Senior Convenor in the Open Knowledge and Digital Services Unit at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, Editor of Eldis (www.eldis.org) and co-convenor of the EADI Information Management Working Group
The UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development notes that the spread of global interconnectedness through technology and scientific innovation offers ‘great potential to accelerate human progress… and to develop knowledge societies.’ This is certainly true. Rapidly emerging technologies and an ever more connected world are enabling the creation of knowledge in new and exciting ways and breaking down barriers to more inclusive participation in decision-making via globally linked knowledge networks. But the same advances also have the potential to do harm. Without thoughtful application they can further reinforce existing inequalities and unintentionally broaden, rather than narrow, digital and social divides. Alarmingly, as we have seen recently, they can also be used to facilitate a populist ‘post-truth’ political narrative that dismisses knowledge as irrelevant and intentionally reinforces divisions. To realise the transformational potential of knowledge identified in the UN Agenda 2030, and to address these challenges, I believe we need to actively advocate for and build knowledge systems that amplify the voices of marginalised groups, place proper value on local knowledge and put those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see in a position where they get to set the development agenda. We must also challenge the prevailing technocratic narrative that knowledge societies can operate outside of the power structures and politics that govern society more broadly; and that the technological innovations that might enable those knowledge societies are inherently benign or progressive. My hope is that the Knowledge for Development Agenda can firstly help to put a pluralist, democratic and inclusive model for creating and sharing knowledge at the heart of efforts to achieve each of the development goals. Secondly I would like to see it act as a platform through which we can build stronger knowledge partnerships between implementing institutions, civil society, researchers and communities to strengthen knowledge practice. Finally I would like to see the Agenda used to advocate for an approach to knowledge creation and sharing that promotes the appropriate and thoughtful use of technology as an enabler but which also recognises and actively addresses the risks associated with this.