IKM Emergent: TOR for research leader on information intermediaries

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Terms of reference for a research leader for a co-constructed workspace exploring the roles of intermediaries in the translation and exchange of knowledges within the development sector

Intro The aim of this work is to develop an understanding of a particular set of issues related to the programme’s general focus on the use of knowledges within the development sector through means of original writing and research and a managed on-line interaction over a number of years.

The prime role of the person we seek will be to lead and shape – both intellectually and organisationally – the development of evidence, analysis and debate on the issues identified through managing and being lead editor of a co-constructed workspace, which will form one section of the IKM Programme’s website.

This is not envisaged as a 100% commissioned piece of work but as a well supported opportunity for someone/some organisation already interested in and knowledgeable of the issues concerned to develop their own work, their profile as a specialist on the issue and their interaction with others interested in or working on related issues for the mutual benefit of both them and the programme.

Programme The objective of the IKM Emergent programme is to improve development practice by promoting change in the way the development sector approaches the selection, management and use of multiple knowledges in the formation and implementation of its policies and programmes. In particular it is interested in increasing access to and use of the perspectives and knowledges of Southern actors in the process.

The programme is organised through three working groups. The Discourse, Dialogue and Translation Working Group, which is commissioning this work, is examining the range of different development discourses and the possibility of improving interactions and understanding between them.

Further information can be found at http://www.ikmemergent.net


The issues we wish to examine here are the roles of a variety of intermediaries both in communicating and in distorting information between different actors in the development sector and between the sector and the populations it seeks to assist. We think this is an important but generally neglected area of development practice. We are interested in communication in both directions but, partly because what existing research/ thinking exists has mainly focused on how information can be disseminated and adapted ‘downwards’, we are particularly interested in the communication of local perspectives and realities to professionals working within the development sector.

Intermediaries, information brokers and appreciative systems play a vital role in interpreting and connecting information and needs from different sources. However the sometimes contradictory demands, for example between public relations and learning, between rigid funding strategies and local needs, placed on such mechanisms can distort messages and create false knowledge. We think this is a difficult area to study because, at one level everyone acts, whether deliberately or not, as some sort of intermediary. Simple efforts to categorise different types of intermediary, - for example diasporas, mass media, researchers, NGOs – encounter the problem that all are very heterogeneous groups. Attempting to generalise patterns of mediation within them might not be particularly useful.

In this context, it is important to state the purpose of this research. It is to encourage development organisations – researchers, policy makers and practitioners – to recognise their need to be aware of and to listen to a wider range of perspectives than is currently the norm. To do this we think they need to be encouraged to look critically at their existing intermediary channels of communication and consider how these could be broadened or improved. A key element of this piece of work will therefore be to identify and explore problem areas or neglected channels for such communication. Issues which have been highlighted in our discussions to date include

  • the isolation – (could one say exclusion?) - of Southern diasporas living in Northern societies from mainstream development discourse
  • translation both of language and of means of thought and expression (textual, oral, spatial)
  • the interests (financial and otherwise) of various intermediaries in the openness and accuracy of their mediation
  • selection of what is communicated and what is not and the purposes to which it is applied
This work will sit alongside other initiatives of this working group including
  • Three case studies of local knowledge processes which will include tracking the extent to which their output is taken up and used by development organisations
  • An investigation of the links between the output of participatory methodologies applied by development researchers and practitioners and development knowledge systems
  • An investigation into the barriers to the autonomous development, dissemination and use of intellectual output from Southern sources

Another element of the work will be to suggest how what is learnt from this study can be taken forward. One additional output may be the production of a set of guidelines or a practical manual on planning for a range of inward information. An alternative approach may be to continue to develop a question bank approach which encourages users of information to think about the nature, interests and value of the intermediaries they use. An initial draft of such a question bank has already been produced by the group.

Process Using Wiki and blog tools and templates which will be provided by the programme, to create, orientate, manage and edit an interactive on-line process of research and discussion relating to the ‘issues’ described above. The output of the process will be hosted on the programme web-site. Key elements and outputs of the process will include

  1. Identifying relevant existing material, relevant practice, and potential contributors and audiences
  2. Producing a substantial, well researched introduction of publishable standard to the issues, setting out key aspects and sub-themes which the process aims to address and explaining their relevance to the IKM Emergent programme and to the development sector
  3. Considering who else could make useful contributions to the subject – or aspects of it – and, in agreement with the working group co-ordinator, commissioning them to make specific contributions to it, paid for out of an earmarked budget
  4. Encouraging and assessing feedback and non-commissioned contributions and, where satisfied with their relevance and quality, publishing them on the site
  5. Identifying and highlighting gaps in empirical knowledge of the issues and searching for work in progress which may fill it, commissioning or carrying out relevant empirical research, case studies or accessible summaries of research already carried out elsewhere
  6. Identifying additional on-line resources – bibliographies, archives, audio-visual material – with potential to add value to the process and, where feasible, collaborating with the programme web master in adding them to your section of the site
  7. Taking overall editorial responsibility for this section of the site including its intellectual coverage and direction, updating the ‘issue setting’ pages as appropriate, and ensuring the quality, accuracy and legal acceptability of everything published on it
  8. Producing, at least once a year, an 800-1000 word summary in accessible non-academic language of the content, arguments and main sources of the section and arranging for its translation into the other main programme languages
  9. Maintaining metadata about material posted on or referenced by the site in full compliance with whatever norms may be established by the programme and tagging material according to the criteria established by the programme.
  10. To liaise with the programme and working group co-ordinators to ensure the relevance of the work to the programme and linkages with other parts of it

It is envisaged that, subject to the satisfaction of the relevant working group with its content and development, the site editor will work on the site for at least two years. It is intended to create and support opportunities for the site editor to attend and present the arguments developed on the site at various physical gatherings over that period. It is also likely that at some point the site editor will be invited to consolidate the site material to allow its publication in printed form.

Terms and conditions The successful candidate will be contracted either as a consultant or, where appropriate, through their organisation. They will report to a contact or ‘manager’, nominated by the relevant working group and also follow the guidelines set by the programme’s web master. Their work will be subject to quality assessment by the working group (as well as by the public at large).

An honorarium of €5,000 in the first year will be paid in instalments related to progress, in particular to the publication of a substantial introduction. In subsequent years, the honorarium will be €3,000 for the management and development of the material and on-line interaction.

Any additional work, such as the production of printed versions or attendance at conferences will, where resources allow, be contracted separately and will anyway be subject to further discussion and agreement.

Stages/payments It had been hoped to start this work in 2007. The intention now is to develop it as far as possible in 2008, the earlier the better. The actual publication of output is dependent on the successful resolution of issues concerning the website, metadata and tagging – which should be resolved in the next three months and which, in any case are no barrier to material being produced ready for publication.

The research leader will have a budget over two years of €10,000 with which to commission contributions to the site and to pay for occasional summaries and translation of its content. All agreements to spend such budgets will be communicated to the Programme director and will be paid against invoice upon completion and receipt of the contracted work.

The rest will be paid to the section editor and/or his/her organisation against invoice as follows:

  • Research and writing – upon delivery of satisfactory completed original material for the section. Target date end of September 2008
  • Editorial and development, 2008 budget – half upon establishment of the full structure of the section, including adoption of norms for recording metadata and tagging. Target date end of May 2008, half upon clear evidence of further development of site including the commissioning and publication of material from other sources and the development of links and reference material to relevant external sources. Target date end 2008.

The 2009 budget and schedule for outputs and payment will be reviewed and agreed by the editor, working group and programme co-ordinator later in 2008.

Anyone interested in this should contact Mike Powell at m.powell@pop3.poptel.org.uk by May 1st. Efforts will be made to deal with any requests for clarification which come in the interim but with periods of travel already booked, replies may not be that prompt. --M.powell 16:08, 7 April 2008 (EDT)

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