The knowledge practice paradox

By Robert Duiveman

Robert Duiveman (biography)

Both researchers and politicians frequently claim that the interactions between science and public policy need reform and improvement: an agenda actualized by people all over the world by engaging in new collaborative knowledge practices. But a closer relationship doesn’t necessarily equal a better one; it depends on the design of the collaboration as well as the choices made along the way.

Given the societal and scientific importance attached to new knowledge practices, there is a striking lack of insight into what is actually done within them. There seems to be what I label a knowledge practice paradox. In order to ensure that an experimental collaborative knowledge practice gets its results accepted and implemented ‘in real world circumstances’ it needs to be presented as scientifically sound, politically adroit and deliberatively legitimized.

Yet – as those involved know – research methods and design alone are usually insufficient to get there. It’s the practical wisdom (phronèsis) applied along the way that is key to real success. By emphasising the perfect picture at the end, we fail to learn from choices made while muddling through along the way. In other words: in working on the success of new designs for knowledge production we produce insufficient knowledge on successfully working with new designs.

To address this issue we explored the opening up, as well as the systemizing, of efforts and experience in a special issue of the Dutch peer reviewed journal Bestuurskunde (Public Administration). The focus was on emergent knowledge practices, especially those sites where researchers, policymakers and professionals meet and collaborate to address real world complex problems. Six articles reflected on their experiences using the Integration and Implementation Science (I2S) 5-question framework (Bammer, 2013).

Applying the framework enabled fruitful comparison (and thereby learning) among the projects, overcoming the diversity between disciplines and research topics. Because the authors were comfortable and productive in writing with the five questions in mind, the closing contribution by the editors, of whom I am one, could draw up a table in which the experiences were systemized.

So what is the yield of this special section and what’s next? The framework helped start a synthesis of experiences. These were then discussed at a national congress by young scientists involved in new knowledge practices. As such, a contribution was made to organising knowledge production on working with new collaborative designs. As well as looking for wider applications, a challenging next step would be to introduce and apply a framework or a procedure that, beyond describing experiences, enables collaborative evaluation of process and outcome of new urban knowledge practices.

The special section was published in Dutch and has English abstracts.

Biography: Robert Duiveman is Research Associate at the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. He is currently finishing his Ph.D. thesis on enhancing descriptive and prescriptive frameworks for studying emergent urban knowledge practices. By employing insights from ‘policy analysis’ and ‘science and technology studies’ he analyses the strained interactions between policy makers and scientists. His research articles outlining a novel understanding on how differences between academics and policy makers can be made conducive to learning instead of frustrating it are currently being prepared for submission to international scientific journals.

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