Tibetan Participatory Knowledge Introduction

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Introduction to Tibetan Participatory Knowledge

The Tibetan Participatory Knowledge initiative aims at facilitating new approaches to the creation and dissemination of knowledge with a focus on broad scale participation across all sectors of Tibetan society and the role of such knowledge for community-beneficial activities. New technologies enable for the first time a distributed approach involving local communities around the world representing themselves on global stages, while also using institutions and repositories of knowledge for their own aims. However, the technical, social, and intellectual challenges to realizing these new potentials are considerable. Our initiative thus involves seven interrelated components aiming at a holistic and integrated approach to the full implementation of participatory knowledge in Tibetan society.

1. Communal Participatory Self-Documentation & Knowledge Creation

The first step is enabling local communities to self-document their own traditions, realities, and perspectives. This should be on a fully participatory basis, whereby they make the initial decisions about what content to gather and create, learn how to use the tools of documentation and then employ them directly, and finally produce its final form and determine how it is disseminated to others. This community-based participatory approach is valuable in supporting and encouraging local communities to analyze, value, and archive document their own traditions, realities, and perspectives. In addition, it is valuable in enabling them to engage in acts of self-representation regionally, nationally, and internationally, so that they themselves and their locales are not simply represented by others, but rather are also directly represented by themselves on their own terms. Thus local residents emerge as agents actively shaping their own profiles to others. This literally puts these communities on the map and contributes to a global awareness of the world as a network of local communities, each with their own unique experiences, traditions, and realities, rather than as large homogenous regions.

2. Archiving Community Self-Documentation

The next challenge is to provide a work-flow by which such resources can easily be submitted by the community, or those authorized to help it, to a central online repository. From there, it can be published for direct online access around the world, as well as through indirect means back to other communities off the grid. But the first step is to enable these resources to be permanently archived so that they are preserved for the future and can then be easily discovered and accessed by others. This involves of course building and supporting such an archive. In addition, since these local communities are often off of the internet grid, we need reliable and straight-forward processes which local communities can use to submit their materials into that permanent archive.

We have already built such an archive, which is the Tibetan and Himalayan Library (www.thlib.org, hereafter referred to as THL). It offers integrated facilities for storing images, audio-video, maps, texts, dictionary entries, and other forms of data and knowledge. It is also customized for Tibetan conceptual frameworks. We are currently working on a Tibetan Community Library (TCL) that relies upon THL technologies, but delivers them with Tibetan language interfaces, Tibetan language content, and arranged for presentation in ways that accord with Tibetan sensibilities and interests. It also has online submission and editing facilities for most types of resources.

We continue to work on fashioning a more robust set of processes for how materials can flow from local communities off the grid into the THL/TCL repositories. To this end, we have worked extensively at creating a Community Toolbox, which involves detailed documentation covering all work from creation, to processing, to packaging and dissemination. We are also trying to slowly work towards establishing local and regional institutions that can become centers of data submission.

3. Online Publication

Once the data is stored in online archives, we need to offer it online to Tibetans who have access to the Internet, to national audiences, and to broader international audiences. These forms of publication have great value regardless of the extent to which they reach Tibetan communities, since they are critical in enabling Tibetan communities to have greater self-representation outside of their own communities. Such increased self-representation is valuable in its own right, since it helps make others aware of Tibetan perspectives, situations, heritages, and diversity. This can result in a variety of benefits both direct and indirect. In addition, by creating robust publication methods for each type of media and data format which are full featured, designed in accordance with Tibetan conceptual schemes, and fully integrated with each other, these can be shared with all participants at no cost. Otherwise each participant has to spend considerable time and money, and will generally still end with publication processes which are weak and which are not customized for Tibetan use. Another central component of enabling outreach and engagement through online publication is translation into target languages.

4. Off the Grid Dissemination Back to Local Communities

While dissemination to other communities may have its own value, still there remains the fundamental challenge of how these materials can flow back to the communities, whether these materials are their own, or from other local communities, or from completely outside the region altogether. When the communities are off the internet grid, or only partially on the grid, then how do local communities access the materials in formats that they can easily utilize? This is a very significant challenge and requires flexible strategies that allow for multiple transformations of materials that result in diverse formats that are appropriate for various types of communities and contexts. Some possibilities include:

  • Easy export of texts/essays to PDFs that can then viewed on computers, or printed and disseminated on paper
  • Export of dynamically created maps to geo-PDFs that can be viewed in interactive ways on a non-networked computer, or to images that can be viewed or printed offline
  • Export of videos to use on computers, DVDs, or VCDs
  • Export of image collections into slide shows that can be distributed on computers, DVDs/VCDs, or in print form
  • Dissemination of content to cell phones
  • Creation of screencasts and powerpoints for showing from a computer either on a screen or projector

5. Programs for Socially Transformative Uses of Knowledge

As challenging as it is to organize processes by which these resources are available back in local communities, in and of itself these materials remain of limited value unless there are dynamic programs of socially beneficial use and widespread participation. Thus it is crucial that we systematically develop programs that make sense contextually in terms of generating interest and enabling community-based uses of the resources.

These include:

  • Methods for incorporating them into classrooms as supplementary curricular materials that are more culturally appropriate and locally relevant
  • Utilizing them in classrooms for more active learning
  • Building special community events utilizing these resources
  • Ways to link them revenue generation commit
  • Linking them to the tourism sector
  • Community outreach and engagement programs involving new relationships across diverse types of individuals
  • Use for vocational training
  • Use for facilitating community discussions
  • Use for raising awareness on a variety of issues, such as health-care

The functions of such programs are multiple:

  • Cultural revitalization
  • Greater commitment by young generations to their local communities
  • Enhanced education
  • Promoting awareness and exchanges between Tibetan communities
  • Economic development

6. Community Institutions and Physical Centers

To facilitate the flow of information from local communities and back to local communities, as well as socially creative and beneficial uses of both the processes of creating and disseminating knowledge, there must be community-based organizations and physical centers that apply themselves to such work. For this reason, the overall process must involve cultivating and supporting community libraries, cultural centers, community centers, community museums and the like. Such centers can become vital local bases supporting all aspects of the process, including training for production and use.

7. Social Networking

The final element to an integrated and holistic process is the formation of broader regional, national, and international networks of relevant individuals and organizations. Such networks enable people to find partners on the basis of shared interests, experiences, and expertises, as well as share information, resources, skills, networks, and infrastructure to enable new efficiencies and synergies. Firstly, we are creating two steering committees with diverse membership, one devoted to the promotion and facilitation of participatory knowledge, and one devoted to Tibetan language digital library initiatives. Secondly, we are creating an online Tibet Directory where people, organizations, and projects from across the plateau can describe themselves and their interests, such that users can easily find relevant agents by geographic area, type, and subject matters. The network is not limited to agents of knowledge creation and dissemination, but places a special focus on them. Thirdly, we are proactively connecting together individuals, communities, and organizational centers such as community libraries into networks aimed at sharing experiences and resources.

Provided for unrestricted use by the external link: Tibetan and Himalayan Library