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.

The most active local governments you can find in the U.S., and probably elsewhere, are members of an organization called ICLEI. These are strictly government – not grassroots – based memberships, but where local governments take the lead, grassroots activism is usually encouraged to thrive.

It was founded by the United Nations in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Now that the focus is on climate change, they’ve turned the acronym into their name – ICLEI (pronounced “ICK-lee”) and added the tagline: Local Governments for Sustainability. Their local international membership includes over 700 county governments, municipal governments, provincial governments, networks of local governments and big city governments like Los Angeles, New York and London.

We provide technical consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local government in the implementation of sustainable development at the local level. Our basic premise is that locally designed initiatives can provide an effective and cost-efficient way to achieve local, national, and global sustainability objectives.

ICLEI provides information, delivers training, organizes conferences, facilitates networking and city-to-city exchanges, carries out research and pilot projects, and offers technical services and consultancy. We also provide software and tools to help local governments achieve their sustainable development goals.

If your local government is not yet a member of ICLEI, it’s a good community to urge them to join. They’ll learn from the lessons of other locations and they’re transitioning from focusing only on sustainability to including adaptive activities for the unavoidable impacts to come.