Patricia Mweene Lumba
Senior Knowledge Management Officer, Sustainable Development at African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)
Optimizing the Africa Knowledge Agenda for the Knowledge Society.
Effective participation in the “Knowledge Society” requires, rather obviously, access to its most important commodity, knowledge (Elder, et.al: 2013). If well managed, data and information can be a catalyst to Africa’s international arena involvement. To be a true leader in the international field, Africa will need to reconsider what it means to be engaged in the current knowledge economy. A starting point is to remind ourselves what it takes to participate in the Knowledge Society. According to UNESCO (2013), Knowledge Societies are not built only on technology or information. Besides, Knowledge Societies are achievements of human development, made upon a combination of social values, technology, and innovation, in which essential roles are played by quality education for all, cultural diversity, universal access to information, and community participation. Adopting a holistic approach can provide better participation in the knowledge society and should be encouraged by government and organization procedures and bolstered by knowledge, networking, technology, and innovation to increase the quality of life for all Africans.
The role of Knowledge Management in enhancing agility is justifiable in meeting the African Union (AU) Vision of ‘An Integrated, Prosperous, and Peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the International arena.” However, several factors influence Africa’s Knowledge Agenda in playing a meaningful role in the knowledge society that requires closer attention before we get there. The remainder of this article examines Africa’s knowledge access gap and identifies some priority actions to enhance the Africa Knowledge Agenda in the Knowledge Society. Re-examining the Access Gap. The Right to Information (RTI) has been a critical element of sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Declaration (Article 19, 2017). The tracking, monitoring, and reporting on implementation progress towards achieving these goals and targets is an important mechanism to ensure that political will, backed by appropriate actions, to achieve development and transformation on the African continent.
The reality is that although the Right to Information has been a recognized need, marginalized citizens often do not have full access to development information (Bentley & Chib, 2017). For instance, the right to information is often credited to well-resourced actors that can compile, manage and mine data, and not to the farmers who play critical roles as both the source providers and data users, further depriving less powerful actors of the little influence they possess (De Beer 2016). There is a need for well-developed Open Science systems for Africa to maximize information for decision-making (FAO, 2020; Mwelwa et. al., 2020; 8). The availability of open government data has shown the potential to contribute to public liability and economic and sustainable development (Magalhaes, Roseira, & Strover, 2013).
However, there is more room for Governments and other stakeholders to increase the publication of open data, especially data related to vulnerable groups, and ensure that this data contributes effectively to improving lives. Support can also help relevant non-governmental organizations analyze and use open data to improve the situation and adapt existing practices and processes to impact the poorest and most vulnerable positively. Publishing open data online can help ensure higher degrees of accountability and transparency of national governments, which play an essential role in developing development agendas (World Bank, 2015). The translation and dissemination of scientific information through traditionally-relevant means, such as local media, can ensure public access to crucial data. Linked to the RTI, access to technology has been a big inﬂuence of Africa’s participation in the Knowledge society. The well-documented “digital divide” is still prevalent between north and south, rich and poor, or between urban and rural populations.
The past years have seen a glimmer of hope for what technology can do in Africa, particularly in the increased use of mobile devices (e.g. Beza, et. al. 2017; Staal, et. al., 2020). The use of appropriate technology has soared to new heights with the promise of narrowing the digital divide by the relatively rapid diffusion of mobile technologies and social media platforms deployed in African countries. However, unlocking these technologies’ development potential implies overcoming other multiple barriers to meaningful information access, such as skills development, cost-effective internet connectivity, and sufficient and sustainable financial resources to ensure knowledge brokers remain content providers and relevant and timely local content. Outside the scope of government services for monitoring policy implementation, there is a greater need to engage other partners from the private sector, civil society, academia, donors, and multilateral agencies as knowledge brokers. SDG implementation requires innovative knowledge brokering practice with greater prominence on brokering knowledge between various organizational and societal actors (Cummings, et.al. 2018). Bringing together the right partners provides scope for better data analysis and required solutions and ensures data and information access and application by relevant stakeholders. For instance, governments could strengthen partnerships with the private sector and other stakeholders to find answers and feedback mechanisms in the data collection and verification process of information from citizens (Gurin, et. al., 2020).
However, there is a need for applicable legal and policy frameworks to be in place to strengthen citizen science for decision making (Kulk & Loenen, 2012), including end-user capacity strengthening and awareness of information management practices (Schaap, et.al. 2020). The need for acceptable data management practices to support decision-making and policy processes is a critical need for the continent. The current situation points to inconsistent data from diverse sources, unreliable or weak approaches for disseminating information, and inadequate communication between different stakeholders; insufficient capacity to interpret and analyze data has also hampered data information for sustainable development (AU-IBAR, 2018). While access to technology, data, and information is necessary, these stand-alone models are ineffective in providing a full-fledged knowledge management solution. Society is embedding itself into more areas such as partnerships and networking, Local Knowledge access, innovation, Openness models, data management, and the capacity to communicate as core elements of sustainable development.
Knowledge Management solutions have been useful when there is a combination of codification and personalization strategies (Hansen et al., 1999). These are also the building blocks and core outputs of the networked environments that the Africa Knowledge Agenda could prioritize. If Africa has to play an equal partner in the international development sector, these open models that support both codification and personalization are worth exploring as catalysts to Open Development. There is a need for Africa to explore how these models and initiatives can contribute to social and economic gains for African countries; how the value of innovation, formerly bottled up within individuals and institutions, can be more broadly dispersed; and how developing country entrepreneurs and the private sector can use open knowledge business models to the greatest beneﬁt.
A strong commitment to empirical research methods is essential to ensure these models’ credibility and, more importantly, real, local impact. Several writers have highlighted the existing knowledge access gaps to barriers to implementing development agendas: the SDG Agenda 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063 (e.g., Barrantes & Santos, 2019; Wu, Lo & Ng, 2019). The lack of detailed or existing data and information management plans presents a problem in providing a baseline for future assessments over the SDGs’ lifetime and the closely linked Africa Agenda 2063. Priority Actions to enhance Africa’s participation in the Knowledge Society Based on the challenges identified, the Africa Knowledge Agenda’s vision should maximize the generation and use of local data and sustainable development knowledge.
The new Knowledge Management era should challenge information specialists to reinvent and reposition themselves as infomediaries that can efficiently manage processes of converting data and information into knowledge for development (Mchombu, 2007). The mission for the professionals concerned with the African Knowledge Agenda would be to create a network of African Knowledge workers empowered to create, access, and use evidence-based local knowledge to enable multi-sectoral stakeholders in Africa to contribute to sustainable development policymaking. Specific priority actions could positively influence the Africa Knowledge Agenda. These include, but are not limited to:• Developing methodologies around access to decision support data and information by linking best practices and knowledge to policies and programs and using these to trigger and monitor changes at country, regional and continental levels;
• Promoting peer-to-peer and multi-sector stakeholder experience sharing and learning, benchmarking of best practices, north-south knowledge exchanges, and scaling-up awareness and piloting of successful Knowledge Management initiatives;
• Improving the efficiency of SDG-related data entry by national governments through user-friendly interfaces and allowing other data users at Regional Economic Communities and the Africa Union Commission to instantaneously review, validate, and provide feedback on the data;
• Strengthening country and local level data and information management systems to reinforce Africa’s engagement in continental and global development initiatives and to report on progress (e.g., trade, agriculture, education, health);
• Strengthening data and information sharing between information systems by providing solutions in content syndication;
• Building capacity among end-users, particularly marginalized, to understand and work with information and knowledge for sustainable development policymaking efforts.
Towards a unified Africa is a diverse continent, with levels of information access models differing from sector to sector and country to country. A common longing for societies is to ensure that knowledge is a typical good driving the necessary economic development (Cribb & Sari, 2010: 17; Ostrom, 2006). The belief in a universal bond of sharing what connects all humanity also referred to as ‘Ubuntu’ is practically useless if an integrated goal for knowledge sharing is not part of Africa’s vision.
Strengthening social networks among Knowledge Management professionals on the continent and beyond will allow for coordinated new solutions outside of each sector’s and country’s framework. Knowledge Management professionals are ideal champions that can foster an emerging set of open knowledge initiatives.
In conclusion, to be effective in its contribution to the knowledge society, the Africa Knowledge Agenda can benefit the continent by leaning towards localized Knowledge Management solutions that promote: digitally-enabled user-friendly and cost-effective information platforms, sharing ideas on best practice, strengthening initiatives to reuse, revise, repurpose syndicated content, increasing the transparency of processes, and expanding stakeholder participation and collaborative as a means of implementing the SDGs.
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