Using open knowledge approaches to improve development outcomes

27 June 2016

There can be no doubt that the Open Knowledge Hub project was innovatory. The starting point was our belief that the adoption of so-called ‘Open Knowledge’ approaches had the potential to improve the impact of research evidence on development outcomes and address inequalities in the visibility, accessibility and uptake of diverse knowledge about development.

Throughout the project we have worked with partners to explore the Open Knowledge landscape and adopt methods and tools that maximise the potential for content to be shared. When we first came together at the start of the three year project we soon realised that perceptions of what was meant by Open Knowledge differed and that the take-up and awareness of new approaches and technologies was sectorally, geographically and linguistically uneven.

IDS is known for its work in increasing the availability and accessibility of global development research for evidence-informed policy and practice and we knew that the Open Knowledge Hub project was being delivered at a time when there was limited funding available for evidence and sharing. It quickly emerged that the strongest driver for participation in the project was the need among knowledge producers and intermediaries to be part of a community of practice, to collaborate and to share experience, not just on Open Knowledge but on knowledge intermediary practice more broadly.

Making the ‘evolutionary leap’ beyond traditional approaches

What this project was able to do was to question the traditional approach to producing and sharing knowledge in global development. Knowledge is often entrenched in the academic culture of social science research. However, Open Knowledge by its very definition challenges this way of working, it means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share content for any purpose. In short, Open Knowledge breaks through previously locked doors and stands in the middle of the global development playing field shouting, ‘Take me I'm yours!’ And for some that's an uncomfortable sight to witness.

In a new IDS Practice Paper, we describe what we have learned about the drivers and motivations for knowledge organisations to engage with Open Knowledge approaches. Even if you know nothing about Open Knowledge this is a compelling read because it also highlights key issues and barriers to engagement that threaten to undermine the potential benefits that Open Knowledge approaches can bring.

Drawing from direct learning from the project and external research evidence accumulated during our work, we argue that:

  • Open Knowledge is a cross-cutting issue. It is not a purely technical consideration but requires knowledge intermediaries to reflect on their production processes and develop editorial and technical systems which support improved data sharing.
  • Different types of organisations have different motivations for wanting to engage with Open Knowledge approaches.
    Open Knowledge approaches are still emerging – take-up and awareness of these new approaches and new technologies is sectorally, geographically and linguistically uneven.
  • Research organisations in the development sector (and more broadly) need to value Open Knowledge more in their reward and promotion systems. But for this to happen the benefits of Open Knowledge must be better demonstrated. More work is therefore needed to develop effective tracking methods and metrics.
  • Resourcing, language, capacity and scale can be barriers to organisations wishing to participate in Open Knowledge approaches.
  • Working in partnership can strengthen understandings of needs and contexts and make a broader contribution to partners’ effectiveness and capabilities as knowledge sharing organisations.
  • Open Knowledge needs to be more inclusive of diverse methods of knowledge generation and dissemination beyond traditional research. We can learn from other disciplines to explore how we can support, for example, local communities to document, value, share and protect the knowledge they have using Open Knowledge approaches.

The future is Open

The DFID funding for Global Open Knowledge Hub is about to come to a close, but IDS remains committed to the Open agenda. We believe that this project clearly demonstrates the benefits of collaborative working. We have seen how working in partnership can strengthen understanding of needs and contexts and make a broader contribution to partners’ effectiveness and capabilities as knowledge sharing organisations.

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