FEATURE: In conversation… with Geoff Barnard, CDKN Head of Knowledge Management
Simon Maxwell: Geoff you’re running the knowledge management stream of work in the climate and development knowledge network, surprising in a way that in a world of the Internet and Google and other search engines where so much is available that we need to invest in this area, explain why?
Geoff Barnard: Well I think there’s a paradox, because although there is a massive amount of information out there and more every day, if you’ve got really good Internet access and you’ve got the time on your hands then there’s lots you can find, but for many people that just simply isn’t the case. It’s very difficult to make sense of what’s out there. There’s so much, it’s quite contradictory, so there are real challenges for many people and I think this is a problem for scientists and researchers but it’s even more of a problem for people decision makers and those who are influencing them, people who at kind of the front line of making decisions about climate and development. They’re our target audience and that’s the real challenge, getting to those people.
Simon: We’ve talked quite a bit about our role as an intermediary between researchers and people who generate knowledge on one side and people in decision making jobs who use knowledge on the other side. Doesn’t it happen already, why is it difficult.
Geoff: Well I think that often there’s a discontinuity here, we have a lot of research production a lot of expert knowledge production, but there aren’t enough intermediaries who are doing that translation and conversion job. I think there are think tanks doing it, the media are really important in doing it, but there needs to be much more of that, and I think that’s something that we can support through the network.
Simon: So explain how we’re going to deliver those different functions within the work that we do in the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
Geoff: Well I think there’s four pieces to this. We’re going to be producing good content ourself, the result of our research and our technical advisory work. We need to make sure that we’re really excellent at communicating that so it doesn’t stay in these thick reports; they have a role to play but we need to have much shorter, much more accessible products. That’s part of our job, but I think we need to be an intermediary ourselves; we need to engage in policy processes, so that we are arriving at the right place, at the right time and we already know what’s happening on the ground. We can play a really important in strengthening, what I guess we can call the knowledge architecture around this by working with those intermediaries, those other websites, those other media players, rather than trying to replace their role.Many people, especially at the regional, country level are working in a certain amount of isolation. I think there’s a lot of interesting sharing that could be done by taking for example, a Latin American kind of media organisation and finding what lessons it can share with those at a similar organisation in Asia. And the final bit is about creating spaces for dialogue, and some of this will be face to face, that’s always going to be important but I think nowadays, the online tools are getting better and better and so they’ll over time we’ll be using those more and more effectively.
Simon: There’s a model of knowledge management which is you create a huge library, a bit like the old library of Alexandria in classical times, I don’t think that’s the model that you follow is it?
Geoff: Absolutely not, that’s not to say that the library isn’t a key part of this, but you need to have the librarian that really helpful librarian who’s at the front desk saying what is it exactly you need? Can you explain that question a bit more carefully? Ah I know where to find this. Let me help you, and here’s a summary I’ve produced of material in this area. So I think that’s absolutely vital.
Simon: Now it’s important to say that although we have resources to work on this ourselves within the Climate and Development Knowledge Network we intend to bring in lots of partners and to contract out quite a lot of the work I think?
Geoff: Yes that’s key to this. We’re calling the strategy a “being there strategy,” so rather than trying to pull all the users to our website to be the big website out there on the Internet. I think what we can do is to take our content, the issues that we’ve developed through our demand lead work, which I think will be very distinctive, and to work with other places so that these issues appearing on their sites, these policy briefings are going out through their own networks so we can fan out to a much bigger, much bigger public than we’d possibly ever do from one website.
Simon: I know how difficult it is to write a short policy brief, much harder to write two pages than to write 20 pages, are we going to be able to help people who are new to this, to learn those skills?
Geoff: That probably is not a role for us specifically, but there are organisations out there which are doing this job communication capacity building very well. I think the trick for us is to work with people like that and put the two sides together so that that training happens, and we can help perhaps sponsor that and make those connections.
Simon: We’ve talked quite a lot in our programme about decentralising, and empowering our regional directors to run programmes regionally. They’ll all be working on knowledge and knowledge management in different ways and you’ll have a programme globally, how do you link all that together?
Geoff: What I’m hoping to create with our regional partners is an international team of communication and knowledge management people in each of the regions. We need to get together, we need to share our initial assumptions come up with joint work programmes, but then let each region go off and actually interpret this for their own audiences, for their own issues. And they’ll need to take different approaches because for example the Internet is a much more effective option in Latin America than it is going to be in many parts of Africa. I think we can knit together a team which will be really an effective piece of glue that will knit the network together.
Simon: Now you and I are having this conversation, Geoff, in English. Some people speak English in the world, some don’t?
Geoff: I think this is one of the beauties of the regional approach, is that the regional offices can actually adapt, can deal with that problem they can work with, for example, working with a Latin American media organisation that material’s going to be in Spanish and Portuguese. Similarly as we get into Asia we can be working in Chinese and in various Indian languages over time. Not on day one, but I think this is an ambition over time. Periodically we’ll be looking back at the complete suite of products we produce and we’ll be having independent review to see did we do a good job here. But in a case by case basis, we need to move fast in turning product out, getting them out there, so we need to rely on the professionalism of those communication staff, knowledge management staff in each of these regions, and the organisations they work with.
Simon: Let’s move forward five years and look backwards: What will make you happy about what we will have achieved altogether in the Climate and Development Knowledge Network?
Geoff: First of all we should by then if we’d done our job well, we should have quite a big list of very concrete examples where we could say this intervention, this policy briefing or this meeting we convened, or this online debate that we helped to structure, this, the people who are involved will be able to say, yes that was a bit of a turning point, and the result of that was that this policy process went in this direction and look what’s happened. But I think probably the longer term legacy of this is going to be this stronger knowledge architecture.
Simon: Geoff, thank you very much.
Geoff: Thank you