Daniel Keftassa

PhD, Chairperson of the community based organisation HefDA and Development Practioneer in Ethiopia

In the social and economic development field, development practitioners are often expected to meet the needs, aspirations, worries and wishes of the people they work for and work with. The needs and expectations of people are often based on their history, tradition and local context. Thus, a thorough knowledge of the history, experience, needs and expectations of the society is essential for effective social development. The knowledge we hold informs the type of change we think is required. Our knowledge of the problems and the people affected by the problem dictates our ways of thinking and the kind of intervention we think is required to produce the change we expect. The systems approach is a step towards knowledge about the multitude of factors that affect people and how best to address the interwoven problems.

The systems approach helps to understand the problems in their totality; the problem, the people and the context. Understanding of the people and their aspirations needs to be at the centre of the future Agenda Knowledge for Development. Our knowledge about people and their needs will never be complete. We need to keep on developing our knowledge base to cope with and respond to the changing world. Knowledge could be a product of critical reflection on the practices/experiences which in turn generates new knowledge. Knowledge is often generated from actions. Often new knowledge could be generated in the process of development action because reality is always changing. We discover new things in the problem, the context and the people involved. So, changes are due to new knowledge obtained during practice. The reflection about that practice produces new knowledge that leads to better practices (and achievements). Systematisation of experiences has helped development practitioners understand why and how change takes place, using knowledge generated from these experiences to refine the theoretical and practical solutions.

An NGO which systematized their experience on functional education for women discovered that the major cause for marginalization of women in decision making at household and community levels is the traditional thinking that women are biologically inferior to men. In that society, the power of women is determined by physical strength not intellectual capacity. Systematization of the experience of inclusion of persons with disability in social and economic development discovered that lack of awareness of the causes of disability is the main reason for marginalization of persons with disabilities. Often people believe that disability is due to God’s punishment for the sins of the parents. To generate knowledge from experience, development practitioners should critically analyse their experiences; aim to develop new and better strategies and methods; and should have the courage to explore new ways and risk being wrong. Thus, the vision for future knowledge societies needs to be realistic, pragmatic, pluralistic, inclusive and humane. People need to be at the centre of the vision for future Knowledge Societies. In social and economic development processes, the Knowledge Development Goals should be a realistic understanding of the society and the current context, and should consider the dynamic changes for the time to come.