The Continuing Problems with Development Knowledge: What may be done

By Maya Turolla

Chair and Session organiser: Mike Powell, IKM United Kingdom

This panel aimed at projecting a bigger picture on knowledge and development: not a critique on academic knowledge production, but to consider how knowledge is paid by development money: great total spend of WB (600 million dollars).
Mike Powel started with a reflection on what do we mean with development? He argued that development would be something that takes evolves in individual societies, not something that can be determined somewhere else. He continued with the core of the panel session: the role of knowledge. He argued that it has great instrumental value, but knowledge also requires human interaction and capacity in order to use that knowledge. He explained that the focus of the panel would be on old issues inherent to development studies, which have not been solved in the past decades. One of these big issues is the disconnection from the people that the published papers are addressing, and their local processes of knowing. Mike Power argued that only few scholars are going out of the traditional ways of producing knowledge in order to reach the local understandings of knowledge: media and operational knowledge. The form and format of knowledge is often not usable other than publications: problem of incentive structure of academia and funding.

Presentation Sarah Cummings, IKM Emergent, The Netherlands

Patterns of inequality in knowledge production – academic journals in the field of development studies. Patterns of inequality in knowledge production.

Sarah Cummings is interested in investigating the extent to which academics from developing countries are participating in journals and in editorial boards?
She presented the results of a research on almost 3000 articles from the Current Contents database: a stunning 70% of articles didn’t have any co-authors from the developing countries where they were doing the research.
From her data on authorship: The majority of the author locations by country is US and UK, and very low representation of location in developing countries. Moreover, authors located in developing countries on average 5-20% of all affiliations. From her data on editorial boards: there are interesting data in terms of gender (predominance of male board members) and location (predominance of developed countries board members). She developed a model to analyse the process of knowledge production: values in academic publishing. From the analysis that results from this model she concludes that: development is endogenous. In fact, it is an internal process though it wants to help the external world.

Presentation John Akude – Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik/ German

Fit for the purpose? Interrogating the WB’s Mode of Knowledge delivery in Africa
Problem statement: is the WB’s mode of knowledge production appropriate for the African poor?

The thesis of John Akude’s presentation is straightforward: there are significant inadequacies associated with access and the use of information and communication and technology in Africa.
He argues that the World Bank knowledge paradigm, which locates knowledge production in the global north (which is later transferred to the South), is problematic. Moreover, this is aggravated by the mode of delivery of the knowledge. In fact it implies a problem of accessibility to knowledge in developing countries: only 57% Africans lack access to electricity, and Africa constitutes only 7% of world internet users. Therefore, argues John Akude, if the World Bank talks about inclusiveness, should first consider the delivery of development knowledge.
Moreover, there is a problem in terms of transmission of the knowledge: the World Bank models expects the civil society to take this responsibility. But this procedure does not consider the public which is recipient of this knowledge. He argues that there are a primordial and a civic publics in Africa. In other words, the structure of African civil society is dual: one is colonial and one is indigenous, so it is problematic to distribute knowledge through civil society.
He then concludes with a note on the issue of amorality which is inherent to this dual civil society because of the inheritance of the colonial period.

Presentation Kemly Camacho – Fundacion Acceso, Costa Rica

Collective memories – local knowledge(s) and development research

As part of a Sula Batsu organisation, Kemly Camacho is focusing on local knowledge(s) – which has been a hidden knowledge and undervalued in history. Local knowledge (=process) is transformed in local content (=product): it becomes commercialised and becomes instrumental. She gives an outline of the emergent paradigm of her research project, which is an approach to research that aims to investigate an emergent complex world, with reflection. The most important principles of this paradigm are 5: 1) actions transform reality and the other way around; 2) in complexity times reality emerges and is unpredictable; 3) the design for future actions emerges from reflection of the practice; 4) the theory emerges from questioning your own beliefs and constructions; 5) emergent is not an emergency. From her research on the collective ownership of local knowledge(s) it emerges that the knowledge which in the past was invisible and excluded, is now emerging and becoming a common: there is a passage from social forgetfulness to knowledge as a common good. Therefore, it is important to have a community which protects, interacts and has ownership on its local knowledge. As a consequence, the issues of knowledge property, researchers ethic, what are the policies and regulations are increasingly relevant. In order to monitor issues of ownership, she mentions 4 conditions to be agreed with the local actors, when doing research on local knowledge(s): initial agreement; development agreement, knowledge products agreement and dissemination agreement. On this final note, she concludes with a new reflection question: what will be the impact of digitalization on cultural heritage?

Discussion time: questions and comments
• Mike Powell tried to trigger the public to answer to the main question inherent to the panel session: are these real barriers? How to overcome them, if so?
• Comment from a development sociologist: within this broad debate, the concept of interface of knowledge can help: there is always a difference in different types of knowledge, and it’s always difficult to negotiate because of the power structures. She was critical about the distinction between primordial and civic civil societies in Africa: it is not feasible to re-elaborate on the basis of primordial system because in the post-colonial period the two systems are intertwined. Local knowledge and state knowledge are mixed! So it doesn’t help to distinguish primordial from colonial knowledge and civil societies. Response: the expectation of western development organisations to count on African civil society are to high: there is not such a high level of dedication to the cause, outside of the indigenous civil society.
• Comment from a member of the Dutch research council: there is a tendency to present the problem of knowledge in dichotomous terms: north vs south, while there is a multiplicity of knowledges! It is not useful to use a dual framework of analysis of knowledge production. Answer: knowledge transfer implies duality, and it also implies the problem of loosing knowledge along the way. Other answer: instead of focusing on local knowledge, they changed the research on territory, where different knowledges are dialoguing with each other. Doing a very participatory process we creating the ownership? It’s not always like this: the ownership is created by the organizations of actors who have the responsibility of the knowledge.
• A third comment from the public. Multiple local knowledges may not be valued locally: in terms of education, how do you use local knowledge? Answer: school books in Nigeria are taking examples from European scenarios that do not make sense to Nigerians. Heritage of colonialism is also a loss of respect for local knowledge. Answer 2: local knowledges are not integrated in local education, it has been hidden knowledge. People do not know about their history and stories: if you make a research on local knowledge, you can integrate it in formal education and in this way create local ownership of knowledge and become common good.


Maya Turolla is an italian student in International Conflict Analysis and Management at Radboud University, The Netherlands.