GDNet reflects on the challenges for building capacity in knowledge management in Africa

Article by GDNet featured in the latest issue of the World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development

As the knowledge management and research communications arm of the Global Development Network, GDNet’s purpose is to help diverse research and policy audiences make better use of development research from the Global South. It does this through brokering knowledge and building the capacity of researchers from developing and transition countries to communicate their findings to those making decisions that affect people living in poverty the world over.

GDNet has just had a paper, published in the latest issue of the World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, that reviews the findings of a conference it organised in 2007 on knowledge management in Africa.

In its early years, GDNet placed particular emphasis on information and knowledge management staff in developing country research institutes, thus recognizing the importance of this group in using local research to influence policy.

From 2005 to 2007, GDNet ran, in partnership with organizations such as the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the World Bank Institute, a series of capacity building workshops, in Egypt, Uganda, South Africa and Burkina Faso. The workshops aimed at providing training and skill building in knowledge management.

In partnership with the ACBF and the World Bank Institute, GDNet organized in 2007 a conference which gathered the experiences and lessons learned from efforts to build knowledge management capacity from across the African continent. Called “Knowledge Management as an Enabler of Change and Innovation in Africa”, the conference addressed the following key themes: the need to create an enabling environment for the adoption of knowledge management practices in Africa and the importance of indigenous knowledge assets as inputs to poverty alleviation strategies.

The Conference report summarized the challenges inherent in developing effective communication strategies and a “knowledge friendly culture” in Africa as follows: creating synergy between technological and social approaches to knowledge management synergy; prioritizing resources; ownership of the knowledge creation process; sharing knowledge sharing experiences; equity in knowledge; and partnership.

In its paper, GDNet revisits the discussions of 2007, questions progress made towards meeting those challenges and shares how GDNet’s capacity building activities have evolved in the light of the conference findings. As stated in the paper, “it is likely that if the delegates were re-united today, they would identify the same challenges as existing, and note that some, such as the need for evidence to support allocation of resources on knowledge management, are more pressing than before. Linked to this, the need for cooperation and learning from each other’s experiences in knowledge management is even greater than in 2007”.

The findings from the 2007 conference were presented, with GDNet’s reflections on the continued challenges in building the capacity of knowledge management among research institutes, at the 20th Anniversary Summit of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in Kigali earlier this year. Entitled “Capacity Building of Knowledge Management among Research Institutes: Reflections from the GDNet Experience”, GDNet’s paper has been included in the latest double-issue of the ‘World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development’ alongside others selected from the ACBF Summit.

Based on both the review of the challenges identified in 2007 and GDNet’s experience, the following implications for planners and funders of capacity development of knowledge management were highlighted:

  • Capacity building works when it is demand-driven and guided by local contexts;
  • Knowledge management capacity building programmes need to take place within a clear monitoring and evaluation framework;
  • Policymakers and donors should look for opportunities to support building the capacity of local institutions;
  • Coordination is needed among donors that fund knowledge management programmes to avoid duplication of effort and to agree to share learning on measuring its effectiveness;
  • Increased support is required from donors for communication by local researchers of the research they fund.

GDNet’s article is available free online in Volume 8, Numbers 2/3 of the ‘World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development’.


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