Workspaces:3. Intermediaries introduction



Changing Environment
Background Material


Introduction - Why is everybody talking about intermediaries?

Knowledge is increasingly seen as central to achieving development objectives. In recent years, knowledge, information and communication approaches have emerged as key tools for poverty reduction. Significant proportions of aid budgets are directed towards research [1], with the aim of creating 'development knowledge' and 'evidence', as a foundation for more effective poverty reduction and development interventions. However, many barriers prevent research from being used effectively, and it remains only one source of knowledge for development.

This workspace will aim to explore some of the concepts and debates that underlie this situation, but for this introduction, we will focus on a few key issues. The first is that processes of knowledge creation and learning are not linear; they involve multiple actors, multiple contexts and are enabled or constrained by the configurations of power relationships amongst actors in any given situation. As a way of simplifying how we describe this process, people often use terms such as research or knowledge 'producers' and 'users'. However, to be an ingredient in learning, 'development knowledge' needs to be tailored to respond to the social, cultural and institutional context of the development actors to whom it is addressed. This applies as much to local knowledge being communicated to a wider context as international knowledge being made relevant for local actors. The process of filtering, tailoring, contextualising and adapting knowledge and information to needs can be thought of as 'mediation'; intermediaries play a vital role in this process many contexts.

What the convenors of this workspace find exciting and inspiring is that the number of entities playing this role has proliferated in recent years, supported by the rapid development of communications technologies. These technologies have transformed the ways in which knowledge is created and shared, significantly increasing the diversity of actors playing this role. It is a vibrant and dynamic area. Traditional intermediaries such as the broadcast media and libraries have been joined by individuals, activist movements, networks and diaspora communities. These spontaneous groupings are accompanied by programmed intermediary initiatives in the international development area, also harnessing these tools to enhance the access to, exchange and use of development information in policy and practice through portals, gateways, resource centres and many other approaches.