The world is changing, rapidly, into a Global Networked Knowledge Society (GNKS), and we are in a step change from what we used to know. Understanding this is crucial for people, and in particular policy makers and strategists, as their aim is to take decisions that will impact the future in which people and organisations will function.

The phrase Global Networked Knowledge Society is a carefully thought-out capture of the essence of our times:

Global means that the challenge is everywhere.. Enabled by technology, we have the ability to almost instantaneously spread and access information across the globe. The same infrastructures that unlock information at any geographical location that can be connected to the Internet enable communication—and therefore social and economic transactions—among  people that otherwise would have never been in touch. Combined with the ability to travel across the globe for an increasing amount of people, and the ability to order things anywhere, and get it delivered anywhere, globalization has grown to a very important factor in society, and its impact continuous to increase.

Networked means that the links around the globe are not restricted to hubs and spokes, but rather anybody can potentially connect with anybody. Networks are social, informational and commercial, and convey not only words, but resources, goods and services. This can be both beneficial and harmful.  The Internet was not built to support the critical processes of society. Therefore, there are a lot of weaknesses that can be detrimental to processes relying on this infrastructure, either because deliberate or accidental causes. Both the way the Internet is governed (traditionally US dominated), as well as its supporting technologies (IP protocol) are subject to challenges that need to be addressed in a balanced way during the coming decades, in order to ensure that we can trust and rely on information infrastructures that have become so critical to us.

Knowledge means that information has become a major commodity in the global economy, standing side-by-side with goods and services. The combination of access to information and “people who know” anywhere on this globe, and the increasing ability to generate insights from that access, means that knowledge plays an increasing role in society. More than ever before, knowledge is power. People who understand the tremendous opportunities that emerge because of access to knowledge thrive. Information technologies enable us to process information in a very fast way. Yet it is clear that beneficial results of such processing depend crucially on three variables:

  1. the quality of information (it must be correct, relevant, and placed in the right context);

  2. the logic of combining different streams of information (it must lead to valid and appropriate cause-effect inferences); and

  3. information security (protecting information against distortion, either deliberate or by accident, and preserving societally-mandated protections against unwanted intrusion).

Society means that none of the individual, business, or governmental stakeholders is sufficient, but all are necessary. In order to ensure activities are sustainable, global networked knowledge needs to be put in a societal perspective. Understanding society is something that cannot be expressed by access to information alone. People matter.