Positive deviants and failure. Part 1

Somewhere in your community or organisation, groups of people already doing things differently and better. To create lasting change, find these areas of postive deviants and fan their flames.

At the moment, there’s a couple of  interesting discussions going on on (my favourite community) KM4Dev, and I think they’re related. They both started on 19 September: the first was initiated by Sebastiao Ferreira on learning from failure and the second by Ewen Le Borgne on positive deviants. I’m going to start with positive deviants and then look at the link to failure in a couple of blog posts because I have a lot to say on this subject…

A couple of years ago, Laxmi Prasad Pant and Helen Odame wrote a paper, The promise of positive deviants, for the KM4D Journal which had a big influence on me. I thought about this paper – like a dog chewing on a bone  – off and on for quite a while and even changed IKM Emergent’s communications strategy to reflect their insights into positive deviants. In particular, they highlighted the importance of positive deviants in the sphere of knowledge.

Pant and Odame considered that (agricultural) knowledge is managed in highly contested environments where uncertainty characterizes stakeholder interactions. One dimension of this this disorder are so-called positive deviants who act out against the structures and ‘rules of the game’ in knowledge creation, application and regeneration. Positive deviants as powerful agents of change and are, for example, able to bridge the divides between expert and local knowledge systems. However, positive deviants have not yet been recognized in terms of their potential in international development because the legacy of deviancy theory lies on negative deviants, such as addicts and criminals.

Pant and Odame argue that positive deviants initiate change in spite of difficult social and organizational  environments: full of unpredictable obstacles or interferences. Moreover, they believe that challenging the status quo is one way to harness individual creativity and innovations in spite of constraining social structures and institutional-setups. In other words, social structures impose constraints to individual agency or action, and that structure and agency are a duality that cannot be conceived separately from one another (Giddens, 1984). This resonantes with IKM Emergent which, on the one had, is trying to bring about change within development but, at the same time, is part of the strucutre which it is trying to change.

I think that the members of IKM Emergent – and those interested in IKM Emergent – can largely be identified as positive deviants. But this goes wider and I think many members of KM4Dev are positive deviants as well:

This is because positive deviants challenge existing organizational structures and institutional set-ups, and promote alternative approaches to solve seemingly intractable social problems, either playing direct role of a boundary spanner or indirect role as activists.

In my next post, I’ll be looking at the link between positive deviants and failure…

Linking knowledge domains

The new weblog on Linking knowledge domains

I’ve created a new blog on Linking knowledge domains: knowledge integration across boundarieswhich aims to act as an access point for work on cross-domain knowledge integration which I’ve been doing for IKM Emergent over the past few years in collaboration with Josine Stremmelaar of Hivos and Wenny Ho. In particular, it will link to the seminar which took place on 23-24 January 2012 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Journal update 1: KM4D and innovation systems

The May issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal was on the subject of Beyond the conventional boundaries of knowledge management: navigating the emergent pathways of learning and innovation for international development with Guest Editors, Laurens Klerkx, Laxmi Prasad Pant and Cees Leeuwis. It comprises 6 articles and one community note:

Knowledge management for pro-poor innovation: the Papa Andina case
Douglas Horton, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Andrade-Piedra, Claudio Velasco, André Devaux
Development knowledge ecology: metaphors and meanings
Sarah Cummings, Mike Powell, Jaap Pels

One of the objectives of the journal when it was started in 2005 was ‘facilitating cross-fertilization between knowledge management and related fields’ by acting as a ‘broad church’ (Ferguson and Cummings 2005, unpublished). Indeed, one of the objectives was to bring the approaches of innovation management/systems for development (IM4Dev) and knowledge management for development (KM4D) closer together so that they could better inform each other although, in the language that we had available to us in 2005, we called this agricultural knowledge systems rather than IM4Dev or innovation systems. To quote from one of the unpublished background documents on reasons for starting the journal:

It will aim to facilitate cross-fertilization between knowledge management and related fields: for example information management, but also with other development-related approaches: agricultural knowledge systems, soft systems research, and other relevant ‘traditions’.

The rationale for bringing these two approaches closer together was that we thought at the time, intuitively, that KM4D could benefit from the insights of an approach which was grounded in development and which we had also identified as home-grown knowledge management. It is also fascinating to read in the Editorial how the different phases in IM4Dev correspond with the different generations of KM4D and that the Guest Editors consider that the approaches are complementary:

As becomes clear from the several articles, the perspectives of KM4D and IM4Dev do not seem that far apart, and have arrived for example at a similar understanding of the importance and influence of the institutional context for learning and innovation. They are complementary, and could benefit from further integration. Given their explicit focus on knowledge management, KM4D perspectives can help better understand the knowledge sharing and learning process that is crucial to innovation, and which underlies many of the other functions crucial to innovation such as lobbying, and the creation of an enabling environment. IM4Dev perspectives, with their attention to other resources than knowledge needed to feed the innovation process and create an enabling environment, broaden the view on the settings in which knowledge management aims to make a contribution.

One of the advantages of the IM4Dev approach is that it is focused outside organisations while one of the limitations of KM4D has been that, because it comes originally from the private sector, it was originally focused on knowledge inside organisations. Indeed, one of the original criticisms of knowledge-based aid from Kenneth King (2000, cited in Knowledge management: development strategy or business strategy? in 2001, p. 163) was:

The agencies have not started with the dramatic knowledge deficits of the South, nor with the key question of how knowledge management could assist knowledge development in the South. A continuation along their current trajectory will arguably be counter-productive; it will make agencies more certain of what they themselves have learnt, and more enthusiastic that others should share their insights, once they have been systematised.

IM4Dev, and the approaches it encompasses will help us to counteract this tendency which is still visible 11 years later.

PS Please note that I’m consciously using KM4D for the field, to differentiate it from the all important, and very much related KM4Dev community.

Adaptive pluralism and intentions…

In a recent meeting on Practice-based change for development, which took place in London, UK, on 20-21 February 2012, and blogged about earlier here by Ewen le Borgne, we discussed Robert Chambers’ work on Paradigms, poverty and adaptive pluralism. Chambers compares the dominant paradigm of neo-Newtonian practice in international development, oriented to things and ‘imposed by powerful actors and organisations’ (2010, p. 3) with the paradigm of adaptive pluralism, oriented to people. Chambers defines adaptive pluralism as:

Paradigmatic elements and relationships associated with people as adaptive agents, with eclectic and participatory methodologies, and with ontological assumptions of complexity such as non-linearity, unpredictability and emergence. (2010, p. 7)

Many of the distinguishing characteristics of IKM Emergent fit within this tradition of adaptive pluralism such as its methods and procedures which are ‘pluralist, iterative adaptation, a la carte and combinations; which have ontological origins and assumptions based on people, the social world, complexity science, emergence, and non-linearity; and which involve goals, design and indicators which are negotiated, evolving and emergent (2010, p. 44). IKM Emergent has been taking place in a context in the development sector which is largely dominated by the neo-Newtonian paradigm which are ‘supervising, auditing, controlling, conforming, complying’. But in agreement with Chambers, we understand that:

 So in the name of rigour and accountability what fits and works better in the controllable, predictable, standardised and measurable conditions of the things and procedures paradigm has been increasingly applied to the uncontrollable, unpredictable, diverse and less measurable paradigm of people and processes. The misfit is little perceived by those furthest from field realities and with most power. (2010, p. 14)

In one of Robert Chamber’s blog posts on this subject Whose paradigm counts part 2, he has made two figures which describe different aspects of the two paradigms: concepts and ontological assumptions; values and principles; relationships; methods. procedures and processes; and roles and behaviours. I have also tried to do the same for IKM Emergent. From this exercise, I realsied that although IKM does fall in the general category of adaptive pluralism, some of its specific emphases are quite different.

IKM mindsets, orientations and predispositions (adapted from Chambers)

A discussion about this figure (left) led us to the conclusion that values are very important to our work but that we very rarely talk about them or even consider them explicitly. One of the really good things of taking this lense to examine your work is that implicit mindsets, orientations and predispositions suddenly become much clear, and can even be part of a process of negotiation.

Jaap Pels was present at the meeting via skype and I know he had some additions to this figure so this is an invitation for his comments🙂.

Mulling over these issues after the meeting, as one does, I was thinking that there should be another circle in the figure called ”Intentions” because that is at the roots of everything we are doing. For IKM, and myself, I would think that intentions would be: reforming, more pluralistic, more open, more inclusive, more respectful, more creative. In fact, I’ll have a go at re-drawing this figure with the new circle when I’ve had Jaap’s reflections on what still needs to be added.

Now I have started thinking about the ”intentions” circle for the neo-Newtonian paradigm and I am worried that they might be the same as the ones I’ve listed here. But, then again, I think they’re more likely to be: value for money, control, efficiency. Not that I don’t think these are important, they’re just not my core intentions.

From the editor’s desk

On 22 September 2011, I took part in a panel ”From the Editor’s desk”, convened by Wendy Harcourt and Kees Biekart at the EADI/DSA General Conference in York, UK. The session was conducted as an open discussion among 6 journal editors on the new publishing arrangements with the coming of the digital age among development journals looking at both the opportunities and the current squeeze for resources.

There were 6 editors who took part in the exchange, five of whom are journal editors:
Wendy Harcourt – Development
Kees Biekart – Development and Change
Brian Pratt – Development in Practice
Caroline Sweetman – Gender and Development
Robert Cornford – Oxfam Books
me – Knowledge Management for Development Journal (KM4D Journal)

When it was my turn to talk, I introduced the KM4D Journal and gave some background on how the journal has developed. It is the youngest journal of them all – then in its 7th volume – and it has, unusually, gone from being an Open Journal System journal to one published by the commercial publisher, Taylor and Francis.

After introducing the journal, I very briefly presented some research on development journals that I’ve been doing with Iina Hellsten of the VU University. Iina and I are doing a scientometric analysis of top development journals. As part of this, I presented a few slides showing our preliminary results in which we had considered the institutional and country location of authors of three development journals, based on a sub-set of articles concerned with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the years 2005-2008: namely World Development, the Journal of Development Studies and Development and Change.

This first slide reviews the institutional affiliations of authors. It shows (and I hope you can read it) that these journals are dominated by Northern institutions, both universities and international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Of the institutions listed here, only one, namely the University of Delhi, could be described as a Southern institution.

Our next slide is concerned with the location of the authors in terms of country. Here, you can see the dominance of authors located in the North, and particularly the USA (green) and the UK (blue). This dominance becomes even clearer when we look at the third and final slide in which the authors for World Development are divided between the developed and developing world.

These slides show a reality of development journals being dominated by Northern interests and authors. As I then concluded, this picture makes me doubt the role of development journals as being developmental.

Not for the first time when I’ve presented these results, I received some angry reactions. One participant argued that this was not a problem because authors in the South have their own journals and didn’t need access to the journals in my study. Another argued that although most of the authors are located in the North, they may well be Southerners, and that this undermined my argument. And that my approach was patronising to Southern academics.

As you can imagine, I was getting very worried and upset at this point, wondering if I was indeed chasing an irrelevant red herring…

But then, fortunately for me, Olivier Sagna of CODESRIA was in the audience. He argued that the difficulty of publishing in international journals was perceived as a huge problem by many African academics. He was also of the opinion that the fact that some of the authors were Southerners based in the North did not change the overall impression of bias. He noted that the brilliance of some Southern scholars was not recognised until they caught international attention by attaining senior positions in the North. When this happened, they found it easy to publish in international journals but before this, they had been just as good but had not been recognised.

Please see the full report of the panel, written by Wendy Harcourt.

What do we mean by development?

I’ve been thinking about that we actually mean by development, and came across this really good presentation on Slideshare which, I think, sums up the main issues and approaches commonly used to define development:

View more PowerPoints from Ecumene
According to Kurt Maton’s 2003 article Pierre Bourdieu and the epistemic conditions of social scientific knowledge, Bourdieu argued that there are three potential biases in knowledge claims: social origins of the researcher; the researcher’s position in the intellectual field; and viewing the world as a spectacle which in the figure below (Source: Maton 2003, p. 57) is expressed as the objectifying relation between the knower (in this case the external development actors) and the known (the development process or population).
In a nutshell, I think this aspect of ‘viewing the world as a spectacle’ is one of the reasons why I have a basic dislike of traditional definitions of development, covered in the presentation above. Many of these approaches and definitions are technical and fundamentally objectifying. In a different league is Amartya Sen’s definition of development in his book Development as freedom as:
..a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Focusing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes, or with industrialisation, or with technological advance, or with social modernization.

For me, my preferred definition is the one in the 2009 paper The New Enlightenment article by Sebastiao Ferreira, a Brazilian citizen living in Peru who I had the great pleasure of meeting at a conference in September 2011. He argues that:

Development is, most of all, the result of the synergy among millions of innovative initiatives people take everyday in their local societies, generating new and more effective ways of producing, trading, and managing their resources and their institutions. The work of policy makers and development agencies may contribute greatly to the success of those initiatives, may shape them, or may undermine those efforts.

This also relates to Robin Mansell’s vision of development in her 2010 publication Power and interests in developing knowledge societies: exogenous and endogenous discourses in contention which proposes the need for an endogenous, internally generated development as opposed to external, exogenous one:

…an endogenous model of development, one that focuses more directly on human beings and their resources and aspirations. The endogenous model is greatly overshadowed by the exogenous model in policy discourses. This has serious consequences – socially, culturally and economically – because the exogenous model (and indeed some versions of the endogenous model), cloaks the interests of investors in the global North‘ whose principal ambition is profits from the sale of digital technologies and the content that is hosted on or circulated through them.

At the IKM Table (2): individual agency vs. organisational remit, accountability and impact pathways for the future of IKM-Emergent

(This was originally posted on KM for me… and you?)

Day 2 of the final IKM workshop dedicated to ‘practice-based change’. As much as on day 1, there is a lot on the menu of this second day:

  • Individual agency vs. organisational remit;
  • Accountability;
  • Impact and change pathways;
  • A possible extension of the programme: IKM-2
Day 2 - the conversation and cross-thumping of ideas continues
Day 2 – the conversation and cross-thumping of ideas continues

On individual agency and organisational remit:

We are made of a complex set of imbricated identities and cultures that manifest themselves around us in relation with the other actors that we are engaging with. These complex layers of our personality may clash with the organisational remit that is sometimes our imposed ‘ball park’. Recognising complexity at this junction, and the degree of influence of individual agents is an important step forward to promote more meaningful and effective development.

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