More on the ‘Changing role of knowledge for development’

Last month (December), I posted a blog item about the conference on the ‘Changing role of knowledge for development.’

At that moment, Dr Ncayiyana’s presentation was not online but now it is, together with the other keynote presentations. On the subject ‘Knowledge for development: perspectives from Southern Africa’, he says a number of things which resonate with what IKM Emergent is trying to achieve:

Lessons learned

  1. Knowledge purveyors and the recipient community must have common objectives
    There can be a world of difference between what the purveyors of knowledge, that is, those bringing knowledge for development, think the community needs, and what the community itself believes it wants.
  2. Development requires multi-sectoral knowledge
    Health-related knowledge by itself will not achieve optimal impact on development without knowledge transfer in other sectors. Development is a symbiotic process requiring multi-sectoral input.
  3. Knowledge means change, and change is not always welcome
    Knowledge transfer is intertwined with change, and the benefits are not always immediately apparent to the recipient community. People tend to resist change, particularly where it clashes with traditional community values.
  4. Knowledge transfer is a two-way street
    Knowledge transfer is a two-way street. The purveyor of knowledge must be prepared to learn about the community from the community.

What role for knowledge institutions in the North to influence development in the South?
North can support South in the critical processes of:

Acquiring knowledge
Absorbing knowledge
Communicating knowledge

  • Share knowledge with the institutions and communities in the developing nations to support the acquisition of existing knowledge
  • Assist in human capacity development through fellowships and postgraduate training of scholars from the South to enable institutions in developing nations to be in a position to absorb the shared knowledge [fellowships, postgraduate qualifications]
  • Assist in the establishment or enhancement of an appropriate infrastructure (ICT, computers, library facilities) for the communication and exchange of knowledge from North to South, but also locally within the affected developing community. [MUNDO-Fontys project to establish a wireless ICT network in Tamale]

To sum it all up, knowledge institutions in the North can best assist by assuming a mentoring and nurturing role while being careful not to create a relationship of dependency and an attitude of entitlement.

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing these impressions and excerpts from Mr. Ncayiyana’s presentation. It is all the more relevant as it comes from a South African and not from a so-called ‘expert’ from the North.

    At the same time I challenge quite a few of these statements, especially on the role of Northern knowledge institutions to “influence” (a very controversial term in itself) development in the South.

    – I don’t think that the role of Northern institutions is to help acquisition of knowledge. It is certainly not the main objective in my eyes. Because as we know, knowledge is context-specific. Therefore it needs a dialogue between Southern and Northern institutions. Maybe this is just wording, but the ‘acquisition’ of knowledge sounds very much like ‘come and shop to our knowledge mall, you won’t find this fresh and good knowledge in your local grocery store.

    – The idea of ‘absorbing’ the shared knowledge reinforces the above impression. Isn’t development more a process of jointly observing and drawing lessons to come up with appropriate solutions for a given context? Absorbing tons of literature from the North may not be that helpful at that. Certainly not without a process of adapting it. Maybe this is what the author meant with ‘absorbing’, I admit.

    – While I think ICT facilities can help, they sound again very much like the easy track with concrete, visible inputs but not necessarily useful outcomes. Having ICT facilities as such doesn’t make people share knowledge and learn better. There is a whole process of identifying the issue (e.g. of insufficient knowledge sharing or development) and solutions that can address it, either using ICT facilities or others (radio, posters, theatre plays and the likes do wonders in many developing countries).

    With all the above in mind, I think the role of Northern organisations is rather about:
    1) helping Southern organisations reflect about their visions, theories and practices. This is the key to ongoing learning and generating ownership on knowledge that becomes part of the process, not available ‘off the shelf. And this should be based on experiences of Northern organisations in the North as well, not just projects in the South, but for instance also organisational learning in Northern institutions.

    2) in doing so, and just as importantly, understanding the context and also the cultural processes at hand that help Southern organisations absorb any kind of knowledge: written vs. oral culture, direct vs. indirect, hierarchical vs. flat, reading vs. doing etc. Northern organisations have just as much to learn in this respect, to pretend to help people in the South.

    3) with these steps in mind, it becomes a lot easier for Northern organisations to point out at useful resources for a particular issue and there is potentially a role for them to develop some skills that help systematise learning among Southern organisations. A lot of our partner organisations are regularly asking for training on writing skills because they recognise it is a shortcoming that prevents them from making more lessons available in a format or another.

    Mr. Ncayiyana does recognise some of the above in his lessons learnt but the overall perspective is too much ‘knowledge stock’-flavoured for me to really buy into it at times.

    I though it worth mentioning this because I believe IKM emergent is about understanding and analysing how the development discourse (and KM / learning discourse) is influenced by the North and how we should all – Southern and Northern organisations – seek to empower ourselves so that development becomes our own process, not one imposed directly or insidiously by anyone else.

    The paradox of course is that for many Southern organisations, there is arguably a tendency to embrace KM from the knowledge stock angle, to start with. While you, me and others may see it as not so useful, it is their call to try it out and learn their own lessons…

    And bang on, the development sector is really about an integration of many sub-sectors. This is also where IKM emergent has a very appropriate mandate.

  2. Hi Sarah, nice to see you blogging here, I always enjoyed your own blog.

    Though the presentation may have been very interesting, I do not like the wordings of ‘knowledge purveyors’ and ‘recipient communities’. I think the intention may be right, but I think everybody is the owner of his/her own knowledge and these wordings suggest that the ‘knowledge purveyors’ are the ones holding the knowledge. (and who are they, the development workers??, leaders?)

  3. I agree with you Joitske in principle, but let’s look at KM4D realistically – isn’t there always an intended beneficiary of such an intervention? I also don’t think that knowledge can be ‘transferred’ because but rather is built in its application in practice, ie. through interaction between people. As such a ‘recipient’ is not so much a recipient of knowledge, than of the intervention’s intention. Ideally, a knowledge intervention would be about establishing a form of mutual learning and a common knowledge base, between those involved in an intervention and building on the knowledges of both (all) parties involved. (See also Ewen’s comment).

    Therefore as long as the ‘recipient communities’ are not so much receivers of knowledge but of the intervention purposes, it’s okay… this is a subtle difference though and indeed it’s easy to read this as you (probably correctly) interpret it, especially when – I think – most NGOs are still approaching KM in such a way, aimed at ‘knowledge transfer’!

  4. Hi Julie, I agree with you that you can read it in different ways, and probably the presentor meant well. At the same time, I think we have to look critically at wordings and what they convey. That’s why I like the word co-creation a lot. On the other hand, it’s bad to use the word co-creation when in fact there is a case of ‘purveyor’ and ‘recipient’ (like what happens with the word development partner).

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