Part II: Background and core arguments


IKM1’s initial analysis of current practice in the sector contended that, rather than being a service industry in which the challenge is to deliver well defined services in a predictable and cost effective manner, the development sector is in fact a knowledge industry in which what is wanted and how it can be delivered constantly change over place and time. This analysis has gradually widened to the point where we would argue that the knowledge foundations of current practice are fundamentally inconsistent with what is actually needed if development is to take place. Key elements of this analysis include:

- In our understanding, development represents transformative change: there is no template or master plan to follow. It may include areas of traditional service delivery – the construction of roads or clinics for example - but always involves innovation and risk. Beyond the inevitable unpredictability of life, the process of change will invariably uncover new insights and possibilities within the human environment being changed. To plan on the basis of certainty, current practice in the development sector, is wildly unrealistic. It is also profoundly pessimistic, even wilfully ignoring the drivers of transformation on the grounds that they spoil the plan.

- Development always takes place in a context of time and place which involves people, history, culture and politics. For that reason, no two development processes are ever identical. Any external intervention needs to be based on detailed knowledge of and continuous engagement with the environment which it is intended to influence, an engagement which needs to take place within the relevant language and culture. External prescriptions simply do not work in the long term. Indeed, respect for local knowledges and their capacity to adapt to and lead change is a key element in the sustainability of that change.

- Development is taking place in the context of many different types of knowledge and differing perceptions, depending on professional discipline, personal experience, culture and language, or individual role. This diversity is what the programme calls multiple knowledges. The existence of multiple knowledges offers both conceptual and practical information handling challenges to any type of cross-cutting, multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary endeavour. This is particularly crucial to the development sector which needs to communicate and collaborate across boundaries of culture, gender, space and status, often in a context of highly unequal power relationships.

- Development discourse has many forms and takes place at many levels. Given its multiple locations, languages and disciplines, crossing bridges of understanding is far from easy. There is inadequate support for the role of intermediaries and for both conceptual and linguistic translation.

Core arguments

Derived from this analysis, it is proposed that IKM2 should be founded on four core arguments which are strongly routed in the IKM1 tradition:

1. Connecting multiple knowledges Development can be seen as a ‘wicked problem’ or even a series of interlinked, wicked problems. To solve wicked problems, resolution and connection between multiple knowledges is required. In addition, where different knowledges intersect, is where innovation takes place. For these reasons, IKM2 is concerned to work on the intersections between knowledges because only then can wicked problems be resolved and innovation potential increased. Such resolution and interaction can take place in many ‘locations’, for example between the knowledge domains of practice and research but also at the interfaces between local, participatory knowledge and organisational knowledge.

2. Local knowledge, local content Local content is important and needs to be valued by both local communities and development organisations. The process of generating and validating local content is, at a local level, an important contribution to development in itself. Local knowledge can also play an important part in citizen engagement and civic driven change.

3. Practice in organisations Development organisations – of all sizes - are struggling with the implications of informational developments, namely the cultural, economic and technical changes in the handling, use and exchange of information, for their practice. Part of this struggle is too much a focus on internal, organisational priorities with less attention to the global knowledge commons to which they should be contributing.

4. Information artefacts Good information design – including both means of expression and means of reception – has the potential to greatly strengthen communication in all its senses. Many of the artefacts used to support development discourse – ICT systems, consultancy reports, journals, web 2 tools – have intrinsic characteristics which conflict with their developmental purpose.