Like a bridge over troubled waters

Development Policy16 Nov 2011Josine Stremmelaar, Sarah Cummings, Wenny Ho

The Dutch government proposes to reform its knowledge policies of development cooperation. The intention is to create four knowledge platforms on the themes of security and the law, water, food security, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, with possibly one more general, overarching platform. A clear vision seems to be lacking though.

Our first question is what is the goal of these knowledge platforms. This is difficult to answer without going into the underlying perception of knowledge used by DGIS. From our own research we know that an improved application of knowledge policies follows from better interaction between research, policy making and practice; all different parties involved should be willing to get out of their comfort zone.

Then, what should knowledge platforms aim for? Based on lessons learnt, we think that one crucial element of any such knowledge platform would be to forge bridges – and these could be individual, technical and institutional – across the knowledge domains of development practice, policy and research. In our work and our research, we have explored the structural (dis)connections between these domains.

Examples of platforms that successfully bridge domains include the National Platform Rio+20, created in June 2011 and the Netherlands Platform for Global Health Policy and Health Systems Research. These platforms aim at contributing to policy development; making research results available for practice (meetings, publications); maintaining a national and international network; developing new, innovative ideas; and putting the subject higher up the public agenda. In both platforms, the Ministry, NGOs, research organisations, universities, youth and women’s groups aim to work together.

Hence our first suggestion that the creation of new knowledge platforms should be informed by lessons of similar efforts, also for the sake of cost effectiveness.1

Our second suggestion is to learn from lessons outside the development sector. In the fields of agriculture and health much experience is gathered of combining knowledge and actors from different knowledge domains.2

Third, from experience, we would argue that a very formal structure, dominated by the usual suspects and by institutional interests, hampers creativity and will ultimately lead to failure as it has in previous initiatives in the Dutch scene.

And finally, knowledge actors from the South should be key participants in the platforms, as equal partners and not as clients.

For more details about our research entitled Like a bridge over troubled waters: Dialogues of policy, practitioner and academic knowledges don’t hesitate to contact us.

The executive summary of the research can be downloaded at The research publication will be available from this website as of mid-January.

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