Talk:Promoting bottom-up information flows in international development NGOs

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Hannah Beardon, 2010/1/29

Dear colleagues,

Below please find a blog entry I made to the KM4Dev site a few weeks ago requesting any ideas of KM 'things' which can be used to strengthen bottom-up information flows (ie from local/ national levels to international headquarters of INGOs/ policy makers etc). The context for the request is also explained.

I posted the blog, but have been reliably informed that this email group is likely to solicit more response! Lets hope that is right!


I have been working with IKM Emergent on a process of research and reflection with various international NGOs called How Wide Are the Ripples. The research aims to explore and deepen our understanding of the issues involved in increasing the impact and influence of voices from the grassroots in the policy and decision making of international NGOs. This emerged from a strong shared feeling that participatory processes at the grassroots are often commissioned, paid for and facilitated by INGOs, but that the very valuable information and insight collected is rarely used outside of the direct context/ project. From KM point of view this is both a wasted opportunity and a logistical headache! From the perspective of ethics and values, it is perhaps even more serious.

Several INGOs have been working with us to reflect and draw up case studies to inform the research, including CONCERN, PANOS, HEALTHLINK, ACTIONAID and PLAN INTERNATIONAL. Through these case studies, and a literature review spanning knowledge management, bottom-up learning, accountability and participatory approaches, we were able to identify a range of issues and concerns which affect the flow of information from the grassroots, and the influence it can have on organizational decision making. The report is available here (the final report is available but not yet online - this is a draft)

To follow up on this research, we are going to be holding a two-day workshop (18/19 March 2010) in London to discuss the issues identified, share approaches to overcoming obstacles to information flow, and identify any remaining gaps or needs for further research or innovation. We hope that this will also lead to a special edition of a journal, or other publication. Within that workshop space, we hope to have a slot for people to showcase and share innovative, practical, workable solutions or products which they have used, or could be used, to promote the flow and use of information from the grassroots to the country or international HQs. For example this may be using critical stories or oral testimony, participatory video or larger institutional systems such as ActionAid's learning and planning system.

We have quite a large group from large and small INGOs, research institutions and networks, who have committed to attend the workshop and contribute to a possible journal edition or publication, and expect this to be a really useful and interesting process for those of us struggling with the institutional, cultural and practical issues of getting information and perspectives from the grassroots used more systematically and seriously in policy and decision making. What may be missing is someone to bring in the KM4Dev perspective, in a very practical way and very strongly within the context of promoting diverse knowledge and perspectives and bottom-up learning and information flows.

If you are that person, and think you could benefit from getting involved, or if you know one... please do get in touch with my colleague Kate ( Alternatively, if you can suggest any good practical solutions, products or processes which can increase the flow and use of infromation from the grassroots in this kind of context, please do let us know so that we can try to include it in the showcase slot.

Look forward to hearing from you with any questions or suggestions!

Hannah Beardon

Valerie Brown, 2010/1/30

Dear Hannah,

This is a great project, and I've read your report with great interest. I too work with IKME on knowledge sharing, from a closely related perpective. Instead of top down-bottom up I use Inside out and Outside in from the source of the knowledge, trying to escape the hegemony of institutions you identify so well. I also work from a position that one way flows will never allow the knowledge to be shared - the different constructions of knowledge involved need to learn from each other collectively. I attach an example which may help explain where I am working from. Like yours my work is based on case studies.

I can't alas be in London in March but will be working with IKME in Holland in April. Is there any way I can contribute to your project?

Warmly Valerie

Chris Burman, 2010/1/31

Hi to both -

This is of great interest to me too. I have just been awarded a research grant to explore the impacts of Community Engagement at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. I am particularly keen to identify the ripple effects of the knowledge that is generated (where does the knowledge flow readily, what are the obstacles, what is the knowledge that is generated etc).

Unfortunately, I cannot justify a visit to London in March - but will see if the funders of the research programme might support me to do so.

If you'd like a copy of the proposal pls let me know and I'll send it though to you.

Sebastiao Mendonça Ferreira, 2010/1/31

Dear Hannah, Your interest triggered some reflections I would like to share. When I started working in development, early 80s, we dreamed with the discovery of good practices that could be replicated outside or used for influencing policy making. We used to apply participatory approaches to identify and harvest good practices. We could learn amazing things from those experiences and use some pieces of the knowledge harvested. From those experiences I learned some principles about the replication of local knowledge.

  • Most successful "replications" are indeed local reinventions.
  • The success of replications depends on four similitudes:
    1. The conditions of context (local and systemic factors)
    2. The group who leads the experience (identity, values, power and skills)
    3. The process of the experience (legacy)
    4. The conceptual framework and methods
  • Only the fourth aspect may be replicable; if the other three are aligned.
  • In most cases the inspirational effect of successful experiences is more important than the idea of replication.
  • The knowledge harvested in participatory processes should be useful primarily to those who have generated the knowledge, and secondarily to other people. Innovative experiences should not be seen as caws to milk. The potential usefulness of knowledge leverage people's intelligence, analytical sharpness and creativity.
  • Local knowledge without context has limited usefulness outside, so knowledge and information on the context should be recovered and organized together.
  • Who will use the knowledge harvested? Those who have the questions know which piece of local knowledge can be useful for them, they should generate the terms of reference for harvesting knowledge.
  • The lineal process of practice>systematization>sharing is seldom the best option, the cycle of experiencing, learning from experience, sharing, learning from sharing, experiencing, etc. is much more viable, friendly and useful for the creators of local knowledge.
  • In most cases it is more effective learning with than learning from. People don't share knowledge for the sake of sharing but for its potential usefulness for them and for others. Knowledge sharing is more effective when driven by a common objective.

I hope this is useful for your purposes.

Spirit and Opportunity Sebastiao Mendonça Ferreira

Benjamin Addom, 2010/1/31

Hi Chris,

I am not sure of what you mean by "the effects of the knowledge that is generated"! Knowledge generated by the whom?