Workshop on emerging research paradigms

How do you plan and manage a research programme if you do not know what the outcomes will be? With great difficulty is the answer, particularly in the current climate where predictability is usually expected and measured. Such expectations can impose real constraints on research processes which aim to interact with and encourage the participation of other stakeholders. They can inhibit the identification and pursuit of news ideas which emerge as the research progresses.

These issues were discussed by a group of researchers, research intermediaries and research policy makers at a workshop in Trinity Hall, Cambridge on 17-18 September 2009. The workshop was convened by IKM Emergent, the Information Systems research group of the Judge Business School and by the Bridging the Digital Divide Group, a consortium of UK funded ICT4D projects whose experiences prompted the initial reflection on these issues. Continue reading

Linking research with action

Thanks to the recommendation by a colleague, I have just been reading a paper on Linking agricultural research knowledge with action for sustainable proverty alleviation: what works? written by a group of 19 people from Harvard University and the International Livestock Research Institute. The size of the group of authors in itself seems to indicate an alternative and inclusive perspective…

The paper asks ‘What kinds of approaches and institutions, under what sorts of conditions, are most effective for harnessing scientific knowledge in support of strategies for environmentally sustainable development and poverty alleviation?’ It applies an innovative conceptual framework to a diverse set of sustainable poverty-focused projects undertaken in a variety of African and Asian countries, identifying the following strategies as key to closing gaps between knowledge and action: the importance of combining different kinds of knowledge, learning and bridging approaches; the need for strong and diverse partnerships which level the playing field; and the need to building capacity to innovate and communicate. Continue reading

Share Fair 2: Implications for Development

Today, IKM Emergent organised a Roundtable in the Open Space at lunch time. Although we didn’t get many participants, they made up for lack of  numbers with their quality and they included some of the cream of the KM4Dev community. We discussed and’brainstormed about the implications of all the knowledge initiatives presented at the Share Fair for the broader development sector. In fact, we discussed the implications for how we do development. Although there was general agreement that there were indeed implications for this – which is what Peter Ballantyne predicted! – our discussion was broad ranging:

  • Whether to mainstream knowledge management within organisations or to put it into the hands of knowledge management specialist staff?Our general conclusions was that mainstreaming and drivers were needed and that one strategy without the other might not work.
  • As we had heard much at the Share Fair, power issues hinder knowledge sharing and the work of knowledge networks. Effective knowledge-based approaches in the future might lead to flatter, less hierarchical organisations.
  • The difference in status between researchers (higher) and knowledge managers (low) was not conducive to knowledge sharing. In some cases, support staff in the role of communications or knowledge sharing were seen as a ‘scourge’. Only when they become part of the core business were the accepted by more senior staff.
  • Institutional structures and the emphasis of researchers needing to publish in peer-reviewed journals did not necessarily support the development role of knowledge.
  • Development research in all institutions should have a development focus although that might require changing of the institutional structure funding development research.
  • Management, researchers, support staff and field offices within an organisation will have different ideas about and understanding of knowledge management. An effective organisational strategy will need to recognise the different layers within an organisation.

Collaborative learning: the role of organisational knowledge management strategies

The upcoming issue of Knowledge Management for Development Journal (Volume 4, Issue 2) will focus on organisational knowledge management strategies and their role in facilitating learning among and between Northern and Southern partners. Many development organisations have knowledge management and/or learning strategies but these are often not known outside the organisation itself. Where these strategies have been shared outside the organisation, they have been publicised informally and not widely distributed to a broader public. Learning about how other organisations are undertaking knowledge management is a way to hold up a mirror to our own practice and experience. Continue reading

‘Connecting Worlds’

The 2009 International Conference on Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities (OLKC) has as its theme ‘Connecting Worlds‘. OLKC is a leading international conference for researchers in the area of organizational knowledge and learning. This year’s theme provides scope for a development focus on knowledge management.

There is, so far, only a smattering of academic research relating to ‘KM4D’ (most notably by Colin McFarlane 2006), so this is a great opportunity to introduce KM4D more widely as an academic discipline. Why is this important? Such research explores whether the assumptions which we may have regarding the potential value of KM4D are indeed valid, which approaches work, and why. And if development is understood as a knowledge-intensive sector (as in the IKM Emergent programme), new insights into the effectiveness of knowledge management can contribute to enhancing development practice.

Call for papers and conference website

Defining what is relevant research… and how to build knowledge sharing in research

This is a message posted on the KM4DEV mailing list recently. It is relevant for IKM Emergent in general as a reflection on impacting research discourse, even if this email focuses more explicitly on the agricultural sector. Continue reading

Dgroups research report

After quite some delay, the research report that I completed last year for KIT has just been published. Here is a quote from the Executive summary:

The Dgroups platform currently supports 2,308 dgroups and 88,700 individual users (15 July, 2007), but there has not yet been an analysis of the development role of dgroups on a global scale. Many partners and members of the Dgroups Partnership continue to support the platform, not only because of the access to online knowledge networks with which it provides them, but also because of an intuitive understanding of the processes supported by dgroups.

The study examines whether and how dgroups:

  1. facilitate the spread of information and knowledge among the actors (individual and institutional) working in the thematic areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
  2. facilitate learning processes (individual, social, and organizational learning) in the diverse institutions working in areas related to the MDGs; and
  3. facilitate the bridging of the multitude of ‘knowledge divides’ in development between the North and South, and South-South; between different sorts of institutions (multilateral, bilateral, NGOs, universities, ministries) and professional groups (practitioners, researchers and policymakers); and in terms of language.

Data were collected in the first half of 2007 by questionnaire surveys of administrators and moderators, interviews with representatives of partners and member organizations of the Dgroups Partnership, and a focus group meeting of lurkers. Additional data comprises web statistics covering the use of dgroups and secondary sources, including a ‘characterization’ of dgroups in Latin America and the Caribbean which took place in 2004 (Lo and Salas 2004).

The number of dgroups has grown at linear rate since its creation in 2002. The number of additional groups per year has been around 500 each year for the past four years. The number of individual users of dgroups has grown at a non-linear, sigmoid rate, consistent with the trend in adoption of new technology identified in the theory of the diffusion of innovations.

The highest number of additional users (26,993) joining the platform was in 2006. Estimates for 2007 may indicate that while dgroup creation remains roughly the same, the number of new users may peak at 26,000 for the year. Whether the trend in the number of additional users will then decline is unknown. There is evidence that there are fields, notably academia, where penetration of dgroups is very low, indicating that there are still areas for possible expansion of the numbers of both groups and users.

It has been concluded that dgroups facilitate information and knowledge sharing within the subject areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and that they also facilitate individual, social and organizational learning within these subject areas. Dgroups also play an important role in bridging the ‘knowledge divides’ between North and South, between different types of institutions, and between different professional groups, as well as crossing the digital divide. An ability to bridge South-South divides and to forge links between different language groups has not been demonstrated.

In terms of development impact, Dgroups was found to represent a very cost-effective manner of hosting groups (an average of Euro 60.70 per dgroup per year) and most moderators felt that participation in dgroups was an ‘effective’ use of their time. Dgroups were also found to have had an organizational impact on the way many of the partner and member organizations work. It is argued that Dgroups provides a unique resource: there is nothing comparable within development that facilitates information and knowledge sharing on such a large scale. Finally, some recommendations are made for the future development of Dgroups.