Work in Progress

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The time since the formal end of the IKM Emergent programme has seen a number of efforts to write up different aspects of it in greater detail. As the programme tried to work in an open, collaborative and iterative way, it should not be surprising that this writing process has had a similar pattern. Much material has been produced, shared and discussed by a number of authors. So far, we have not been as productive as we'd hoped in terms of formal publications.

My focus has been on two areas. The first concerns a continuation of the role that Sarah Cummings and I had as directors of the programme, which was to provide an overall narrative for how the many elements of what we were doing fitted together and what the wider implications of this narrative for development, management and work for the common good more generally might be. This is of particular importance to us because feedback from the programme evaluation and elsewhere suggested that this narrative was not perceived as having been sufficiently articulated within the programme or strongly advocated externally during the programme's life. The second, which is perhaps my more particular area of interest, relates to the use of what we call information artefacts within the development support sector and, again, more generally in contemporary discourse. This, given the complexity of the problems we face; the impact of technological change on what can be presented and how; and the multiple challenges of communicating across boundaries of class, culture, gender and discipline which the development support sector faces, presents a rich and important area for reflection. As such reflection was an integral part of the IKM programme, it was intended to explore these issues further in our book.

So far, there have been three distinct periods in this process, each working towards a version of the proposed material. Version 1, situated our work within a lengthy critique of current practice within the development support sector. This was quite positively reviewed by a number of IKM participants at a workshop in late 2013. However, it was felt that the time and attention demanded by the critique rather obscured the main strengths of our programme which had been to develop, pilot and publicise new approaches to managing and using knowledge. We therefore decided to produce a new version, focussing more on the potential for new practice. This turned out to be a harder and more lengthy process than envisaged. It involved some interesting collaborations and by-products including opportunities to talk about Knowledge and Ignorance in Development Studies at IDS in October 2015 and Multiple knowledges: implications for learning and expression at the 'Art of Health', a workshop on health research and engagement organised by the Wellcome Trust in February 2016.

Over time it became clear that the two areas of focus required different approaches. We thought that the programme's ideas about the relevance of contemporary approaches to the creation and use of knowledge to development support could and should be presented as a clear argument to those that might be interested. The issues of how to understand, use, look after and assess the many artefacts now used across the world to develop, express or record knowledge in all its forms are, in our view, just as important but also less clear cut. They require a more exploratory approach, complete with tangents and, in all likelihood, red herrings and false starts. Although the need to pay attention to such issues forms part of our overall argument,their study probably belongs elsewhere.

Thus, we are moving towards producing two books. The first, 'Challenging Ignorance: what we do not know about development and change', is far advanced. We plan to circulate final drafts of this to programme participants in the first half of the year and to produce both electronic and paper copies of the completed work later in the year. The second, 'Between Thought and Expression: artefacts for change in today's world', will be continued once the former has been put to bed. It may still represent a drawn out process.

The world, in the meantime, is not standing still. We believe the need to work on the many complex challenges both the world and many local communities face in new and more effective ways gets ever stronger. Both as a team and as individuals we remain very interested in collaborating on new practical applications for our work. A number of people we have worked with in the recent past and who have engaged with our ongoing writing have said they wish to use and refer to it now, rather than wait for a finished product. We have therefore decided to make drafts of earlier versions of this work available now.

'Challenging Ignorance: what we do not know about development and change', by Mike Powell with Sarah Cummings. A draft of Part 1 of Version 2 of this book (we are working on Version 3) is available here

 

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