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Lecture 1 - A brief history of knowledge systems research for development


This lecture provides a brief sketch of three decades of knowledge systems research for development. It focuses on how social actors engage in processes of learning and doing, how they ‘know’ their way into the future. People are seen as cognitive beings that make sense of their environment. Yet, their environment also directs and pushes their knowing in a particular direction. This assumes a direct link between social knowing and governance. A case from rural Cameroon shows how well-intentioned but isolated attempts to strengthen local learning may backfire. The question is raised whether one can speak of ‘good governance’ of knowing. Three decades of knowledge systems research are reviewed in order to trace its evolution, identifying some of its contributions to the understanding and management of agricultural and rural development, and to natural resource management. Hard systems thinking, taking knowledge as a commodity to be disseminated and utilized paved the way to success of the Training and Visit System in commercial agriculture. Its failure to deal with diverse complex farming systems moved research from technology to people. The human dimension of innovation was explored further. Different approaches and methodologies were developed for facilitating social inquiry, individual and collective sense making, joint learning and innovation. Eventually, Röling’s platforms couple actors with their environment, tying the knot between knowing systems and natural systems. A case study from South Africa demonstrates how explicit attention for issues of governance when facilitating social knowing for development, may help create adequate conditions for successful social learning and conflict resolution with respect to natural resource management.


Lecture 1 - Governance of knowledge for development: Introduction


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Group work


Characterisation of relevant background and experience of individual students; each student is asked to introduce him or herself, to describe their interest and/or experience with knowledge management and innovation for development, and to identify and present a telling example of innovation, i.e. the creation of value from knowledge from their own experience. These personal examples (px) will be recorded on a flip charts.


Lecture 2 - Understanding the social organisation of innovation


What is innovation?


Innovation may be looked at in many different ways. At first, it was seen mostly as the introduction of something “new”, the new thing being a technology or artefact that affects the way people go about doing their daily chores. Innovations could be “adopted” or not. People that didn’t adopt innovations were “laggards”. Innovativeness was taken as a personal characteristic.


Here, we take a radically different perspective: innovativeness is understood as a social competence; innovation emerges from interactions between varieties of social actors that, one way or the other, hold a key to (or “stake” in) its success in creating value to individuals, groups or communities. Besides, innovation is a normal characteristic of everyday life in a dynamic environment. To a degree, innovation is necessary at all levels in society and within every type of environment; so the question is: how do relevant stakeholders go about organising themselves to achieve it?


This of course doesn’t mean that personal characteristics don’t play a role at all; they do. But individuals create value within a framework set by social institutions, organisations, formal and informal conventions, and standards of professional and social practice that can to a certain degree ‘make or break’ individual innovative efforts. One very good reason to study the social organisation of innovation is therefore to try to understand how to overcome institutionalised barriers to innovation and change, in order to stimulate societywide innovation.



Group work


Before the lecture, individual students are expected to elaborate phase A of RAAKS (Problem Definition and System Identification) for their personal examples (px). During the group work they will be requested to briefly present the result to the group. The group will then discuss the examples presented and select three of these as cases (PX) to be
elaborated upon during the course. Subgroups will be formed to take on the job of  developing the cases further.


Lecture 3 - Introducing the soft knowledge systems perspective


The study of complex issues in dynamic environments requires approaches and methods of inquiry that allow for dealing with multiplicity and complexity from the very start. Thinking of intervening complex social problems such as innovation creates a dilemma reminiscent of the centipede in a parable cited by Koestler (1968: 205) ‘When the centipede was asked in which order he moved his hundred legs, he became paralysed and starved to death because he had never thought of it before and had left his legs to look after themselves.’ So, should we indeed ‘mess with’ the way creative social processes such as innovation, are organized? Some argue we should not; others rely on the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Both are too easy. After all, we regularly invest in innovation and, wittingly or unwittingly, create barriers to its success. Shouldn’t we at least have a good hard look at what we’re doing and why?


Systems approaches have been designed and developed exactly for such a purpose. Without going in-depth into the details of the vast systems literature that exists, in this lecture we will introduce systems thinking, the difference between hard and soft systems, and introduce soft knowledge systems thinking as a useful way of combining different perspectives into the study of social organisation of innovation; with an eye on intervening in practical situations more effectively.


Lecture 3a - Knowledge Systems Thinking


Lecture 3b - Instruments for inquiry and learning into the complex dynamics of knowledge systems


Group work


The subgroups are invited to produce a system model/image of each of the three PX selected; and to present it to the other groups.


Lecture 4 - Unpacking knowledge for development


The value of knowledge to international development and cooperation was recognized early. Knowledge generation and transfer were at the heart of global agricultural transformations in the seventies and eighties of the 20th century(3); much of this knowledge was produced and widely shared as a public good, provided and shared by national and international public research institutions, farmers’ organisations, and consumer groups; and supported by international and national institutions and donor agencies. Since the information revolution of the end of last century, knowledge has become regarded more and more as a commodity that can be stored, traded and put to use in a way similar to other commodities; this went hand in hand with the introduction of market-logic in the financing of national and international knowledge institutions. Internationally, a number of conventions were developed to regulate the manufacture and exchange of knowledge in line with global (WTO) trade negotiations and the globalisation of cultural and economic life.



Yet knowledge is probably the least suitable to be taken as a “commodity”. Many of the lessons learned since the early efforts at understanding the workings of “knowledge systems for development” seem contradictory at first sight. We know, for example, that making knowledge freely available often undermines incentives to produce it, while shielding it from others may also create inefficiencies; also, innovation is well known to benefit greatly from easy access to a diversity of sources of knowledge, yet to ensure effective communication among such sources is often extremely difficult. Finally, we all know that the manufacture of new knowledge draws extensively upon common knowledge or “the global knowledge commons” (Stiglitz(4)) yet at the same time, international conventions do not yet adequately address the transactions between private users and the caretakers of these commons, who are often indigenous peoples living in extreme poverty.



Lecture 4 - Unpacking knowledge for development


Group work


The subgroups will identify for each of their cases the three basic components composing the knowledge system; the social actors who govern them and will analyse the asymmetries such helps create within global knowledge systems.


Lecture 5 - Emerging patterns of social organisation for innovation


The relevance of leadership to complex innovation theatres lies in its power to influence the course of innovation. Using a number of mechanisms, leading social actors can influence the decisions made by other actors with respect to innovation. Such mechanisms are very diverse: they range from administrative procedures, informal meetings, coordinating and liaison committees, joint task groups, formal and informal networks, study clubs and field work approaches to government policies, budget allocations, price regulations, quality controls and monitoring and evaluation procedures, to name just a few examples. By implication, such influence leads to the gradual development of a pattern of more or less durable relationships among social actors who perceive each other as relevant. As a consequence of these relationships, configurations of actors and relationships evolve; these represent the way tasks are defined and coordinated among social actors. Such configurations are structural arrangements that reflect the accepted views, models and ground rules for collective institutional behaviour with respect to innovation.



In general, the configurations that govern innovation seem to reflect multiple leaderships. A limited number of social actors interact more on less intensely, engaging others in their joint project them and hence, directing the course of innovation. Accommodations among these actors, made on the basis of perceived interdependence (rather than the
subordination of all to the most powerful), seems to lead to the emergence of successful innovation configurations. Therefore, governance in a complex innovation theatre cannot be understood without taking these multiple leaderships into account. Each social actor contributes a different piece to the `puzzle' called innovation. Whereas particular institutions may take over-all leadership in terms of policy and its implementation, other institutions ‘fill in the blanks’. What the ‘blanks’ are, how relevant each one is and which social actor is most competent to fill it - these are issues for continuous and often heated debate among actors. As a result, institutional arrangements are continuously renegotiated and adapted, both formally and informally. This underscores the fluid nature of successful
configurations and the balance of power within these that may govern the course of innovation at any one moment in time.


Lecture 5 - Emerging patterns of social organisation for innovation


Group work


Subgroups will use coordination analysis [RAAKS window B6 and tools: Basic configurations (B6); Prime mover septagram (A5/B6)] to analyse multiple leadership in their cases, identifying leading actors and (emerging) resource coalitions that govern the course of innovation.


Lecture 6 - Networking knowledge as innovative practice


A networking approach can provide us with a comprehensive perspective on understanding innovation as a social process. It does not a priori exclude any social actor which might influence the course of innovation. It focuses on all social interactions relevant to innovation. It assumes that in any situation a multiplicity of social actors will be involved due to a perceived interdependence: each of them perceives the others as relevant to achieving their own purposes. However, as we have seen last time, networking is not neutral: an important question is which of the potentially relevant social actors actually succeeds in influencing the course of innovation?


What sets networking apart, however, is the space it creates for joint learning and innovation. We are particularly interested in the ways network members construct practical opportunities for learning. For obvious reasons, communication practices play a central role in facilitating learning processes. Networking can only be effective when network members are able to effectively communicate with each other, when communication infrastructure and information services are available, and when conventions create space for and facilitate open communication and joint learning. Achieving innovation depends upon the quality of the communication and learning processes embedded in the networking efforts of relevant social actors.


One of the most intriguing issues emerging from the study of networking for innovation is its apparent arbitrariness: different social actors generally perceive the same situation quite differently, coming to different and often conflicting proposals for intervention. However, more than ‘different’ perceptions, these often seem to be ‘selective’ ones. This
may be referred to as the appreciative nature of networking for innovation(5). During this lecture, we will take the definition of networking for innovation one step further and look at it as a process of unending social inquiry and learning within-and-across diverse social and technical practices. We will argue that such ‘cross-wiring’ is exactly
what ‘net workers’ for innovation do to create “hotspots” in global and local knowledge systems.


Lecture 6 - Networking knowledge as innovative practice


Group work


Subgroups will finalise Phase B of RAAKS, drawing conclusions about the social organisation of innovation in their case (PX), identifying divergence/convergence, dominant communication networks and resource coalitions and try to identify different “schools of thought” within one and the same innovation theatre; they will also analyse what could be achieved by ‘cross-wiring’ these to create an additional impulse for innovation.



Lecture 7 - Building upon diversity, facilitating learning and institutional change



The main challenge of for those who pretend to facilitate the process of creating value from knowledge for development is how to embrace diversity in a practical enough way to produce relevant results. How to combine local, national and global knowledge? How to safeguard the rights of indigenous people while stimulating them to cooperate with other in developing their products? It is easy to dream about linking farmers up with local businessmen to create new products and put them into the market; but how do you do that in practice? And what do you do to make sure that benefits are distributed along the chain in a just manner? It is also easy to reflect upon the numerous barriers that local and national institutions create to open communication, to linking up efforts and as a result, to innovative behaviour; but what to do about it? How do you stimulate institutional change where necessary?


This lecture will compare the work of two groups of development researchers and practitioners that have used soft systems thinking in action-research to find practical answers: RAAKS and PMCA. RAAKS focuses on identifying the barriers and opportunities embedded in the way social actors are currently organised to stimulate innovation; and the possible steps forwards. PMCA, while inspired by RAAKS, takes it further into facilitating public-private partnerships for product and market development between local farmers, their organisations, technical advisers and regional entrepreneurs.


These methodologies only serve as a reminder of the enormous issues involved in managing knowledge for development in a more adept manner. They are directed at analysing and promoting a creative use of two types of links in global knowledge systems, at a local/national level. As we will see in the next few elements of the course, many more levels of complexity have to be addressed to arrive at a comprehensive approach to knowledge management for development on a global scale.


Lecture 7 - RAAKS: improving innovativeness in practical situations


Group work


Each participatory action-research methodology will be presented by a subgroup of students who studied it in detail. Each will report on strong, weak points of each methodology and the issues involved in applying it in practical situations. Discussion of their findings in the entire group will provide a comparative perspective on how to approach knowledge management for development in practical situations.


Lecture 8 - Dealing with diversity: accommodating social and technical practices in local forest management


What is the role technical and social practices play in innovation processes? How do they restrain and/or enable us to turn knowledge into value? What does networking and learning between practices mean? What role is played by the power differentials between different types of practices and social actors? And while facilitating interaction, we are to
ask ourselves when, if at all, our efforts are worthwhile; what exactly should a facilitator do and, how does empowerment fit into the equation?


Two case studies on local forest management will serve as illustrations. One is concerned with the establishment of the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park in Peru, the other with the impact of changes in forest legislation on the Yuracare people in the Bolivian tropics. It shows that mismatches between competent performances rather than conflicts of interests between stakeholders are at stake when problems arise. To overcome these, facilitation may address at least three types of accommodation processes: learning-in-practice, learning-across-practices and resource use negotiation.


One conclusion is that empowerment is a constituting element of knowledge management for development; empowerment is seen as a necessary element for strengthening the stakeholders’ capacity to act and interact effectively with others in their search of new ways of creating value for their communities. Moreover, facilitation strategies should be defined according to the type of situation the stakeholders are in. Key elements for judging
fundamentally different situations are suggested.


Group work


Subgroups will initiate the work on RAAKS Phase C, defining opportunities for improving the social organisation of innovation for their case (PX). How to deal with diversity in this case? How to approach cooperation between actors, to link their practices and to turn their combined knowledge into useful innovations, while respecting their respective roles and rights? Participants will reflect upon the different types of strategies possible to enhance knowledge management for development.


Lecture 9 - Bridging global capacity divides


Global management of Intellectual Property is as much about ownership as it is about property…


The international Intellectual Property (IP) regime was established to promote investment in scientific and technological innovation and technology transfer, eventually contributing to the economic development of the countries participating in it. Its global application is seen as critically important to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. However, while effective in most developed countries, it is now generally accepted that the global IP regime in its present form does not adequately serve the needs of developing countries(6). The latter are often unable to benefit from the protection and incentives the system is meant to provide, whereas costs for implementation at the national level are considerable. Hence, a global effort to improve the design and implementation of the current IP regime is of crucial importance.



As it stands, the potential for success of such an effort is adversely affected by the asymmetries in capacity that exist between developed and developing countries. The paper focuses on the requirements on the part of developing countries as well as international organisations and institutions to address these effectively. Global capacity initiatives with respect to IP management are relatively recent and as yet quite disperse. A mapping of capacity initiatives takes stock of the work of over thirty multilateral and international institutions, bilateral donors and donor agencies, non-governmental organisations and research centres from the North as well as the South.


The authors conclude that there is an urgent need to improve the approach, scope, level of funding, coverage and depth of current capacity initiatives, as well as to increase its effectiveness and efficiency.


Lecture 9 - Global management of intellectual property: closing the capacity divide? 


Group work


The subgroups will elaborate phase C, RAAKS, for their PX. And draw conclusions as to how in their case the stakeholders’ capacity for innovation can be enhanced, and by whom.


Lecture 10 - Questions to knowledge policy and practice


From what we have seen so far it will be clear that for development partners to draw benefit from knowledge for their local and national development, global and national policies are to be reviewed and where necessary, adjusted. Inspired by the Millennium Declaration, in particular the international commitments as specified in the Millennium Development Goals, various international initiatives have undertaken to pave the way for achieving a more specific global consensus on knowledge for development.


This last session we will use to scrutinise what has been done by two global players in this field: the United Nations’ Millennium Project and the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, sponsored by the French and Swedish Governments.


Group work


Students will work in small groups to prepare an assessment of the final reports and will present their views to the group as a whole. Special attention will be paid to what is proposed and what results can be expected on three key issues: (1) what is proposed to enable developing countries to play a more pro-active role in international policy initiatives regarding knowledge for development; (2) what is proposed to bridge the capacity divide regarding knowledge for development between high income, industrialised countries and low income, developing countries and, (3) what may be expected in terms of adjusting international regimes regarding intellectual property rights, conservation of indigenous knowledge, to better reflect the interests of developing countries and their indigenous peoples?




(3) See for example: Engel P.G.H. & Salomon, M. (2001)
(4) Stiglitz J. (1999) ‘Knowledge as a Global public Good’ in Kaul I., Grunberg I. and Stern M.. (eds.) Global Public Goods, International
Cooperation in the 21st century, New York: Oxford University Press
(5) Vickers proposed the term ‘appreciation’ to cover selective perceptions of reality and judgements about it.
(6) Barton J. H. (2004a) ‘Knowledge’, Memorandum on Behalf of the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, 5 February 2004; and Commission on Intellectual Property Rights (2002) 





Copyright 2013, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. Lectures. (2007, December 22). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from UN University OCW Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License