As authors of the WASH chapter of DCP-3, we wanted to share some of our key takeaways below:
This post is by Holly Porter, a visiting fellow at the Department of International Development of the London School for Economics and Political Science and lead researcher for northern Uganda for the Justice and Security Research Programme. It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael Woolcock, Morten Jerven, and Alex de Waal.
The piece is a welcome provocation to discussion, even if ultimately I am left with the thought: there is a rather fundamental difference between tomatoes on a supply chain and the pursuit of understanding human experience. I show that here, intentionally choosing to write from a personal perspective, rather than in more academic prose.
Two main responses spring to mind in light of my own (anthropological) work:
1) Knowledge is not an “alienable” commodity.2) The complexity of human relationships in the research process are not best captured with reference to market forces.
The piece raises an underlying question about the production of “knowledge:” is knowledge a kind of raw material –- is it an “alienable commodity”? The idea that data is a commodity implies that it is something; that it is a thing which exists independently and apart from the intentionality of human relationships. Perhaps some information is similar to a raw material that can be extracted in crude form but the kind of “knowledge” which interests me is born of shared experiences and long-term relationships. Knowledge appears to me less of a raw material to be processed and packed, and more the stuff of human interaction.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on April 3, 2012
Knowledge, or the lack of, is often associated with the success or failure of development initiatives. For decades, communication’s main role was to fill the knowledge gap between what audiences knew and what they needed to know, with the assumption that this would induce change. We now know that this is seldom the case. In the modernization paradigm, media were expected to provide needed knowledge through messages that could fill knowledge gaps, build modern attitudes, and eventually shape behaviours. After years of under-delivering on their promises, development managers and decision-makers are increasingly realizing that it is not enough to have sound technical solutions and disseminate information in order to have audiences adopt the innovations.
On April 10th the World Bank announced that it is adopting an open access (OA) policy that requires that all research and knowledge products written by staff, and the associated datasets that underpin the research, be deposited in an open access repository and that these works be released under a Creative Commons (CC) license. Also on this date the Bank launched the new open access repository, the Open Knowledge Repository (OKR). This represents a sea change in the Bank’s approach to publishing, builds on the Open Data initiative and the Access to Information policy implemented in 2010, and is another cornerstone in the Bank’s move toward ever-greater openness and its focus on results and accountability.
A Canadian band had a line in a song, "all touch, and all touch and no contact" which echoes the way that organizations try to reach people with information about development and governance. Very adept at knowledge production, material such as studies, books, reports, power points, research documents, they are often very good at sharing these among ‘cocktail party’ colleagues. But what is being done about reaching the people who need to be convinced to take action with this knowledge?
Everyone likes a happy ending and this applies in development work too. Quite often, we have the tendency to showcase our successes through best practices that are upheld as evidence that a particular approach works. But what about those instances when we may have made some mistakes along the way or failed outright? Humans have a tendency to focus on successes rather than failures.
"This [handling of failure] is difficult for us to do well because we have strong human bias to value successes more than we value failures. In most organizations failure is stigmatized and nobody wants to be associated with it…..Unfortunately this produces some dangerous side-effects. Since improbable failures have high information content, it is important to communicate information about failure quickly and widely throughout the organization. To the extent that we hinder the flow of this information, we will force people to reinvent failures that we have already experienced, and that generates no useful new information."