Innovation, collective cultural memory and the natural state of knowledge

Knowledge is power, we all know that, but the true value of knowledge has the potential to move beyond this tired, albeit true, adage.  Knowledge can also be a precursor for empowerment, a means to reach into peoples latent memories and draw out perspectives and positions that had until now been hidden by more dominant discourses.

The potential for knowledge to be used to reach into our collective cultural memories is a wonderfully rich idea, and one introduced to me by Charles Dhewa (Knowledge Transfer Africa), during the Kstar conference (currently underway) in Hamilton, Canada. The knowledge community tends to focus a great deal on looking forward into the distance for new ideas and thinking, but sometimes we don’t only need to look back, but we have to change our own world view and understanding of what constitutes knowledge.

In this short video Charles Dhewa introduces the concepts of ‘collective cultural memory’ and the ‘natural state of knowledge’:

Dhewa has in-depth experience of the African context, and understands greatly the value of bringing together new and local knowledge, norms and values as a means to ensure that enduring solutions can be found to difficult problems. One of the key principles behind this kind of approach is that this kind of process has the ability to revive and rebuild the self-confidence of individuals, and ultimately enable them to value and leverage their own knowledge.

“Stealth advocates not knowledge brokers”

Knowledge brokering in this sense is a highly sensitive pursuit, reflective of  people as the “natural state of knowledge”. However, despite their best intentions, knowledge practitioners can lose their sense of positionality and with it any perceived neutrality.

John Holmes (Oxford University) veered briefly down this track in his commentary today when reflecting on the role of knowledge brokers in a community focused initiative in the North West of England. In this example, Holmes felt that an expert group, set up to help local people make a ‘knowledgeable’ decision on whether or not to allow a local radioactive waste disposal unit to be built, acted more like advocates than knowledge brokers. Based on the fact that Holmes once work for the UK’s Radioactive Waste Agency, and also that this group of experts was well qualified to provide suitable knowledge, is he really best placed to be using this as an example of a process mechanism that has failed.

I don’t know the specific details of this case, but I can only imagine that no community would perceive having a radioactive waste disposal unit on their doorstep a good idea, and having a group of experts reinforces this and brings things neatly back to something akin to the natural state of knowledge within the community (i.e. nuclear waste is not good).

Innovation and change

Innovation can play a key role as part of a productive knowledge cycle and awakening ideas that can lead to change and influence. Sarah Morton (University of Edinburgh) shared some interesting examples of how the creative arts, presented in interesting ways, can support knowledge processes. But even these types of innovative approaches are not one way, and often their success rests on working with research users to help shape knowledge processes,   making them more relevant and likely to be taken up.

The internet is likely to be a key driving force for developing new and innovative approaches. Possibilities remain countless, especially if we see the same level of technological advancement over the next decade, as we have seen in the last. Holmes is correct in saying that the really difficult thing will be sorting the good information from the bad, but perhaps the issue is also much broader than this. The internet is not a neutral space, and however hard knowledge practitioners’ work in sifting out the ‘good stuff’, there is a danger that Google shifts their efforts close to the bottom of the information pile.


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One Response to Innovation, collective cultural memory and the natural state of knowledge

  1. Pingback: 51. DEFINITELY TRUE KNOWLEDGE | hilalachmar

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