Towards a Feminist Knowledge Management

The tag of "Feminist" is the latest Buzz word in my organisation, born out of a restless need to "pin down" the unease we have with the current system and paradigm and trying to "define" the change that we want to see. 

So you have "Feminist Leadership" being practiced in the organisation led by 10 principles. 

You have feminist MEL which acknowledges MEL as a political process and understands that MEL activities are not neutral or devoid of context but can themselves either challenge or maintain power relationships; Feminist Research which states that Research itself can be activism and of course the use of feminist and intersectional lens in programming.

This naturally led me to the question - "What does a Feminist Knowledge Management look like?" and the obvious answer was, that it links to the Decolonization of Knowledge.

In her critique of post-modern feminism, Philomina E. Okeke argues that {in their} ‘intent {to} defend subjugated voices, dominant voices do not seem conscious of the relations of power that position them as “gatekeepers”. She argues that the end product in knowledge gathering, documentation and sharing is determined by the major actors in the process and not the women themselves. (Okeke 1996) 

In more operational terms for an organisation, Caroline Marrs and Christine Hughes from Oxfam Canada share here their experience in a networked approach to sharing knowledge and say "Unfortunately, we have found that it remains a challenge to get proper recognition for the contributions that field-based practitioners make to knowledge generation.  They offer real-time analysis about what works and why, and contrary to other views, their ideas for research can indeed be “agenda setting”.  The transformative concepts they generate often deserve more than just a listen, they are already driving change. it is clear that there is as much knowledge and innovation sitting with people working closest with the
“peripheral” communities that we work in than anywhere else in the system".

The experience in other large NGOs may be similar. It is clear that, if you look at the broader picture of Knowledge Management, away from just a technology enabled-process efficiency driven set of practices and look at KM more broadly especially in the development/aid sector, "intersectionality" becomes key. With this background it is important that we need to take a "Feminist lens" to Knowledge Management and see where and how power influences the shaping of narratives and the spheres of influence. 

For this blog let me use the Power cube developed by Power, Participation and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS. The powercube is a framework for analyzing the levelsspaces and forms of power, and their interrelationship

Looking at Levels - In Knowledge Management the visible power holders are the "Academia" and the "State". While the Academia exerts its power through shaping narratives and determining which kind of knowledge, expressed by whom and how gets valued as important Vs what gets sidelined; the state by its very nature of using certain information, privileging certain kinds of knowledge over others, for policy and governance decision making, control what kind of knowledge gets produced and shared.

At the same time these visible expressions of Power are influenced by Invisible threads that underpin it. The realm of social norms, culture and socialization. Decolonization is then not just about influencing  visible power - opening spaces, new ways of knowledge generation and sharing, new audience and new influencers/decision makers but it is also about empowering people and public education to shift minds and capture mindscape. 

Then, there is the level of Hidden power-monsters under the bed with vested agendas (not really but), influencers, lobbyists, ready to capture spaces. When we set about trying to decolonize knowledge, these are the counter influencers-are we aware and do we have a strategy? what gives us - (let us call ourselves the decolonisers for now) the legitimacy and credibility to counter sometimes powerful lobbyists like the BigCorporates, white supremacists, diversityphobes...

Let us come now to the angle of Places

What is happening locally? what needs to happen? why is not happening and what can be done to encourage it to happen?. for example stories of Asian women is not being told by Asian women then what needs to happen.

What needs to happen Nationally? - national movements, national chapters of km4dev?

What needs to be happen Globally? - we live in an interconnected world (more evident now post COVID when a small virus managed to capture the whole world). Like the virus travelled - world views, influences, mental models, narratives... travel, what happens Globally has an effect locally. So, what needs to happen here- global network like km4dev perchance? 


What are the closed spaces - the unavailable ones. Academia is now opening up. Can we have partnerships with the truly enlightened to breach closed spaces. Where are the powerless being invited? who is inviting? whom are they inviting?, how do we build truly inclusive spaces. What places have already been claimed? - maybe Social Media? National spaces through democratic processes, countering institutional capture through collectivisation... what more and further how are we the claiming spaces and supporting those who are all set to claim their rightful spaces. 

A Decolonising knowledge framework that accounts for "Challenging and Shifting Power inside the field of Knowledge Management" for me makes for a "Feminist Knowledge Management"

What do you think?

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Comment by SarahCummings on April 22, 2021 at 5:54pm

Very interesting article, Srividya! I think we can learn a lot from this approach as KM4Dev.

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