Robert Chambers

Professor, Institute of Development Studies, University of Suusex, UK

The answer to the rhetorical question ‘Can We Know Better?’ is ‘Yes we can’. The history of humankind and of development is spectacularly littered with error.  We desperately need to be less wrong, more realistic and more in touch and up to date with ground realities and accelerating change. The priorities for what we need to know and how we struggle to know it  themselves change and are changing ever faster.  The urgency of transforming our approaches and methods for knowing has been made more acute by the virus of fake news, malicious invasions of personal privacy and covert digital manipulations for political purposes.  More than ever we need multitudes of world citizens who share a passion for truth, respect for the views and knowledges of others, and a nimble and eclectic methodological pluralism in approaches and methods.

Three fundamental pillars underpin knowing better: first, critical reflexivity and willingness to accept one’s own errors; second, an ability to listen and appreciate others’ points of view; and third, accepting that all social realities and knowledges are provisional and evolving. We need a worldwide drive to spread and embed these three fundamentals.  For this they must be a core part of education, with foundations laid in primary schools, and then taught and practised in all secondary schools, colleges and universities. A movement is called for in many dimensions and at all levels – local, national and international.  In innumerable small and some much bigger ways, willing and committed teachers, lecturers and activists can be pioneers.  Many, scattered around the world, have already started.  This is a quiet revolution. To drive it we need an ever multiplying host of inspired and passionate revolutionaries supporting one another. The time for us to start is now.