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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Managing Knowledge and Communication for Development

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The idea that knowledge and communication are powerful drivers of positive social change that can be harnessed for improving equality and for reducing poverty is highly influential in shaping current development strategy. This module is designed to examine this idea critically by analysing how the development community has used knowledge and communication concepts to meet development goals, and to explore good practice in managing interventions that support this aim.

The growing penetration of the internet to remote areas of the world and the rapid uptake of mobile phone use by even the very poor are hailed by optimists as a revolution equal in its development potential to the 19th century industrial revolution in Europe. More sceptical analysts of this phenomenon point to the widening gap between the social groups who know how to use the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and others who are excluded and thus are increasingly left behind. The approach of the module is to show, first, how this debate is grounded in fundamentally different concepts of the role of knowledge and communication in development, and about the nature of knowledge and how it is created, shared and communicated. An understanding of this conceptual background provides a foundation for a critical appreciation of the pros and cons of the information revolution and its implications for growth, inequality and poverty.

What will become increasingly clear as you work your way through this module, is that technology-driven approaches to the use of knowledge and communication for development – that is, approaches that are inspired primarily by a desire to increase and improve the supply of ICTs – run into numerous problems and, more often than not, fail to meet their development objectives. Moreover, it will become evident from experience that the problems are not primarily technical ones related to cables and wires. Most often, they are the result of the institutional context and the social, economic and political relationships into which ICT-based interventions are introduced. Nonetheless, we see important examples where ICT applications have had a transformative impact, opening up new avenues of access to learning and new opportunities for underprivileged people in poor countries.

One reason for this discrepant experience lies in the way development practitioners interpret knowledge. One way of looking at knowledge is as a stand-alone commodity that can be produced, packaged, stored and transmitted. Alternatively, knowledge can be seen as the result of social exchange among different actors and their unequal power relations that determine whose knowledge is defined as legitimate, what is considered credible knowledge, who controls access to knowledge, and what is the appropriate information and communication technology and policy framework. Both perspectives on knowledge have been used to design and implement development interventions with varying degrees of success and neither is immune to shortcomings.

The first part of the module has a strong focus on introducing concepts and theories, which provide important understanding for the rest of the module. As such, they tend to draw on some quite dense and unavoidable language and terminology related to approaches to development, power relations and social theory. This language is an integral part of the literature on these topics, where terms such as ‘paradigm’, ‘discourse’, ‘social construction’ and ‘narrative’ are widely used.

In essence the theory highlights two contrasting views:

  1. Knowledge is factual, rational and can be scientifically proven.
  2. There are many different types of knowledges, which all have their own validity and which are constructed and shaped in the context of social relations.

As will be seen from the later parts of the module, in practice both approaches can co-exist and be suitably used in different contexts. For example, in the field of medical research, expert or scientific knowledge represents factual evidence that experts in the field rely upon and use. In contrast, in a local natural resources management project, a range of different ‘knowledges’ (ie local, indigenous, scientific, etc) may be very relevant. The role and perspectives of local participants in decision-making then become highly important.

A question that runs through this analysis is how the critical understanding of conceptual approaches can help us understand better the strengths and weaknesses of current development practice and so improve the design of knowledge and communication-based development programming.

The final part of this module, draws on a range of practitioner insights, and focuses on the challenges of designing, implementing and evaluating interventions that make use of knowledge and ICTs. This involves understanding how to put theory into practice and design coherent projects that are consistent with the intended outcomes, and that make effective use of ICTs. The intention here is not to introduce management theory, or to go into detail on topics such as monitoring and evaluation, but to draw out important considerations for managers to be aware of in order to successfully implement projects or other types of interventions which seek to use knowledge and ICTs to contribute to poverty reduction and positive social change.

A key goal of this module is to inform you about the theory, while also challenging you to come to your own conclusions about the most suitable way to define knowledge and design the role of ICTs in the real world practical context of a particular development intervention.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • explain and contrast different conceptual approaches to the use of knowledge, information and communication for development and the debates around these
  • analyse how different conceptual approaches to the use of knowledge, information and communication have been applied in development strategy and practice
  • discuss and evaluate the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) within a development programme, in the context of a networked society where open development approaches are becoming more widely used
  • appraise the strengths and weaknesses of knowledge-based development interventions involving ICT applications and open development approaches
  • explore the application of the theoretical frameworks, concepts, tools and approaches and their role in strengthening development practice
  • identify and discuss the management challenges of designing, implementing and measuring the success of knowledge and/or communication-based interventions that make significant use of ICTs.

Scope and syllabus

Part I: Context and essential concepts

In Part I, the role of knowledge and communication for development and, in particular, the use of ICTs as an enabler for achieving development goals is discussed in relation to inequality of access to and knowledge of how to use ICTs, known as the ‘digital divide.’ We look back at the contribution ICTs made to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and forward to the ways ICTs and knowledge are being considered in the post-2015 development agenda, with the focus now being on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In Unit 1 we explore different worldviews and explanations of how development is used to formulate strategies for tackling a deepening social divide – between those who obtain knowledge and skills valued in the global world economy and those who are disadvantaged in this respect. Unit 2 focuses on explaining knowledge as socially constructed, on what this means for interpreting the dichotomy between ‘local’ and outsider or expert knowledge in development interventions, and its implications for participatory approaches to knowledge sharing and creation.

Based on this discussion of the nature of knowledge as socially constructed, we are then in a position to look at the nature of power and the power relations that play a fundamental role in the social construction of reality and knowledge. The different ways in which concepts of power have been integrated into mainstream development discourse in ‘buzzwords’ like participation and empowerment are analysed. This leads us to the discussion of reasons why a neglect of power relations can lead to unintended outcomes for development interventions, and points towards the need for the poor to participate in decision-making and in defining the role of ICT applications in development interventions.

Part II: Knowledge and communication technologies and approaches for development

Part II of the module moves us on from the focus on theory and concepts, building on our understanding of these and our awareness of some high level factors related to the context for development.

We start by considering how knowledge is negotiated and constructed through communication processes that involve inequalities of power. This provides a background for an examination of development communication, the term widely used to describe the communication and media activities institutionalised in international development organisations since the 1950s. Here, we analyse how different worldviews and institutional settings affect the use of communication and ICTs for development programming. When looking at the ways ICTs have been applied to or harnessed by international development, the emphasis is on understanding that the technologies alone do not produce development impacts.

We then look at how ICTs are being used to support knowledge management, and examine some important trends related to access and use of ICTs. This leads on to looking at the future of ICT for development (ICT4D) in the era of the SDGs. In the context of development challenges, we consider both the role and nature of innovation, and the role of ‘knowledge workers’.
Our focus then moves on to the important ways in which ICTs are shaping a networked society and we explore some of the key attributes of such a society. We introduce the concept of ‘open development’ which reflects a growing emphasis on an openness agenda where knowledge can be more freely shared. However, openness does not automatically lead to greater equity, and the strengths and weaknesses of open models need to be understood.

The final unit of this part focuses on the role of research evidence and how this is increasingly required in policy-influencing processes and in gaining support for projects and programmes that make use of new technologies. The rational model of policy-making that places a high importance on the use of evidence is contrasted with the negotiated policy-making model that places a higher importance on power relations for giving credibility to knowledge from multiple sources. The discussion of information and communication including the use of ICTs for policy purposes illustrates important principles and good practice for using knowledge and communications to exert policy influence.

Part III: The challenges of managing knowledge and communication for development interventions

This final part provides a strong focus on management of knowledge and communication for development initiatives that draws on the theory introduced in earlier units. Examples are used to illustrate and examine the practical challenges of putting theory and evidence into action and of making effective use of ICTs.

In this part of the module we also aim to learn about practice directly from practitioners, so there is a focus on learning and gaining insights from multimedia interviews and videos. We also develop an activity that runs through these final units that is designed to develop a project proposal that reflects good practice and critical considerations in making use of knowledge and ICTs.

We start by focusing on outcomes and considering what success would like in an intervention that seeks to make effective use of knowledge and ICTs. This leads to the introduction of a range of frameworks for evaluating such interventions.

We move on to explore some of the design challenges, focusing in particular on designing projects that benefit the poor, and address issues of inclusion and equity. Finally, we consider some of the implementation challenges, in particular by considering the value of partnerships and collaboration in an increasingly networked world, and discuss the possible business models that could be considered if such projects are to result in sustainable outcomes.

Module sample

P523 module uses a core text which is specially written and will take you through your self-directed study. Exercises, assignments and other activities, such as self-assessment questions, film clips and animations are included to help you with learning. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format on a USB flash memory stick, but can also be downloaded from the online learning environment. Click the linked image below to view a sample of our e-study guide: