How do you share critical knowledge across a large scale distributed network of organizations? I believe we have a great model in the work of an organization known as ICLEI (“ick-lee”), which was founded almost 20 years ago by the United Nations to develop sustainability practices for local governments. Today its mission has expanded to include adaptation, while the intensity of that mission has risen to meet the growing challenge of climate change.

The American branch of the organization – ICLEI-USA – makes use of the knowledge developed by ICLEI-Global in a program centered around what it calls the Five Milestones. These are the basic building blocks that local governments must commit to achieving to even qualify for membership. Resolutions must be passed by these governments before ICLEI will engage them in the program.

In essence, ICLEI shares and distributes its knowledge about effective local government action by insisting that its clients enroll in its program. Along with the benefits of being guided through the implementation of sustainable and adaptive processes, member governments get to share with their peers the results of their creative efforts. Many of these can be found on the ICLEI-USA web site under Success Stories. An upcoming online community will provide opportunities for more peer-based knowledge exchange.

I tend to think of knowledge sharing as benefitting from informality in conversation, where participants drop pretenses and rely on trust to reveal what they know. Small scale encounters seem to support more open communication. It’s good to know that knowledge sharing can scale to the institutional level where informality is replaced with structure and some prerequisites that demonstrate commitment to learn. If ever we needed to learn as a planet, now is the time.