Posted March 11th 2010 at 7:00 pm by
in CoLab Philosophy

Knowledge and Innovation for Development

Sebastiao Ferreira puts down his camera to explain something.

What do differences in knowledge access have to do with the social divide? What does knowledge co-creation have to do with the success of innovative initiatives in communities? How can the asset of knowledge in universities and research centers become a resource to solve local problems and global problems?

After twelve thousand years of economic stagnation, the Industrial Revolution started in England in the eighteenth century. Recent studies have shown that the explosion of useful knowledge (scientific and technological research) was the main fuel of that process, and that the massive support of thousands of Enlightenment champions was the main enabling condition for the success of hands-on innovators. Without the support of these enlightened people, innovators would have failed and the millennial economic inertia could have continued indefinitely.

Now, in the twenty first century, when knowledge creation is faster than ever, and the internet is a global network, the problems of ecological degradation and social inequity still seem to be beyond most attempts to solve them.

How can we mobilize emerging knowledge and creative people to effectively address these problems at a national and global scale?

I wrote an article, The New Enlightenment: A Potential Objective for the KM4Dev Community, exploring these questions and suggesting possible answers.  KM4Dev (Knowledge Management for Development) is a global learning community of development practitioners and academics oriented toward learning and sharing knowledge about development issues.

If you have been working through some of these questions, I think you may enjoy the full article.

Sebastiao Ferreira is a Visiting Scholar at CoLab.

3 responses to “Knowledge and Innovation for Development”

  1. Lily Song says:

    I had the privilege of reading Sebastiao’s article and found it extremely insightful. The following are my comments:

    SMF offers a brilliant, agent-driven definition of development. For him, development is not something that results from top-down action. It’s not something that a government or a development agency does for a group of poor, backward people. It’s the accumulation of bits and pieces of transformative action at the micro level. This in turn results from new ways of knowing, comprehending, imagining, and enacting. New information alters how people go about “being” in the world on a daily basis, and this change adds up and creates synergies. This synergy propels further change, innovation among people, and this continued advancement is development.

    SMF’s framing of the British Enlightenment in the 18th century as a social movement is very powerful. He does so on the basis that members of British society at this time sought to fill the gap between scientific knowledge and the sort of knowledge needed for innovation (by writing articles in newspapers, creating newsletters and journals, gathering people, etc.). For him, it’s the social movements that created a lacking infrastructure, which in turn propelled organizational, institutional development along certain trajectories. I feel like this part of history, where the daily actions of ordinary people catalyze tremendous innovation and societal progress often gets edited out. Too often, these things are attributed to select extraordinary individuals when in fact much of our firsthand experience contradicts that. Sure there are leaders and certain remarkable people at the forefront of change, but they can only accomplish so much on their own without the supporting numbers.

    My final point has to do with how SMF connects scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge. I see this as overlapping/epitomizing the stance of the CoLab. He argues that combining these two ways of knowing is not merely enough to drive innovation. Rather, they need to be mobilized around processes of innovation. He speaks to an active, generative dimension of knowledge, where it flourishes within real contexts. Here, diverse bases of knowledge are even more fruitful, because the different ways of thinking mutually trigger each other in the process of being immersed in and working through a problem.

  2. Alexa Mills says:

    Thanks Lily! I agree.

    This conversation reminds me of the Impressionist movement. When people go to art museums, they love to see Monet and Renoir and the other Impressionists. I do too.

    What people often don’t realize is that the French government had been investing heavily in building an arts movement since the Italian Renaissance. At the time, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which dominated the the art scene in Paris at that time, was actually quite hostile to Impressionists. However, the fact that France had continued to invest time and money into making Paris an arts capital made it a natural draw for artists, even those on the margins of the dominant scene. Innovation often happens on the margin.

    For these reasons I agree with Lily and Sebastiao that there should be an active effort to create conditions, and harness current circumstances, to arrive at innovation.

  3. Thank you for your excellent comments.

    When organizing a knowledge fair for community innovators in 2004, I had the opportunity to meet more than 50 groups of innovative people in Latin America. Most of them were engaged in innovation without much support from institutions or government. Despite that constrain, they were inventing very effective ways of solving their problems in education, health services, environment protection, local economic development, recycling, water management, etc. However their creativity could not build synergy with other innovative people, irradiate its benefits in the social space around, or scale up to make meaningful social change. Their current situation remembered me the situation of Leonardo da Vinci five centuries ago who never could move his ideas from his drawings to the real world because of his isolation. So different was the case of the brothers Wrights who could tap on de ideas and technical advancements of thousand of other people. So different also can be the potential of these innovative people in communities.