0.3. Conceptual Framework Chapter

Chapters 2 and 3 provided the contextual background to the understanding and development of information and knowledge societies and their basic foundations in terms of visions and principles. In contrast, chapter 4 builds on this by applying an overarching conceptual framework as a basic tool to structure and then implement Knowledge Societies policy. The overall conceptual framework is designed as a set of heuristic models to be both simple but also robust and effective in describing the main elements of KSP and their interrelationships. The framework enables both analysis, i.e. understanding how each element functions individually, and synthesis, i.e. understanding how they operate together.

A societal architecture model can show how Information Societies transformed the Industrial Societies that preceded them, and then how Information Societies themselves are being transformed into Knowledge Societies. This involves the development and incorporation of transformed organizations, institutions, infrastructures, and of systems of thought and culture, into the overall structure of society. Compared to the four basic Industrial Societies’ components (i.e. society, economy, environment and governance), Information Societies incorporate a new InfoComm component defined as the ability to use ICT to create new information and dramatically increase communications. In turn, Knowledge Societies further recognize two additional components related to education and research, on the one hand, and the generation and application of knowledge itself on the other. This results in a Knowledge Societies model made up of seven components. It is also possible for pre-Industrial Societies, such as some developing countries, to by-pass the traditional Industrial Societies stage and jump straight to Information and Knowledge Societies.

These seven components of Knowledge Societies, however, are not important for their own sake, but rather as ‘means’ to the important ‘ends’ of global sustainable development, consisting of the three dimensions of economic development, societal development and environmental protection. In this context, it is possible to directly map the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by the United Nations and Member States in September 2015 as part of the global 2030 Agenda, against each of the seven components making up the Knowledge Societies Architecture.

Taking the four main stakeholder groups introduced in Chapter 3, it is possible to draw an analogy with how DNA produces living cells in biology by twisting these together as intertwining strands that intimately interact with each other to produce new forms of knowledge and innovation. This is generally known as the ‘quadruple helix’ model consisting of 1) public sector entities, 2) businesses, 3) education and research entities, and 4) civil society. Researchers and practitioners have now also added a fifth helix comprised of the natural environment to form the quintuple helix model which for the first time incorporates the ‘socio-ecological transition’ necessary for full sustainable development. This combines all sources and kinds of knowledge and know-how, including from the natural environment, and provides the wisdom needed to deliver all the Sustainable Development Goals, including the environmental underpinning.

Such knowledge and know-how are used in different ways and combinations, as well as by different stakeholders and different stakeholder combinations, to undertake innovation. Innovation itself can be defined as the creation and application of new knowledge and know-how to meet specific needs, in many different ways and for a myriad of purposes. These range from traditional top-down innovation undertaken by large hierarchical organizations, through technology and business model innovation and the increasing involvement of the users of goods and services in user-driven innovation, to so-called open innovation characterized as being bottom-up and fully open to the involvement of all stakeholders.

Six of the seven components of knowledge societies, based on the five components of the quintuple helix plus InfoComm, can be envisaged as six interacting sub-systems which together form the knowledge societies system as the seventh overarching component. Traditionally, each sub-system is envisaged, organized and operated independently from the others, but this dissipates their beneficial impacts and can in many situations work against both sub-system and whole Knowledge Societies system impacts. Where there is interaction between sub-systems, these can often be exploitative or damaging, as for example when the economy sub-system pollutes the environment sub-system. Instead, an effective Knowledge Societies policy has as one of its prime objectives to ensure that together these sub-systems operate in a mutually supportive, interactive and highly synergistic manner, both through the direct intervention of the policy itself and by ensuring that overall system and sub-system mechanisms can self-adjust as necessary.

In this conceptual model, the six sub-systems interact together through the circulation of knowledge leading to the creation of different types of capital within each. For example, human and science capital, economic capital, natural capital, technology capital, and social and cultural capital, and thereby to different types of innovation. If an input of knowledge is taken into one of the sub-systems, an exchange of knowledge takes place creating new knowledge and/or new inventions, products and services, which are then fed to other sub-systems in the form of new know-how. Each of the six sub-systems can stimulate innovation which directly impacts Sustainable Development, but this impact is progressively increased through the combined effect of two or more sub-systems, and ultimately the whole Knowledge Societies system.

The critical issue for both Information and Knowledge Societies policy is, in practice, whether and how people and organizations use these tools, information and knowledge they have at their disposal. Five levels of their use, deployment and exploitation can be conceived, which are typically cumulative and progressively increase their impact on sustainable development:

  1. Access and availability: for example to InfoComm in the form of ICT including the Internet, broadband, computers, mobile devices, relevant online services including social media and content, etc.
  2. General and basic skills and opportunities: of the people involved as individuals or in groups and organizations. For example, whether they are actually able in terms of their skills, capabilities and motivation, and have appropriate opportunities, to deploy the available tools, information and knowledge.
  3. Human resources and development: of the people involved as individuals or in groups and organizations, for example in terms of their education, occupation, labour market status and income, also taking account of their demographic characteristics like gender and age.
  4. Beneficial use: by the people involved, as individuals or in groups and organizations, of tools, information and knowledge, for example whether and how they are deployed appropriately to provide the benefits intended.
  5. Beneficial participation and co-production/co-creation: in developing new or improving existing tools, information and knowledge by the people involved, as individuals or in groups and organizations, in an active or even proactive manner.

Levels and 1 and 2 basically represent supply-side issues and are subject to Knowledge Societies policy initiatives over the relatively short-term. As such they can be seen as quick wins, although they are not necessarily easy or inexpensive. Levels 3 to 5, on the other hand, represent demand-side issues which are also subject to Knowledge Societies policy initiatives but over the relatively longer-term. Although typically requiring both levels 1 and 2, it is first during levels 3 to 5 that widespread sustainable development impacts are achieved. These levels, and in particular levels 3 to 5, also highlight how digital and socio-economic divides become serious barriers to sustainable development. The pace of change means that there is a constant danger that the poorest, the least well educated and those living in remote areas become doubly cut-off from the potential benefits that ICT and Knowledge Societies can deliver. Knowledge Societies policies thus become critical, both to bridge such divides but also to ensure that all members and aspects of society are able to develop and prosper in sustainable, equitable and fair ways.