Business knowledge in Development

As follow up to the January 2012, seminar ”The state of the art on knowledge integration across boundaries”, a meeting on ‘Business knowledge in development’ will be held on Tuesday 3 April 2012 at Hivos in The Hague.

At the seminar itself, we missed the participation of the private sector and identified the need for a deeper discussion on the role of business knowledge in development. Given the differing drives and incentives in terms of knowledge production and use of business and the domains of science, policy-making and practice, how can actors reach out and bridge these to achieve win-win situations? The meeting will consider possible processes of engagement, pitfalls and tensions, and potential new roles and tasks of different actors including government agencies. Dr Patricia Wagenmakers will be sharing the experiences of the Knowledge Unit of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (ELI).

Full details and information about registration are to be found in the Programme Business knowledge in development 3 April 2012.


The Paris Declaration

A short excerpt from Professor Robert Chambers’ public lecture on 23 January 2012 in which he lists the words which can be found in the Paris Declaration and those that cannot.

Words that are not to be found the Paris Declaration:

poor..vulnerable…marginalised people…trust…relationships…negotiate…involve…

Public Lecture by Robert Chambers


This video encapsulates some of the highlights of Professor Robert Chamber’s Public Lecture on Gaps, Errors and Ways Forward which was held at the seminar: The State of the Art on Knowledge Integration across Boundaries on 23-24 January 2012, in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Professor Chambers is one of the leading thinkers in the development sector. He has a background in biology, history and public administration. His current concerns and interests include professionalism, power, the personal dimension in development, participatory methodologies, teaching and learning with large numbers, agriculture and science, Seasonality Revisited, and community-led total sanitation.


To find out more about Professor Chambers, please consult his staff page at the Institute of Development Studies or his Wikipedia entry which notes:

Since the 1980s, he has been one of the leading advocates for putting the poor, destitute and marginalised at the centre of the processes of development policy. In particular he argues they should be taken into account when the development problem is identified, policy formulated and projects implemented. He popularised within development circles such phrases as “putting the last first” and stressed the now generally accepted need for development professionals to be critically self-aware. The widespread acceptance of a “participatory” approach is in part due to his work.


Seminar on 23-24 January 2012

The seminar The state of the art on knowledge integration across boundaries, took place on 23-24 January 2012. It brought together some 20 experts (scientists and practitioners from different backgrounds and regions to reinvigorate thinking about knowledge integration in international development.

Across the International Development Cooperation (IDC) sector, knowledge is increasingly being acknowledged as a key resource to achieve effectiveness.  In recent years, many NGOs in the Netherlands and beyond have developed knowledge-related programmes, and in some cases, established or further expanded organizational units specialized in knowledge sharing and learning. It is however not clear whether they amass to a real change of the knowledge landscape.

 One of the impediments to development approaches in the Netherlands is commonly felt to be the fact that the different knowledge domains of researchers, practitioners and policy-makers are not working together to create new knowledge for development. Hence cross-domain knowledge integration – understood as processes of knowledge co-creation linking domains particularly those of policy-making, science and practitioners – has received increased attention. This workshop aims to tease out elements and principles that determine effective knowledge creation processes.

 Central to the seminar is the results of research on effective knowledge creation processes undertaken by Wenny. It  has its roots in both Hivos’ and IKM Emergent’s interest and experiences in how knowledge integration occurs and how it can be facilitated.

Hivos Knowledge Programme is a practitioner-academic collaboration aimed at developing knowledge on issues imperative to the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the development sector at large. To achieve its goals Hivos works closely with CSOs and academic centres worldwide.

IKM Emergent argues that development is a knowledge industry and the interaction between these domains is needed at a fundamental level if development issues are to be resolved.

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.