 2022

Our vision is a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. This means that information needs to be available as a whole and in a convenient and modifiable form to everyone, free of charge. 

The digital transformation already positively influences the way we access, contribute to and share data, information and resources in the digital space. However, existing structures of power and privilege still exclude people from much of the world’s knowledge, such as biases, under-representations and inequities. The result is a widening knowledge gap. 

This is our call for technical and non-technical solutions that break down social and technical barriers preventing people from both accessing and contributing to free knowledge. 

In our call, we focus specifically on the following two areas of action:

Inclusive and equitable tech – How can technologies, tools, practices and data make access and contribution to knowledge more equitable?

The choice of technological frameworks, data formats, decision-making mechanisms and protocols invariably affect how inclusive or exclusive the provision of knowledge is. We see that a treasure of valuable information, data and resources that differ from the mainstream are systematically marginalized – because they do not correspond to set (Western academic) standards or apply legitimate sources; because they are presented in a different, more informal format; contain unusual data; or are stored in incompatible data bases. As a result, a tremendous amount of today’s knowledge exists “under the radar” – hidden in niches, small individual networks and communities or data bases. 

That’s why we at UNLOCK support innovative solutions that design and develop technologies, tools and models of governance that are inclusive and enable everyone – irrespective of gender, culture, age, technological skills or physical abilities – to access, consume and contribute to free knowledge. We are looking for ideas that support more diverse modes and formats of knowledge (e.g. text, audio, visual, video, geospatial, etc.). We believe that wiki, Reddit and Git are key to the first steps of organizing knowledge and data digitally – and that there are many other promising alternatives that we have not yet explored. With your ideas we can create an environment where new communities can devise their own technologies, systems, social structures, policies and governance.  

Fair standards and sustainable models – How can fair conditions and sustainable business models be established for the production and maintenance of free knowledge?

Knowledge is a process of co-creation, i.e. a give and take of the various people in a community ranging from scientists, volunteers, experts to curious souls, critical readers and meticulous fact checkers. Who does what?, who gets what? and who decides what? is often linked to the reality that resources including money and knowledge regarding rules, processes and decision making are distributed unequally. For many of those whose primary concern is to earn a day-to-day living, digital knowledge projects might seem too abstract and beyond reality. So the very people that ought to be more included in the collaborative design of free knowledge already find themselves excluded from it.

At UNLOCK we want to promote practices and models that have a positive impact on fair access to knowledge and, most importantly, fair participation in gains and benefits generated by free knowledge. We are therefore interested in innovative alternatives to existing digital business models for creative commons and open-source projects; in alternatives to existing closed-source models and proprietary structures of knowledge and access; in new models that use the potential of open and free resources while ensuring their long-term economic viability. 

Apply now and let’s unlock the world’s knowledge – making it more diverse, more equitable, accessible and inclusive.

Chances are that a lot of brilliant concepts and solutions are already out there, ready to shoot from the ground or build on foundations others have already established. UNLOCK wants to push these to reach their full potential and make them the norm rather than singular cases. Application is now open and runs until May 29. Find more information and all further requirements for participation here.