Promoting bottom-up information flows in international development NGOs

Dear colleagues,

I have been working with IKM Emergent on a process of research and reflection with various international NGOs called How Wide Are the Ripples. The research aims to explore and deepen our understanding of the issues involved in increasing the impact and influence of voices from the grassroots in the policy and decision making of international NGOs. This emerged from a strong shared feeling that participatory processes at the grassroots are often commissioned, paid for and facilitated by INGOs, but that the very valuable information and insight collected is rarely used outside of the direct context/ project. From KM point of view this is both a wasted opportunity and a logistical headache! From the perspective of ethics and values, it is perhaps even more serious.

Several INGOs have been working with us to reflect and draw up case studies to inform the research, including CONCERN, PANOS, HEALTHLINK, ACTIONAID and PLAN INTERNATIONAL. Through these case studies, and a literature review spanning knowledge management, bottom-up learning, accountability and participatory approaches, we were able to identify a range of issues and concerns which affect the flow of information from the grassroots, and the influence it can have on organizational decision making. The report is available here http://wiki.ikmemergent.net/files/How_wide_are_the_ripples.doc (the final report is available but not yet online - this is a draft)

To follow up on this research, we are going to be holding a two-day workshop (18/19 March 2010) in London to discuss the issues identified, share approaches to overcoming obstacles to information flow, and identify any remaining gaps or needs for further research or innovation. We hope that this will also lead to a special edition of a journal, or other publication. Within that workshop space, we hope to have a slot for people to showcase and share innovative, practical, workable solutions or products which they have used, or could be used, to promote the flow and use of information from the grassroots to the country or international HQs. For example this may be using critical stories or oral testimony, participatory video or larger institutional systems such as ActionAid's learning and planning system.

We have quite a large group from large and small INGOs, research institutions and networks, who have committed to attend the workshop and contribute to a possible journal edition or publication, and expect this to be a really useful and interesting process for those of us struggling with the institutional, cultural and practical issues of getting information and perspectives from the grassroots used more systematically and seriously in policy and decision making. What may be missing is someone to bring in the KM4Dev perspective, in a very practical way and very strongly within the context of promoting diverse knowledge and perspectives and bottom-up learning and information flows.

If you are that person, and think you could benefit from getting involved, or if you know one... please do get in touch with my colleague Kate (kate.a.newman@googlemail.com). Alternatively, if you can suggest any good practical solutions, products or processes which can increase the flow and use of infromation from the grassroots in this kind of context, please do let us know so that we can try to include it in the showcase slot.

Look forward to hearing from you with any questions or suggestions!

Hannah Beardon

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Comment by Nancy White on December 16, 2009 at 5:02pm
Hi Hannah

I'm VERY interested in this, but I won't be in London/able to go there. Is there any way I can contribute at a distance? I ask because I have been working on identifying patterns where people who innovate get support and those innovations have a chance to -- as you say -- ripple out. So I'm really interested in the topic.

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