Monday, October 28, 2002

There has been a lot written about the nature of scientific and technological knowledge. By technological knowledge, I am here talking about the knowledge held by the modern technological professionals such as engineers, physicians, agronomists, etc. – not “traditional” knowledge about production processes such as is held by artisanal farmers and fisherman or traditional health practitioners. In summary S&T knowledge is that which relates to bodies of theory, that is obtained from controlled, replicated experiments, that is validated through professional peer review, and that is organized and made available to a professional community via its professional media (such as journals, conferences, and professional education).

Contrast this nature of S&T knowledge with, for example, the nature of bureaucratic knowledge characteristic of large formal organizations and their management information systems. Or with the nature of legislative knowledge, as developed by hearings, staff work, consultation with lobbyists and constituents, and the executive agencies of government. Or with the nature of judicial knowledge, as developed through the investigative powers of courts (in some systems) or of the advocacy-based trial system (in others), the accumulation of precedents, and the codification of systems of law. Or economic knowledge embodied in the prices developed in markets and other commercial processes. I could go on. I suggest that institutions generally have their own knowledge systems for the production, validation, organization and validation of knowledge.

These considerations are consistent with a view that knowledge is socially constructed, and I wonder if the most important way knowledge is constructed is institutional. Different institutions construe knowledge in different ways.

The K4D crowd seems often to assume that by focusing on scientific and technological knowledge they will most effectively promote economic development. It seems to me that this is at best a hypothesis in need of evidence. I suspect that development will depend on institution building including on knowledge systems in many institutions. S&T knowledge is important, and consequently so is building S&T institutions! But I would like to see K4D programs also emphasize institution building to improve bureaucratic knowledge (in formal organizations), economic and financial knowledge (in market institutions), legislative knowledge, legal knowledge, etc. The problem is to develop a process by which all this institution building can occur in parallel, with a reasonable allocation of resources among all the parallel efforts.

No comments: