The Coop4Wellbeeing project aims at strengthening linkages among science, applied research, and Czech development cooperation. Our main goal is to spark the process of knowledge transfer from the collaborative research on social-ecological linkages to the practice. The first phase of the project was based on qualitative interviews with key actors of Czech development cooperation. We primarily explored the origins and the lifecycle of the knowledge used during the design and implementation of development projects.
How does knowledge interact with development projects?
The development projects are based on a wide range of knowledge, emerging from the resources within organizations themselves as well as from outside sources. It is the own experience, expertise, and familiarity with local context that mostly resonate in the design and implementation of the projects. The understanding and knowledge of local context are driven by the intense communication and cooperation with stakeholders in target regions/communities but it is also supported by numerous assessments, evaluations, and monitoring. The inspiration and various data sources also come from other organizations (international and national), that publish a wide range of methodical approaches, reports, etc. An essential input are also strategic documents of the target countries. The outcomes of recent scientific research are used within the projects to only a limited extent. Instead, the key carriers of knowledge are people – experts with appropriate experience – rather than reading research papers, the majority of actors directly approaches these experts.
These different sources or types of knowledge are overlapping and interacting with each other. Some of the knowledge is created within the organizations, other comes from external sources. The scheme below shows and interprets these overlaps. The cornerstone of every project is a mixture of knowledge in the organization, mostly represented by the experts, enriched by local knowledge (i.e. knowledge of local people as well as gathered knowledge on local context). If some of these components is missing in the organization, it is replaced from the outside – external experts, reports of international organizations, statistics, research outcomes, etc. The strategic documents of the target countries are not directly bringing in new information but they help to frame the overall project.
The projects are not only a final destination of this knowledge, thanks to the tools of project cycle management, and especially through the lived experience of development cooperation actors, the new knowledge emerges and feeds back to the organizations. Simultaneously, the process of mutual learning among the target communities, other organizations and the respective project creates and shapes new knowledge that influences action within the whole nexus. There are also other, less formal, and less visible channels of knowledge transfer, such as networking and informal sharing among the individual actors.
Limits of knowledge in Czech development cooperation
There are numerous barriers and limits related to access to knowledge. Most of the know-how of Czech development cooperation relates to individual people, their expertise, and their experiences. Yet, the expert knowledge is limited by the context and sector – being an expert on agriculture in Georgia does not necessarily imply being an expert on agriculture in Ethiopia. Similarly, a person with a long record of working with Zambia does not have to be an expert on all sectors tackled by the development projects in the given region.
However, strong dependence on experts as a resource of knowledge and information faces another, structural challenge – if people with expertise and experience leave an organization and/or the field of development cooperation, their knowledge is partially or completely withering away. Therefore, knowledge management, reproduction, and transfer within and outside of the organization is essential, yet it is contested by limited financial, human, and time resources.
The knowledge transfer across various organizations is another resonating issue. Although sharing of know-how among the organization is limitedly vivid, it is rather a decentralized and informal process. To this end, the majority of Czech development cooperation actors would welcome a knowledge hub, that would create a space for sharing and learning.
Finally, actors often have to deal with unavailable and/or non-existent data from local statistical offices. This shortage can be partially overcome by available reports from international organizations, such as UN, UNDP, FAO, etc. The more important issue is the data collection in the field, conduction of basic assessments and other, more comprehensive studies allowing for a complex understanding of the local context. Such fieldwork, which is essential for the design and implementation of the projects, is mostly constrained by non-existent and/or insufficient financial mechanisms as well as a lack of time, human resources, and methodological guidelines for the data collection.
The way out?
Especially the comprehensive studies can be a showcase of collaboration among universities, research centers, and organizations active in development cooperation. While academia can offer skilled researchers, that are able to collect data, analyze and interpret them, the organizations can apply these results and findings in practice. Although academia is contributing to the Czech development cooperation, it is mostly more technical-oriented (e.g. geological surveys, design of innovative agricultural systems, etc.) and the links with social sciences are rather limited.
Therefore, the next phase of Coop4Wllbeing is aiming at the establishment of such collaboration by working with key actors of Czech development cooperation simultaneously with the field research in Zambia. During autumn 2021 we will identify topics that are perceived as insufficiently explored in projects in Zambia and elsewhere. Based on this process, we will conduct a research field trip to Zambia, that will help to address these identified issues and will create a baseline for the next activities of Coop4Wellbeing.