On the building of silos and bridges

I am writing this on vacation – a few days away in Vancouver….rain, rain and more rain…but it’s not home and that’s important. I always try to catch up on some reading while away and this week I read a lengthy paper from the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) programme at Oversees Development Institute (a UK independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues) and it reminded me of two blogs I had previously posted. In my blog about Sarah Michael’s work on knowledge mobilization for environmental policy and in an unrelated post, I wrote about how we need to use evidence to inform our own KM services. As I read the piece from RAPID I came back to a synthesis of these two previous blogs.
RAPID produced the paper “Knowledge, policy and power: Six dimensions of the knowledge–development policy interface” available here. The paper explored the six key areas of the knowledge–development policy interface including: Types of Knowledge; Political Context; Sectoral Dynamics; Actors; Innovation Frameworks and Knowledge Translation. Three key things I took away from this article:
1- The authors cite Ian Graham’s knowledge generation and translation cycle model. I am continually impressed how Canadians are among global leaders in thinking about and doing knowledge mobilization.
2- The section on Innovation Systems (IS) aligns well with ResearchImpact’s KM philosophy. To summarize:

  • IS emphasizes the supply as well as the demand for knowledge, and the need to strengthen the voice of knowledge users
  • The importance of tacit knowledge
  • The importance of networks and linkages as channels for increasing the uptake of knowledge, and the need to facilitate trust and interaction
  • The need for ‘intermediary functions’

3- The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to support the work of intermediaries.  “Rather than trying to bring audiences into an organization’s own space, ICTs have enabled them to take its messages to the audience.”  ODI cites use of RSS feeds, video streamed public meeting, Facebook, the production of short research summaries and Wikipedia.  Click on the “Web 2.0” tag cloud on the blog and see what we have written on ICTs and KM.
The work and writing of ODI from the perspective of International Development is evocative of the writing of Sarah Michaels on Environmental Policy. There is convergent evolution of tools and processes for KM regardless of the discipline. Here’s the first issue: SILOS. On October 7, 2009 Jason Guriel wrote in Mobilize This! about KM as a means of breaking down silos. If we continue to read, write and speak in silos we will not maximize learning opportunities to continually improve our own KM services by using evidence from any discipline to inform our own KM practice.
Here’s the next issue: BRIDGES. As ODI writes, intermediaries are critically important in knowledge-policy interface, “Empirical research on intermediaries is urgently needed given the high level of demand for such a brokering role by analysts, policymakers and practitioners alike, as are efforts to assess and share lessons with regard to new approaches to capacity building.” Knowledge brokers such as those developing within the ResearchImpact network and the networks forming amongst York’s KM associated research projects (see here) are intermediaries. We can build bridges between our own silos.
So a charge to all knowledge brokers: you may need to live in a silo for your own professional service delivery but build bridges between the silos.
And a question: who sets the table that allows diverse knowledge brokers to share a meal? Where can the brokers in nursing talk to the brokers in environmental policy? Where can knowledge brokers in mental health sit down with those in international development? Any thoughts? Use the comment feature above to let us know what you think.
P.S. While in Vancouver check out the Pacific Palisades Hotel. It looks like a converted apartment building just off Robson St. so your hotel room is actually an apartment and centrally located. Come to Vancouver and check out the Pacific Palisades and go to the Vancouver Aquarium where you can participate in “sharing knowledge”.