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Just Knowledge research partner: Green Sod Ireland & biodiversity

This blog post focuses on one of the three community partners participating in the Just Knowledge research project, namely Green Sod Ireland, reporting on progress to date.

Just Knowledge: aim & methodology

My GO-GN Fellowship project ‘Just Knowledge’ is an exploratory, community-focused, open knowledge research project. Just Knowledge aims to partner with community-based knowledge initiatives to (i) understand their current aims and challenges, (ii) study the use of digital and open approaches to accomplish those aims, and (iii) together explore ideas for context-appropriate, equity-focused, open approaches to knowledge sharing. Currently, three community-based knowledge initiatives have chosen to engage with the Just Knowledge project as research partners: Green Sod Ireland, the Galway Traveller Movement and the Sustainability in the Community Network (at ATU). This post focuses on work completed so far with Green Sod Ireland.

The Just Knowledge project operates from three core principles: justice, equity and openness – rather than leading with the sole aim of enabling openness. To ensure this, the underlying principles of the project are drawn from Data Feminism, an approach to data ethics informed by intersectional feminism (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2020); these seven principles are: examine power; challenge power; elevate emotion and embodiment; rethink binaries and hierarchies; embrace pluralism; consider context; and make labour visible. Foundational to the project is an ethos of partnership between community initiative and researcher. Any recommendations will arise from that partnership, i.e. from mutual consideration of each initiative’s aims/challenges and collaborative exploration of ideas for context-appropriate, equity-focused, open approaches to knowledge sharing.

Prior to engaging with each Community Initiative/Research Partner, I developed the following list of guiding questions to prompt initial discussions, i.e. to seek to address research aims (i) and (ii), as outlined above.

  1. What community does your organisation/project serve/support?
  2. What is the aim of your organisation/project?
  3. What knowledge is being shared, and who has access to that knowledge?
  4. How are you currently sharing this knowledge?
  5. What additional knowledge or data would you like to share?
  6. Are there any potential new audiences with whom you’d like to share?
  7. Are there any restrictions you believe should be in place with respect to what you are sharing, or with whom?
  8. How do you make decisions regarding what to share and how to share it, in the context of your organisation’s values and overall engagement with community?
  9. In relation to knowledge sharing, what challenges do you experience now, and what challenges do you anticipate in the future?
  10. How were these challenges exacerbated, if at all, during the pandemic?

Green Sod Ireland: overview & history

Green Sod Ireland is an Irish land trust and registered charity that works to protect and conserve Irish land and its biodiversity for the sake of nature and people. Its vision is clear: an Ireland where ecosystems both thrive and flourish. Green Sod Ireland focuses its efforts in three areas: protecting land, ecological education, and community engagement.

Green Sod Ireland was formed in the early 2000s, in the days of the Celtic Tiger and accelerated property development in Ireland. As described by Green Sod Ireland’s co-founder and project coordinator Melissa Griffith, with rampant building and intensification of farming came its underside, environmental degradation, destruction of hedgerows, disappearing species, pollution and loss of biodiversity. During this time, a growing number of people in Irish society became aware of the importance of preserving biodiversity and the environment, and small groups of people came together to try to address the emerging problem.

“What would we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?”

Here in Galway, an emblematic example of this was a campaign to save mature trees that were slated for destruction as part of the redevelopment of Eyre Square in 2004. Despite widespread opposition, 80 trees were removed in the redesign of the square. Melissa Griffith recounted the deep disappointment and grief she and others experienced when the trees were ripped out. The experience led to much reflection, including a renewed focus on being proactive rather than reactive with respect to preserving the natural environment. Melissa describes how she and others asked themselves: “What would we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?”. This reflection led to the formation of Greed Sod Land Trust (later to become Green Sod Ireland) with the philosophy of “deep ecology” (Naess, 1973)  and Gaian science (Lovelock & Margulis 1970’s/1980’s) at its core. As Green Sod Ireland partners describe, Gaian science posits that Earth is alive and self-regulating, and deep ecology promotes the unity of all being and the inherent value of all living beings.

Over the past decade, individuals have donated land to Green Sod Ireland to look after for posterity. These areas of land, in different locations across the country, include mountains, ancient woodlands, wetlands and seashore. Two land holdings, donated with houses on site (in Co. Cork and Co. Carlow), are working ecology centres for education and the local communities. The lands are managed passively, with minimal footfall, to ensure the homes/habitats of the indigenous species remain as undisturbed as possible.

Green Sod Ireland knowledge sharing through education

In terms of knowledge sharing, Green Sod Ireland shares general information about its activities on its website https://greensodireland.ie. As noted above, however, ecological education is a key strand of its overall work. These education initiatives (courses and workshops) are developed and run by volunteers. So far, five courses have been developed with different offerings for primary schools, second-level schools and adult education. In addition, the organisation has developed a ‘Biodiversity Climate Ambassador Programme’.

Prior to March 2020, all education initiatives were offered on-site and in-person. COVID changed all of this, however, and the organisation and its volunteers have had to adapt. One way of doing this was to share education programmes online.

Current activities: Green Sod Ireland & Just Knowledge

After initial exploratory discussions finding common ground between Green Sod Ireland and Just Knowledge, Melissa Griffith (co-founder and project coordinator) and Jenny Cunningham (project administrator) agreed to participate on behalf of Green Sod Ireland in the Just Knowledge project. They wanted to explore how best to share their existing education programmes so as to reach wider communities and to further the overall mission of the organisation, i.e. to protect land for its own sake and for the sake of the species that live on it.

Of the five existing Green Sod Ireland courses, ‘The Story of the Universe’ was considered a good candidate for which to explore open sharing. As described by the partners, this course “underpins who we are… as one species among many and how we came into being”. Although developed for primary schools, it can be adapted for wider audiences, e.g. community groups, county councils, companies, universities. While “the story is our collective story of origin”, Green Sod Ireland understands that individual teachers can creatively adapt the way the story is told for their own contexts.

The Green Sod Ireland developers of ‘The Story of the Universe’ course see an inherent social justice focus in the work. Despite geographic, cultural and socioeconomic differences, this evolutionary story is a story that is shared by all life.

Green Sod Ireland holds the copyright to all of their course offerings. While not aware of the specific details of open licensing, the Green Sod Ireland partners had already realised that copyright was an impediment to fully sharing their work in the ways that they wished. In our early discussions, Melissa described their desire to move beyond copyright restrictions (they themselves choosing the term ‘copyleft’ to express this). In terms of sharing, they wawnt to ensure that others could choose how to present the story, without changing the core of the story, but also that no commercial entities would profit by resharing their work.

We are currently assessing the details of specific Creative Commons licences to see which could best meet their needs and aims, both now and in the future.

Sharing principles and learning 

This project has entailed an exchange of ideas/expertise and mutual problem solving. I have shared my expertise and experience in open licensing and open knowledge, and the Green Sod Ireland partners have shared their ecological philosophy and organisational values. A core value underlying Green Sod Ireland’s “deep ecology” approach is a recognition of, and respect for, the intrinsic value of all species. Sharing the values and principles of our respective work has helped us to build a relationship of trust and collaboration. The Green Sod Ireland partners agree with the core principles of the Just Knowledge project (justice, equity and openness) including the seven principles of Data Feminism. Indeed, the explicit sharing of these principles has led to some of our most interesting and valuable discussions, helping to reveal assumptions and develop deeper mutual understanding as research partners. For example, the principle of “avoiding binary classifications” (such as gender and race) can be expanded to explicitly include avoiding the binary opposition of ‘human’ and ‘other’ species (i.e. speciesism). In addition, the principle of “embracing pluralism”, which gives priority to local, Indigenous and experiential ways of knowing, can include Indigenous and deep ecology philosophies that respect and honour all species and the land, in the interests of preserving biodiversity and all life.

What next…

The ultimate aim of the Just Knowledge project is collaborative exploration of ideas for context-appropriate, equity-focused, open approaches to knowledge sharing. At present, we are analysing the terms of specific CC licences, with a view to choosing one of these to use in sharing ‘The Story of the Universe’ course. Following this, the Green Sod Ireland partners will experiment with sharing the course openly. At the end of the project, together we will assess what has been learned and gained, and what could be done to further support community initiatives, such as Green Sod Ireland, to share their community-based knowledge openly, effectively, and in line with their values.

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Image credit: CC BY William Murphy (Flickr)

Catherine Cronin

open educator and open researcher; critical and social justice approaches to digital and open education, spanning policy and practice

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