Information Dissemination about the Ocean

【Ocean Newsletter】Back issues

No.56 December 5, 2002

Cutting a Swathe Through Turbulent Waters: OneCoast - Transforming Coastal and Maritime Management Through Knowledge Sharing

Coastal and marine management is a knowledge-based profession. Yet the knowledge held by coastal and marine managers is not currently used efficiently or effectively. It is geographically dispersed, held in different systems, with different standards - or stored in the minds of experts around the world. OneCoast is a flexible, Type II World Summit on Sustainable Development, partnership enabling involvement from a diverse range of governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations worldwide.

Keywords knowledge ecosystem, sharing, Internet, OneCoast, Type II initiative, World Summit on Sustainable Development


Of course this problem is not confined to the discipline of coastal and marine management. Many communities, private companies and governments worldwide face the same problems. For many groups and organizations the challenge is to effectively deliver value to key stakeholders, using new and integrated sources of information whilst managing human and physical resources that are increasingly flexible, may be comprised of short-term staff and contractors and where the ability to rely on the "organizational memory" provided by long-term staff has all but disappeared.
One of the solutions extensively explored in the commercial sector is the concept that knowledge - both the implicit knowledge contained in reports, procedures and data and the tacit knowledge of employees - can be captured and shared through Knowledge Management (KM). These concepts have driven the systematic creation of a whole new industry aimed at delivering technological solutions to meet the demands, explorations and concerns of corporations worldwide. Indeed, Japan has been in the forefront of both knowledge management theory and knowledge management innovation and implementation following the ground-breaking works of Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) and Von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka (2000). These efforts focused on the creation and management of knowledge and the support for innovation within dynamic commercial environments. Since then, Professor Shikida has written about the Japanese context for knowledge sharing in the management of coastal zones (Shikida in press). It could be argued that as a result of these leading theorists and practitioners that the Japanese coastal and maritime community is primed for the broader implementation of knowledge-concepts both domestically through local capacity and internationally through the integration of local capability with other knowledge-driven initiatives.
However, technology alone is not enough and it has been recognized that communities of practice are a key element within effective knowledge management and delivery strategies (Wenger, McDermott and Synder, 2002). Wenger et al. observed the coming together of individuals to create, share and apply knowledge from diverse disciplines and areas within organizations based on common interests and expertise. The practice of coastal and marine management with diverse geography, organizational separation, interdisciplinary focus, differences in local, national and regional priority and a significant requirement for interaction, consistency and efficacy of decision making and implementation is a key target for such efforts.

The Foundations of Opportunity

The provision of integrated online environments within which individuals and communities of users can interact, enrich, learn and grow is fundamental to the delivery of the new knowledge driven paradigms of the information era. Such environments also must recognize the manner in which people communicate, develop, manage and share information and make decisions. As fundamentally social beings, people communicate and manage information and decision processes typically as groups of connected individuals sharing experience and insight.
It is clear that the availability of information via the connectedness of individuals, organizations and systems is growing at a rate not previously seen in human history. Individuals now have the capacity to personally access, acquire, validate and utilize vast amounts of information. However, even with the quantum leaps in computational capacity of the last two decades that same individual's ability to quantify the impact of decisions made from such analyses remains elusive and is a paradox of the modern era. Technology is both forging the ability to access information at levels that overwhelm whilst simultaneously increasing the power to analyze and assist, but not yet to provide the "thinking" machine (Tweney, 2001).
One of the key realizations embodied in emerging efforts of the last several years has been the critical requirement for international standards in areas from accessibility, data format, management and categorization, data object construction, document format, interchange and so on. Whole new areas focused on content standards, communications standards and learning standards have arisen and cover such diverse areas as digital rights, contextually driven metadata, user interface design and navigation.
As a consequence of such standardization efforts, point forms of expertise and experience are now able to be integrated in dispersed technology support infrastructures that may well reside outside of the organizational boundaries within which such information and support is required and used. The forms of integration begin with the capture of the content that people and or systems produce. When supported by emerging descriptive metadata standards that provide both conceptual and discipline based controlled vocabularies the ability to form managed content environments emerges. Transitional technologies in recent times have also become available that examine use and context from the perspective of the user or system accessing and interacting with stored content. These however form only the base layers of an integrated whole. Content when structured well, has become embodied within the context of a content management framework. Communities of users or service interactions from third party systems derive people and service management frameworks that both describe accessibility and identity as well as information form and function.
Some knowledge management theories have evolved to consider knowledge as complex information-human interactions that are indeed as complex as natural ecosystems with their complex interdependencies, symbiotic relationships and interactions with external influences. This concept parallels recent developments in coastal management theory (Tobey & Lowry, 2002) that builds on the learning/adaptive system work as summarized by Lee (1993).
In addition, Por (1997) describes knowledge ecologies as "interdisciplinary fields of management practice, emerging from the confluence of management strategy, communities of practice, complex adaptive systems, and knowledge management. In the sense of Por (1997), the conceptual underpinnings of OneCoast bring together leading practice in coastal management, new knowledge technologies, the sociology of online communities, and information technology infrastructure design. It is the opportunity to bring together these seemingly disparate disciplines into an initiative to serve the needs of coastal and marine managers worldwide that prompted the development of OneCoast.

OneCoast: A Coastal Knowledge Ecosystem

OneCoast was launched as a Type II partnership initiative at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in partnership and at the invitation of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)/UNESCO and Sun Microsystems. Type II initiatives complemented the formally negotiated Type I text of the WSSD in that the flexible nature of Type II initiatives allow a broad range of groups to become involved. OneCoast currently has support from United Nations agencies, national governments, the private sector, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. OneCoast is currently seeking to extend and strengthen this diversity.
OneCoast is an initiative that embraces the inter-disciplinary practice of coastal management at all levels - from global through national, sub-national levels to the local community. OneCoast plans to build the ability for coastal and marine managers to share and store data, information and experiences, recount stories or reach out for support when they need it, wherever they are. The benefits to emerge will be knowledge-sharing from the interactions not previously visible and the nature of the way the interdisciplinary community interacts with each other, and the information and decisions they produce.
OneCoast as an online support infrastructure will act as an independent broker for knowledge environments utilizing open standards frameworks, combinations of commercial software, OpenSource and independently developed software proprietary components. A fully open web services architecture will enable modern, open applications for service functions interaction through dynamically driven interface components that facilitate "no coding" approaches. Component-based dynamic user interfaces branding environments will facilitate users to interact with core information environments through internet-enabled devices without the need for complex infrastructure. Metadata, directory and metadirectory repositories based on ratified standards based technologies will facilitate highly targeted information access to meet user requirements.


OneCoast aims to support a more holistic and integrated coastal and marine management approach by allowing the data, perspectives, interests and knowledge of multiple stakeholders to be acknowledged. The realization that the environmental concerns and perspectives of communities of users are an increasingly important part of the overall decision-making process is a global trend requiring new tools, new approaches and new practices to the collection, management, dissemination and use of knowledge. OneCoast is tackling this problem through the Type II partnership mechanism established through the World Summit on Sustainable Development that enables an open and flexible approach to working with key stakeholders worldwide.


  • Kay, R. and Alder, J. 1999. Coastal Planning and Management. E&FN Spon.
  • Kay, R and McKellar, R. 2001. Values-based Coastal Planning. Western Australian Coastal Management Conference. Esperance.
  • Lee, K. N. 1993. Compass and gyroscope-integrating science and politics for the environment. Washington D. C. Island press.
  • Tobey, J and Lowry, K. 2002. Introduction to Special Section on Learning from the Practice of Integrated Coastal Management. Coastal Management 30:283-284.
  • Nonaka I. and Takeuchi H. 1995. The knowledge-creating Company: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Por, G. 1997. What is Knowledge Ecology?
  • Shikida, A. In Press. An Evolutionary Perspective on the Development of Coastal Zone Management: Knowledge-Based Approach.
  • Tweney, D. 2001. HAL 9000 Is Ready to Take Your Order. Business 2.0 August 16, 2001.,1653,16831,FF.html
  • Von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka. 2000. Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation. Oxford University Press.
  • Wenger, McDermott and Synder, 2002. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press.