Using Open Knowledge to improve development outcomes

Impact Summary

For the Global Open Knowledge Hub (GOKH) project, ‘impact’ was defined as ‘evidence-informed policy making and practice by development actors which will ultimately contribute to improvements in the lives of poor people’. To achieve this, GOKH aimed to make research content open and available via an online tool called the OKHub, which in turn made it easier for knowledge intermediaries to provide access to content in ways which were valued and used by policy makers and practitioners. The project resulted in increased efficiency, better sharing and reduced duplication in the sharing of knowledge; increased visibility, use and ultimately impact of research evidence in policy and practice; and increased opportunities for innovation in the presentation of knowledge to make it more appropriate and engaging for audiences in different contexts.

About the Global Open Knowledge Hub project

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is a global leader in knowledge mobilisation for development – delivering flagship knowledge programmes that include Eldis and Open Docs and undertaking ground-breaking work in increasing availability and accessibility of global development research for policymakers and practitioners. This has contributed to significant positive impacts of research in improved development practice from grassroots organisations to informing high-level policy and decision-making.

Learning from our work has also contributed more broadly to understanding the critical role that knowledge brokers and intermediaries play in the effective use of research for evidence-informed policy and practice and in advocating for, and supporting the capacity of this intermediary sector.

The Global Open Knowledge Hub (GOKH) project built on our work in this field to specifically address gaps and inequalities in the global availability and visibility of research on key development themes. It leveraged emerging technologies to support open, efficient and innovative global knowledge sharing, working collaboratively with partners all over the world.

The GOKH programme was substantively funded by the UK Department for International Development from April 2013 to April 2016. A short period of 3 months additional funding was granted at the end of the programme to document findings.

The contributions from consortium partners were key to the success of this innovatory programme. They actively contributed and many reported the importance of co-constructed knowledge and the desire to build enduring partnerships that went beyond the project funding. The participating organisations were bound together by their belief that there is a strong need for freely available, structured digital content (open knowledge) that derives not just from large institutions based in Europe and North America, but from a range of global, diverse perspectives. A full list of partners is available on the OK Hub website

Impact achieved

The Global Open Knowledge Hub programme was successful in achieving its objectives, and was able to demonstrate increasing use of its services.

The programme successfully reported against three specific areas of impact:

  • Increased efficiency, better sharing and reduced duplication in the sharing of knowledge
  • Increased visibility, use and ultimately impact of research evidence in policy and practice
  • Increased opportunities for innovation in the presentation of knowledge to make it more appropriate and engaging for audiences in different contexts

The programme also generated some important lessons on managing repositories and open knowledge programmes. For example:

Open Data is not solely built on technical infrastructure, it is predominantly built through partnerships: maximising technical infrastructure development requires time for partnership development and sustainable skill building. Whilst it was difficult to attribute impact as a direct result of the programme, changes in the preferences of individual actors (ways of doing / thinking / presenting) or in the framing of issues by organisations, were captured and seen as the beginning of a movement along a ‘pathway’ towards impact level results. Stories of change which document movement towards impact level results from the perspectives of GOKH partners have been collated and made available on the OKHub website.

Making evidence and data available online is not an end in itself: The OKHub made international development research metadata more available and re-usable online (machine readable). Other knowledge and information services managed by IDS – the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS), Eldis, Eldis communities and BRIDGE gender services - fed into, and drew content from, the Hub. Content became accessible to a variety of audiences around the world (e.g. researchers, policy-makers, development practitioners, journalists). Editorial support and technical innovations enabled partners, particularly those in the global South, to source and upload content into the Hub and to draw out and present relevant content on their own websites.

However, it would have been impossible to have delivered this programme without supporting the needs of partner groups. GOKH was not designed as a 'capacity building' programme and sought to focus, with limited resources, on shared mutual learning that benefited the broader working practices and capabilities of the partners. A series of small scale events took place throughout the programme that brought partners together with the intention of engaging with Open Knowledge through partnerships.

Open Knowledge is recognised as an emergent movement. The paper, 'Making the ‘Evolutionary Leap’: Using Open Knowledge Approaches to Improve Development Outcomes', describes what we learned about the drivers and motivations for knowledge organisations to engage with Open Knowledge approaches. It also addresses the issues and barriers to engagement that, we have argued, threaten to undermine these potential benefits.

One of the early findings to emerge from discussions with partners at the inception of the Open Knowledge Hub project was that there was wide variation in the extent to which the concepts of Open Knowledge were being understood, advocated for and adopted across different global development sectors, geographic regions and languages.

We needed to understand this variation better in order to identify and address the specific barriers and opportunities that these differences presented and to explore the potential models for wider participation in the Open Knowledge Hub project.

To help us achieve this a number of partners undertook scoping studies which explored the Open Knowledge landscape within their own sectors and regions.

The programme developed further learning papers which have been shared online. These include: Introducing open knowledge as an approach to knowledge sharing in global development and licensing open content which is also available a video slideshow.


Open data and open ways of working were in their infancy when the GOKH programme began. Whilst we recognised the possibilities for informing and transforming the way knowledge is exchanged, we also identified possible risks including the dangers of reinforcing existing inequalities in production, access to and use of data.

However, on a more practical level the main challenges we faced in the GOKH project were concerned with the capacity limitations that we had within the project. Inherent in the terms of the funding were restrictions around our ability to build the underlying capabilities of our partners. We felt that if we could have had a wider remit to build skills and develop the capacity of our partners then we could have developed the programme further and shared the content in the hub more widely.

Related resources

Stanley, A., Shephard, K., Bimbe, N., Brambilla, P., Rowsell, H., Mason, P. and Bailey, H. (2016) ‘Making the ‘Evolutionary Leap’: Using Open Knowledge Approaches to Improve Development Outcomes’, IDS Practice Paper in Brief 25, Brighton: IDS

Learning papers:

Scoping studies:

News stories and blogs:

Stories of Change:

Case Studies:


GOKH Learning Exchange Short Film

Source: YouTube
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
This is an Open Access publication distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

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