This lively and well attended session on local-global linkages brought together various national and regional information intermediaries to explore some of their commonalities and differences. So enthralling was the debate that it went on well into the evening until it was finally cut short as stomachs started to rumble and thoughts turned to the Brai….
Tiwongwe Machiwenyika gave an insight into the work of the SARDC Virtual Library which collects, produces, analyses and disseminates research on a wide variety of themes in the SADC region. Abdallah Hassan then talked about Tanzania Online, an interactive gateway which provides access to research findings on development issues in Tanzania. Richard Humphries traced the history of SARPN and ANSA-Africa, two information-sharing initiatives which emerged as a result of growing donor interest in regional issues and which aim to profile African experiences of development. Finally, Michael Jetton, Jermeen El-Baroudy, Ingy Magdi Hassan and Adriana Forero gave their own regional perspectives on the work of GDNet, which provides a portal and network for developing and transitional country researchers.
Some of the issues and challenges which came out of the discussions which have wider implications for the role of information intermediaries included:
- The reluctance in many circles to share information and the need to offer incentives to researchers to do so, (although this was not everybody’s experience)
- The challenge of enabling access to information for hard to reach audiences especially in many rural parts of Africa where the internet is not widely available
- The challenge of demonstrating the impact of intermediary ‘interventions. In many cases the evidence is anecdotal which is unlikely to satisfy funders.
- The role of donors in initiating and funding some of the various services and the implications this might have for their sustainability
- The question of whose knowledge counts and the implicitly political role intermediaries play in brokering that knowledge
- The challenge of sourcing unpublished material and providing a space for marginalised voices to be heard. Often this requires being proactive and building a reputation for being trustworthy
- The difficulties of dealing with multiple languages
- The question of whether intermediaries ought to be facilitating a two-way flow of information (from global to local as well as global to local)
- The issue of quality control of intermediaries in terms of how they repackage information and the standards they adhere to. In this respect, the question of whether we should be looking to establish broad standards for the ‘intermediary sector’ was floated
- The question of duplication in an increasingly crowded marketplace. It was suggested that certain forms of duplication may be inevitable and indeed positive (e.g when targeting different audiences) and there was therefore a need to differentiate between productive and unproductive duplication.
One thing I feel has emerged from this session and from the day as a whole is that there is no one definition of an information intermediary. As well as the differences in scale (local to global) discussed here, our roles vary greatly in terms of what we aim to achieve, the domains we aim connect and the forms of knowledge we are dealing with. Nevertheless I still feel we have a common sense of purpose (or maybe a common frustration with trying to explain what we do!) As such, and in the words of Richard Humphries: “just as networks attract networks, so intermediaries attract intermediaries”. And long may it continue!
Andrew McDevitt, IDS
- SARDC Virtual Library, Tiwongwe Machiwenyika, SARDC, Zimbabwe,
- Tanzania Online, Abdallah Hassan, Economic and Social Research Foundation, (ESRF) Tanzania,
- Experiences from Southern African Regional Poverty Network and Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Africa (ANSA), Richard Humphries, South Africa,
- GDNet: Connecting policy related research regionally and globally GDNet Regional co-ordinators from various regions
Chair: Richard Humphries, HSRC