Building egalitarian relations

Development Policy29 Nov 2011Ton Meijers

We have followed very closely the exchanges around the new Knowledge Policy and we would like to give a small contribution to the ongoing debate.

We welcome that the Dutch government explicitly recognizes in its Knowledge Policy of development cooperation, the power of knowledge sharing and sets as a specific objective the development and empowerment of developing countries. But, is the way the document addresses this objective really empowering? Who does it really seek to empower?

It seems to us that the approach is still very traditional that only focuses on more conventional academic and research entities and institutions such as think tanks, scientific communities, universities and (regional) research networks. We of course, do not question the value and worth of these institutions that have provided invaluable research-sustained data and have largely contributed to elevate the quality of discussions and debates within the development sector. However, we believe that such an explicit focus on specific actors could lead to exclusion of a large and fundamental source of knowledge and experiences: practitioners.

It is only by strongly linking theoretical discussions with practical learning’s and experiences that the quality and significance of the knowledge around the thematic priorities established by the policy document (Security and the Law; Water; Food Security, and, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) can be enhanced. Bringing practitioners and academics can on the one hand facilitate the testing of theories and assumptions in the reality of the field and on the other hand, practices and strategies can be analysed against theoretical frameworks.

If, as the document explicitly mentions, the Dutch government believes that it is not about “knowledge is power” but rather “sharing knowledge is power”, then we question, how the approach proposed by the document will help to empower civil society organizations at grass-root level, when they are most of the time excluded from these more formal institutions? We ask for explicit ways of working of the proposed Knowledge Platforms that will facilitate the sharing of the generated and collected knowledge beyond the group that is involved or have direct access to the learning initiatives. We recommend that an explicit selection criterion for BZ/DGIS when allocating funds should be a clear and explicit methodology for sharing finding and learning’s with broader audiences.

And this brings us to another query: what is the idea behind these Knowledge platforms? We believe that the essence of a platform is to offer space and opportunity to people from developing and developed countries to connect, learn from each other, find synergy, be accountable to one another and, work together testing and finding solutions to common problems. As it is described in the policy document, the knowledge platforms are seen primarily as a way of bringing together knowledge and learning from different sources to avoid fragmentation and doubling of efforts and investment.

This is quite important and if well-organized, can lead to more efficient and effective interventions but it seems to leave behind the fundamental nature of a platform which is bring people together on equal basis to work on common goals. In the era of smart phones, apps, facebook, wikepedia, etc, if we really want to be inclusive, work from a platform perspective and ensure the sharing and flow of knowledge, then we must look at what the new information and communication technology has to offer nowadays to facilitate and encourage knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. This implies as well that the nature of the relationship is different.

Through these platforms we enter in an egalitarian relation that gives all participants equal rights and opportunities to contribute, react, disagree and be propositional around the knowledge and learning initiatives, how we come about them and what we do with the generated products. Only by ensuring that the proposed knowledge platform respects, are organized and act according to its true essence the Dutch government could achieve the fundamental objective of developing and empowering developing countries and its citizens. Empowerment that must be understood as enabling poor people to become the driving force behind change, so they can find their own road to sustainable development.