Knowledge systems, chains and grids


September 28th, 2015

Last week I was pleased to attend the launch of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) manifesto at DFID. It’s a really handy guide to the role of knowledge brokers, how they should go about their tasks and why they are so important. Whilst the launch of the manifesto has conveniently arrived ahead of COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), I think the models and lessons from this document have wider importance for knowledge brokers across all sectors.

In particular, the necessity to understand the needs of the audience is one of the main items highlighted by the CKB. This seems a straightforward observation, but it’s easily forgotten because the links between knowledge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ are rarely as simple as they appear on paper. I found this recognition particularly relevant to our work: the ‘chain’ between the creators of knowledge and those that will find it useful is complex. It’s also full of gaps, with actors often possessing neither the will nor the way to pass knowledge on.

courtesy of Jerry Manas

courtesy of Jerry Manas

For knowledge brokers like Practical Answers, we must act effectively in both directions: communicating the needs of our consumers to our suppliers whilst formatting, contextualising and organising information to make knowledge accessible and appropriate for our users. A great point raised during the meeting, and an approach that we strive for in Practical Answers, was that constantly asking questions is the key to success in knowledge brokering!

The CKB have also previously talked about a ‘Climate Grid’: a network of brokers, working in a co-ordinated way (digitally and offline) to make sure marginalised communities get access to the knowledge they need.  But I wonder if it’s better to see the whole process as a knowledge system, albeit a complex and ever-changing one. It was clear at the meeting, for example, that people who are running large programmes for DFID are both knowledge creators and knowledge users. A chain, focussed on brokers, tends to underestimate the other influencing factors in the whole knowledge system. When it comes to climate change, everyone is exposed to messages from a whole host of actors beyond formal knowledge brokers, including the media, the private sector, scientific organisations, governments and their community: not to mention special interest groups and lobbyists. In such a complex system, it’s vital to understand these gaps, dynamics and needs to provide knowledge that those on the front line of a changing climate can use.

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