Saturday, January 11, 2003


The terms “Knowledge Economy” and “Knowledge For Development” seem often to be used synonymously. I suspect that to be a mistake. K4D perhaps ought to be seen as composed of several facets, including “Knowledge Polity” and “Knowledge Culture”, as well as “Knowledge Economy”.

The first of these topics is intended to refer to knowledge systems in governance institutions. In the case of the knowledge economy, attention is directed to technological knowledge, market knowledge, innovation systems, etc. The difficulties of achieving development with governments that are unresponsive to the needs of their citizens, corrupt, or simply unaware of the information that could inform better policy and strategic choices are severe. The “Knowledge Polity” (KP) may well be of comparable importance with “Knowledge Economy” for development.

KP includes knowledge systems in the political process. Donor assistance Democratization programs (e.g. that of USAID: relate to an important aspect of this concern. In democratic societies, democratization concerns would relate to the role of knowledge in elections and participation of the electorate in governance. Perhaps it would be better to frame the issues in a broader way, focusing on the ways in which citizens learn about public issues, and the ways in which the views of the citizens are communicated to and affect public policy and strategy. One specific area in which donor efforts might prove to be useful here is in improving the news service of the media (I think that donors such as the Open Society Institute - -and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung - - do in fact work with the media.) Similarly, improving civics education in the schools might be useful.

Let me suggest that KP also includes improving knowledge systems in the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. Thus one might improve the use of scientific and technological knowledge in government (as the US tried to do by creating the Office of Technology Assessment, or the executive branch by institutionalizing science advisors and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or as the judiciary struggles with in dealing with expert testimony and alternative ways to deal with highly technical information and issues.) While improving Knowledge Management in government organizations is a part of the approach, I am suggesting a more general understanding of knowledge systems than KM theorists usually use. Thus I would be concerned with the means that government agencies have to exchange knowledge with the people they serve. It seems to me that the “Rule of Law”, and the operation of the judiciary system also has significant relationship with the judiciary knowledge systems.

Lets go then to Knowledge and Culture. I suspect that it is not a coincidence that the Age of Enlightenment is correlated with the breakout from the poverty trap, both in time and in the geographic location in which they occurred. I think the cultural shift to modern scientific and technological knowledge systems is strongly related to the shift to democratic political institutions and to market based economic institutions. These are all fundamental changes in knowledge systems in major institutions, and perhaps related to deeper cultural shifts in the approach to information and knowledge.

There have been some recent papers suggesting that development depends most fundamental on fundamental institutions ( such as: Voice and accountability, Political stability and absence of violence, Government effectiveness, Light regulatory burden, Rule of law, and Freedom from graft). For example, see “Tropics, Germs, and Crops: How Endowments Influence Economic Development” by William Easterly and Ross Levine. (

The World Values Survey ( has suggested that more dependence on rational-secular values (versus traditional values) is correlated with higher per capita GDP (see the figure on the cited page labeled “Economic levels of 65 Societies, superimposed on two dimensions of cross-cultural variation”). It has also suggested that there is a strong negative correlation between dependence on rational-secular values and emphasis of survival over self-expression values, and that these are linked to general cultural roots (see figure labeled “Mapping Authority and Survival or Well Being”).

When I began in the development business in the 1960’s theory linked development with modernization. The term at the time certainly was tainted with ethnocentrism, the thought that citizens of developing nations had to become more like “modern” Europeans and Americans to progress. It seems to have gone out of favor, perhaps due to an increase in respect for cultural diversity in the international community. Certainly, cultural imperialism is to be avoided, and many cultures (from the French to the Moslem) are justly concerned with undue, unwelcome, and unacceptable foreign cultural influences. Still, it seems to me that culturally knowledge systems must change for development to progress. Knowledge must be subjected to strenuous validation, and much of the validation should be done in “modern” knowledge institutions. Validation of knowledge must be more based on evidence, and indeed on replicable evidence obtained under controlled circumstances.

This is hard to achieve. Indeed, the Economist pointed out in last weeks edition, that not only is the United States “far more traditional than any west European country except Ireland. It is more traditional (in contrast to rational-secular) than any place at all in central or Eastern Europe.” Moreover, the article notes that virtually alone among developed nations, the United States is registering more traditional in the last 20 years on the Values Survey. (Living with a superpower, January 2, 2003.) The continuing wars over the teaching of evolution in the US illustrate the clash between traditional and scientific knowledge systems.

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