Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rethinking the role of intermediaries in bridging policy, research and practice

'You can’t propel knowledge into the world and expect change to happen.'

The term ‘knowledge intermediary’ is something that’s open to different interpretations. So last week as I sat in a session at the DSA/ EADI conference examining the role of intermediaries in bridging policy, research and uptake, I was really interested to see where the discussions would go.

Ananya Raihan from the Development Research Network (D.Net) began the discussion by sharing his experience of Knowledge intermediation at the grassroots in Bangladesh.  D.Net use the following definition to describe an infomediary role:

'An infomediary is a person who combines a set of technological resources and coaching to meet users’ information needs and communication capabilities.'

D.Net are trying to address a core problem they term as 'triple illiteracy' in Bangladesh (ICT illiteracy, information illiteracy and inability to read and write Bangla). They aim to address this with various intermediary initiatives including offering infomediation at the door step through 'infoladies' on bicycles and mobile applications.

So what have D.Net learned from doing this type of infomediary work? Ananya thinks the key success factors for infomediaries are, a positive attitude,  quick learning ability and good communication skills. He also stressed the need for an entrepreneurship mindset. D.Net has also developed a new way of measuring the benefit of knowledge intermediation which works out a community impact figure in relation to cost of set up and resources.

Josine Stremellar then introduced the Hivos Knowledge Programme. Hivos see itself as an International Intermediary NGO who link academics and practitioners from different regions and create space for marginalised actors for their voices to be heard. 

Josie stressed that defining your role in the knowledge business is key  - you need to be clear what you do, what the issue is, what the demand is and who you are going to share knowledge with. It is also important to be creative with how you share knowledge - Hivos recently gathered the opinions of youth on a social issue, but instead of synthesising their findings for policymakers (a common intermediary response), they annotated their stories.

 Intermediaries aim to enable people to make their own decisions, but solutions really depend on what questions are being asked. you can give a farmer the market price of tomatoes but the farmer might not understand how the economic system works, and potentially make the wrong decision for productivity.  Information systems are not geared to meet demands of audiences in a holistic way.  So you need intermediaries with a different set of skills to help people define their problem.

Dr Shamprasad Pujar from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) ended the session by talking about a paper that he and Catherine Fisher from IDS have been working on entitled Stimulating Demand for Research: Exploring Cultures of Information Use in South Asia.  You can view the the full paper here.

There are different understandings of ‘demand’ and in this process both Sham and Catherine viewed the term from meaning ‘asking for research’ to the ‘value placed on research’.

Examples of action from South Asia in this area include dissemination of information e.g. web portals such as the India Environment Portal; interaction between research and implementation communities bringing parliaments and budget staff together; and social influence methods e.g. PIDS host the Development Policy Research Month (DPRM) in the Philippines every year. In addition there are capacity building initiatives for policymakers to help them understand information and stimulate evidence based practice.

So lots of interesting initiatives in South Asia were found, but little or no evaluation of their success or the changes they had brought in behaviours towards evidence. Multitudinal studies and outcome mapping could help to track changes but how do we move beyond linear evaluation models? One participant asked whether these initiatives were being designed to change attitudes and behaviours in this way and stimulate demand.  Perhaps this is the underlying problem.

Follow this link to find out more about IDS’ DFID-funded Mobilising Knowledge for Development Programme (MK4D) who helped enable this session. 

Yaso Kunaratnamworks for Knowledge Services at The Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

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