A tool for analysing knowledge systems

List all the actors or "stakeholders" in a particular knowledge system. There are a lot of these. Taking agriculture as an example, these might include (there are obviously lots of others that might be added):

  • Government policymakers: agriculture, education, etc.
  • Civil society: NGOs, community-based organisations, churches, etc.
  • Private sector: input suppliers, agri-processors, marketing, etc.
  • Scientific institutions: universities, research institutes, etc.
  • Extension agencies
  • Individuals: farmers, traders, processors, landlords, landless, urban consumers.

Draw a matrix and put each actor at the head of a column and also at the start of a row. For simplicity's sake, here's a matrix with just four of the actors:

To...  From...   
Government policymakers Agricultural research Agricultural extension  Farmers 
Government policymakers        
Agricultural research        
Agricultural extension        

You can use this matrix to analyse the levels of information flows from each group to the others. For example, information flows much more readily along the diagonal (from policymakers to other policymakers, from farmers to other farmers) than off the diagonal (from, say, farmers to research, or from research to extension).

The types of message are very different in each cell. Researchers talk science to each other; policymakers give directives and funding to extension; farmers exchange news about prices with each other.

The media also differ from cell to cell. Researchers communicate with each other by attending seminars and writing journal articles; they give technical briefings to policymakers; give training courses to extensionists; and conduct surveys or participatory appraisals to find out what farmers think. Farmers chat with each other over the fence or in the market, and attend group meetings with the extensionist (if there is one). A medium appropriate for one communication link (eg, email, video) may well be inappropriate for others.

There are power relationships implicit in the matrix. Communication from more powerful to less powerful groups (from policymakers to research to extension to farmers) is easier than the other way round.

The matrix can also be used to highlight problems and opportunities. Typically, communication problems lie off the diagonal: how can information about technology options be communicated to farmers? How can farmers inform policymakers of their needs and preferences? Some cells are pretty empty: in most countries, extension has very little interaction with private companies--despite the potential for such communication.

New (or changed) institutions or media may help to overcome problems. Rural telephones can overcome the isolation of remote villages, making it possible, for example, for livestock holders to choose the best time to sell their cattle. Email and internet can link intermediary institutions with information sources in faraway places. Privatised extension services may be more responsive to their clients than the top-down state-run ones.

Similar analyses can be done for other sectors: health, enterprises, education, or whatever.