Connecting knowledges: interventions aimed at “bridging” different worlds of knowledge

Yesterday I attended the ‘Connecting Knowledges: interventions aimed at “bridging” different worlds of knowledge’ parallel session, with Andy McDevitt from GSDRC presenting and Damir Simunic from WA Research SA, Switzerland.

Damir told the group all about his experience of working with the WHO to establish an online network of nurses. The model they found that worked in the WHO nurse network situation was that people already working in the area identified a burning issue, and in this case it was ‘leadership’ within the nursing community, they then had a key speaker do a video presentation which was broadcast on the online community space, to spark the online discussion amongst the nurses. There were also ‘experts’ employed to help fuel and facilitate the online discussion. They now have about 25 online discussion groups running, all on different nursing topics.

We then heard from Andrew, where the kind of knowledge that GSDRC is connecting is slightly different. GSDRC focus on providing governance and social development information to DFID advisors, which is a very broad topic area and can mean a lot of different information gathering and dissemination. They can be asked a specific question from DFID, which they then need to source the information and repackage, or translating it, into an easy to understand format.

We then briefly heard from James Nguo from ALIN in Kenya, who gave us a very different and fascinating example of working with community networks throughout Kenya. ALIN have volunteers who work with local communities to encourage them to record information relating to arid land issues, which is then saved at the ALIN community centre and then shared with other community centres across Kenya. Other participants of the session seemed keen to learn more from ALIN for two reasons, firstly the fact that ALIN have found a way to tap into community knowledge, which people felt was a particular knowledge that is often lacking in development policy making. Secondly, people were very interested in how ALIN manage to motivate people to participate in this knowledge exchange. The answer to this question was the value that individuals gain from ALIN – they can often find valuable information from ALIN which will have a significant impact on their lives. This gives them the key incentive to go back to the network and share their own knowledge with others.

This issue of individual incentives was a strong point that came out of the session, and some felt that there has to be a selfish incentive to engage in knowledge sharing, or else it doesn’t work. Everyone within the parallel session identified with the problem of motivating people to share and connect their knowledge, whether it’s within an external network or their own organisation.

The topic of ALIN’s work with the local communities also brought out an interesting point around how knowledge exchange should be a two-way street between communities and policy-makers, and there is a real need to develop platforms for communities to share their knowledge. There is always a role for intermediaries in this as well, who can act as the broker between local information to pass it on to actors closer to policy processes, acting to translate the knowledge into a language that the specified audience understands.

So, to summaries the significant points I drew from the discussion during the ‘Connecting Knowledges’ session were:

1. Motivating individuals to participate in knowledge exchange and connecting is key – identifying incentives and offering value.

2. Connecting knowledges needs to be a two-way exchange, back and forth between groups (local communities, intermediaries, policy-makers)

Gabrielle Hurst, IDS

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