Like a bridge over troubled waters…

The think piece, Like a bridge over troubled waters: dialogues of policy, practitioner and academic knowledges by Wenny Ho (2011) deals with knowledge integration (KI) in international development cooperation (IDC). Knowledge integration is understood as processes of knowledge co-creation linking different knowledge domains, and
in particular those domains of policy-making, science (academia), and development practice.prior to the seminar discussions and energetic exchanges. Some key resulting insights and findings that kept surfacing are here presented.

Conclusions and recommendation of the think piece

A number of proposals are put forward to bring a new dynamism in knowledge co-creation efforts.

  1. The sector needs to avoid further ‘paralysis by analysis’. It needs to invest most in putting concepts into practice as this is where the most change will probably be seen. Much conceptual and methodological clarity regarding knowledge co-creation and knowledge integration already exists that can be built upon and further enriched with insights gained in the development sector. Across different sectors, a consensus on the contours of a framework is emerging, not necessarily of detailed steps to follow, but of the broad guiding principles.
  2. Rather than embarking on a new knowledge activity as if it were a journey to an unknown land, it is more fruitful to arrive at a collective understanding of the current state of the art and jointly define where and why development cooperation processes may diverge from what has been built so far in other sectors. Regularly organising these reflexive benchmarking and purposeful scanning exercises beyond ‘the usual suspects and subjects’ in development cooperation could accelerate the pace of innovation and deepen understanding in knowledge programmes.
  3. Development actors need to follow a more robust and rigorous methodical approach to knowledgeprocesses. To achieve that, they need to be able to differentiate and systematize: systematizeunder what circumstances knowledge integration approaches provide added value, and why; anddifferentiate between the possible contribution of convergence and divergence, when diversity isenriching, and when a common stand or collectivization is required, and of what elements (e.g.values, approaches, resources).
  4. To further build a theoretical and empirical body of knowledge co-creation for the developmentsector, knowledge produced by the sector needs to be able to withstand the scrutiny of stakeholders including scientists. This is a must in knowledge co-creation where credibility of the knowledge produced is a fundamental asset. Concepts cannot be simply adopted from other sectors, but require systematic and contextualised validation. In consequence, the proposed purposeful sampling strategies of useful concepts and approaches should be followed by conscious and methodical articulation of verifiable contributions and applicability. Thorough knowledge co-creation processes could be further enhanced by actors having the capacity to understand and judge the basis of claim-making.
  5. Processes of creating knowledge about knowledge co-creation can be stimulated by intensifyingmulti-stakeholder interactions and joint sense-making. This requires systematically and continuously strengthening the inbuilt reflexivity of the development cooperation sector, enhancing its capacity to change itself based on acquired self-knowledge. In transactional organizing, the task at hand is the centre of organizing, around which the key actors are identified and included. Their self-organising capacity includes the management of relationships and boundaries in order to explicitly take account of the development knowledge system rather than purely organisational interests. Such an approach could be helpful to move beyond de-politicized knowledge sharing, and strengthen platforms for collective interpretation and sense-making that supersede organisational interests.
  6. As sense-making plays a fundamental role in knowledge generation processes, knowledge does not simply ‘travel’. In consequence, processes of knowledge co-creation which hinge on collectivesense-making, intense processes of interaction and interpretation are indispensable. This requiresthat those engaged in knowledge work in development cooperation have a well developed self-awareness or a deeper consciousness of the own theory of change; alternative paradigms; and conceptual and methodological principles, and their theoretical embedding.
  7. Knowledge co-creation requires systematic boundary thinking and consistent organising andapproaches such as transactional organizing, besides the strengthening of the institutionalinfrastructure. It is not clear the extent to which organisations have been undertaking efforts toconsciously strengthen systemic synergy, complementarity and connectivity also at the conceptual and methodological level. An institutional analysis of the current landscape is therefore proposed. This would include the identification and strengthening of existing nodes of transcription and translation (boundary organisations or individuals), the building of new ones and enhancing their credibility. Actors that have thus been identified require more than the agility and flexibility to move between domains to grow into the job. They will evolve and mature guided by criteria of independence, authority, credibility, openness and humility, and be accountable to the different communities in the domains.
  8. Given that working in development “for the poor”, by definition, implies working with differential power bases and relations, understanding knowledge co-creation processes as negotiation and politics requires an awareness of expected and unexpected effects, and where possible, a strategy to strengthen the power bases and capacities of those who most need that support. Literature on knowledge management and development cooperation is littered with wordings that implicitly express problematic issues related to ‘North- South’ relationships. Biases and power relations are an intrinsic part of knowledge co-creation processes which requires a constant awareness from the different parties involved. Efforts are required to flag the manipulation of knowledge, and carefully craft more balanced boundary work and objects.