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South-South knowledge intermediation: approaches to triangular cooperation in knowledge for development


This multi-disciplinary study explores a field of enquiry at the boundaries of information science and development studies. It is concerned with the facilitation of knowledge processes – processes of knowledge exchange and co-creation – in the international development sector. Additionally, this study considers the importance of human relationships and social networks (and power), and studies these in knowledge intermediation projects.

The main gaps that are addressed regard the understanding of intermediating knowledge process concerned with learners situated (partly) across cultural, language, and political boundaries in developing countries. Such projects/programmes/approaches, coined South-South knowledge exchanges by the World Bank, have only seen very limited amount of research; the foci of this research are human relationships and initiation acts, which add further novelty.

By mirroring ideas of triangular and South-South collaboration the thesis explores knowledge intermediation projects and three roles played by actors participating in such projects: the intermediary and facilitator of knowledge processes (usually backed by a funding body), someone sharing knowledge (knowledge holders), and someone learning from others (knowledge seeker). This study not only shows how these roles apply to knowledge intermediation projects but also addresses their influence on relational elements at the interpersonal level.

Two case studies are used to show how knowledge intermediation projects in the international development sector are shaped by their approach (demand initiated, facilitator/funder initiated), especially in terms of the relationships they foster. The sociology of knowledge approach to discourse analysis (SKAD) is used in the study of the case studies, which is supplemented by social network analysis. After linking the discovered relationship patterns to the initiation acts in the respective case studies a picture emerges that offers two broad insights. Firstly, facilitator/funder initiation of South-South knowledge intermediation projects appears to lead to many potential relationships, most of them irrelevant to an individual and, therefore, unestablished. Secondly, demand initiation of South-South knowledge intermediation projects appears to lead to very few, yet highly relevant, relationships.

Keywords/tags: knowledge for development, triangular collaboration, knowledge intermediation, facilitation, knowledge sharing, relationships, information behaviour, development paradigms, discourse analysis, social network analysis.


At the monthly gathering of CIM PhD students I presented the current state of my research project as well as some reflections on the PhD journey. I was asked to write down what I shared in that meeting.

Early on in the research project (from day one) I engaged with on-line communities of practice that deal with topics of relevance to the field of enquiry. This allowed for exploratory methods to be applied whilst a study of the literature and the development of the methodology were progressing. These three processes integrated and influenced each other. However, the data gathered through some of these methods (e.g. monitoring Email lists where discussions of relevant topics occurred) did not generate data of sufficient depth or breadth to be “formally” analysed.

Partly due to inputs from stakeholders I settled on conducting two case studies (at institutions that showed interest in the research). The research questions were influenced by managers (based on the case studies) via exploratory interviews. These research questions were then pursued through a more rigid methodology that included semi-structured interviews.

The insights generated through these were presented (together with the insights generated by the other methods applied) in the ‘findings’ chapter of the thesis, which I finished at the beginning of my third year (of the PhD process). At the time of the meeting I had finished the discussion chapter; in which I critically appreciate the findings and also look at both case studies separately and together.

Some of my colleagues asked me about challenges that I confronted in the process of writing the analysis and discussion chapters. In the analysis, dealing with large amounts of data and a complicated construct of findings was tricky, at times. Regarding the discussion, I found that having to go back to all the literature, methodology, etc. in light of the findings and consider everything at once is a task nearly impossible without structured thinking; using tools that help with this (e.g. mind maps, rich pictures, concept networks, etc.) before writing the chapter was very very helpful and, I think, saved me a lot of time in the process of re-working the discussion chapter once the first draft was finished.



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