Associate Professor University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We often hear that inclusive and sustainable development requires ‘knowledge beyond science’ – co-created by researchers, policymakers, practitioners and, for instance, farmers and value chain actors. Academic research is increasingly embedded in collaborative partnerships between these actors, assuming that pooling academic knowledge with knowledge of markets and local circumstances is better able to contribute to poverty alleviation, food security and other sustainable development goals. Knowledge co-creation – defined as joint learning and knowledge exchange processes through which actors from different sectors negotiate new knowledge – is assumed to make knowledge more relevant for policy, entrepreneurs and farmers. Involving actors from the private sector, so is hoped, would also generate private funds for research.
Knowledge co-creation in multi stakeholder platforms, however, does not occur automatically. Deeply rooted work practices and the way in which various stakeholders are rewarded and held accountable in their work can pose barriers to effective and efficient knowledge co-creation. Moreover, carrying out research through multi-stakeholder partnerships is relatively new both in the Netherlands and its partner countries in the Global South.
I therefore found it interesting to be active participant in the ‘Two peas in a pod’ conference, organised by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)-WOTRO Science for Global Development on 1 December 2017. The conference brought together policymakers, practitioners and researchers and a few representatives from the private sector to listen to each other perspectives. It became clear that different groups want to get different things out of knowledge co-creation processes, and that these are not always compatible. Policymakers, for instance, need quick answers to societal problems, while researchers want rigorousness. Frequent interaction, to get to know each other’s expectations, roles and responsibilities and adapt research questions is therefore key to effective knowledge co-creation.
Knowledge co-creation also raises fundamental questions. Whose knowledge is to be included and on what conditions? For whom should the research be relevant? Who determines what research is going to be funded hence which questions are going to be addressed? Policy-driven research may be societally more relevant, but focussing exclusively on policy-driven research also implies that some questions are not being addressed. Among those there might be questions that need to be answered for truly transformative change.
Knowledge co-creation, joint learning, and transdisciplinary partnerships: they are all needed to make research relevant for inclusive and sustainable development. But let us not forget the research questions that challenge mainstream policies and development and give voice to those who are often unheard.