The interplay between knowledge and power / La interacción entre el conocimiento y el poder

Community member post by Cristina Zurbriggen

cristina-zurbriggen
Cristina Zurbriggen (biography)

An English version of this post is available

La mayoría de los recientes enfoques para abordar problemas complejos no incluyen la dimensión política. Por otra parte, la ciencia política, así como los estudios de política pública y de gobierno contemporáneo han realizado escasas contribuciones al tratamiento de los procesos de toma de decisiones desde dinámicas complejas.

¿Cómo podemos desarrollar marcos innovadores que incorporen la dimensión política? ¿Cómo podemos articular la producción conocimiento considerando también la forma en que pensamos acerca de la política, la rendición de cuentas y la responsabilidad social? En concreto, ¿cuál es la dimensión política del proceso de co-creación de conocimiento y cuáles son las implicaciones de la participación política, la experimentación y el aprendizaje colectivo?

El conocimiento y la información no son objetivos, pero son objeto de controversia, politizados y plurales. Es bien sabido que, aunque no hay suficientemente “oferta” de análisis de conocimiento y de largo plazo para los políticos, relativamente poco se usa en procesos políticos.

Una dimensión adicional son las diferentes epistemologías de las intervenciones públicas dominantes: ¿Cómo podemos ir más allá de los enfoques tecnocráticos y gerenciales? Necesitamos un marco más pragmático y una orientación estratégica de intervención política que tomo en consideración la naturaleza de los problemas actuales, es decir, la complejidad, la incertidumbre y los múltiples grupos de poder e intereses contradictorios que están en juego. Al mismo tiempo, se tendrá que reconoce que los organismos gubernamentales que toman las decisiones experimentan limitada capacidad para ejercer autoridad, y por tanto, deberán trabajar en consensuar diferentes intereses para alcanzar una legitimidad política impugnada con el fin último de avanzar hacia una transformación social.

El enfoque de “redes de políticas” (Marsh y Smith, 2000) ofrece una manera diferente de abordar las complejidades involucradas en los procesos de formulación de políticas. La misma ayuda a entender cómo y por qué determinados conocimiento entran en la política, así cómo se abrieran los procesos de políticas hacia determinadas formas de conocimiento.

Este enfoque expresa el fracaso de la política pública para hacer frente a problemas complejos. Es una reacción a la visión tradicional del gobierno como entidades jerárquicas “arriba hacia abajo” y una crítica de los modelos racionales para explicar la participación de múltiples actores en la formulación e implementación de políticas. Las innovaciones más poderosas requieren un cambio de sistema, en lugar de impactos en un parte del sistema o en un política pública sectorial o en un servicio público. Por tanto, necesitamos una visión más sistémica de la política que incorpore la dimensión de poder.

Las “redes de políticas” ayudan a explicar, en situaciones en las que el conocimiento y el poder aparece disperso, que la capacidad de co-production (síntesis) de conocimiento y la gestión de la anticipación no es simplemente anticipar lo que va a aparecer en el horizonte, también es una compleja actividad política normativa, relacionada con definir cuáles son las metas preferibles en la sociedad a largo plazo, así como quién gana y pierde en este proceso. El análisis de las redes de políticas también permite llegar al corazón de los debates clave en las ciencias sociales: ¿Qué tan importante es el conflicto político sobre la distribución del poder en los procesos de co-creación de conocimiento?

Este enfoque, combinado con los trabajos de John Dewey y Elinor Ostrom, proporcionan un marco para facilitar no sólo la generación de nuevos conocimientos, sino también la creación de alianzas pluralistas, la construcción de una nueva capacidad democrática y el poder para impulsar el cambio político.

Dewey (1927) desarrolló el concepto de “espacio público” y la forma de cómo abordar problemas complejos e inciertos a través de lo que él llamó “consulta cooperativa”. Desde este enfoque, la creación de conocimiento se basa en un proceso colaborativo en la solución de problemas concretos en los que los participantes se plantean cuestiones y se replantean de manera conjunta sus valores y sus conceptos. Por lo tanto, el reto para Dewey es reconstruir una manera de permitir el pensamiento y la gestión del cambio, la contingencia, la heterogeneidad y la imprevisibilidad.

Ostrom (1996, 2010) acuñó el concepto de co-producción, acción arena y desarrolló un marco general para el análisis de los “sistemas socio-ecológicos”, los llamados sistemas policéntricos.

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Las investigaciones de problemas políticos complejos muestra en repetidas ocasiones que el conocimiento y la información no puede ser visto como algo separado de las luchas políticas en torno a la definición ambigua de los problemas públicos, metas y valores. La co-creación de conocimiento debe asegurarse que la incorporación de la dimensión de poder es fundamental para la discusión y hacer que la relación entre conocimiento, poder y futuro se convierta en un tema central de futuros estudios.

 


 

The interplay between knowledge and power / La interacción entre el conocimiento y el poder

A Spanish version of this post is available

Most recent approaches to tackling complex problems fail to include the political dimension. Furthermore, political science, as well as contemporary public policy and governance studies, have made few contributions to the treatment of decision-making processes as dynamically complex.

How can we develop innovative frameworks for taking the political dimension into account? How can we add to the focus on how we produce knowledge by also considering how we think about politics, accountability and social responsibility? Specifically, what is the political dimension of the process of knowledge co-creation and what are the implications of politics for participation, experimentation and collective learning?

Knowledge and information are not objective, but are contested, politicized, and pluralized. It is well known that although there is enough ‘supply’ of knowledge and long-term analysis to policy-makers, relatively little is used in policy processes.

An additional dimension is the different political epistemologies of interventions. How can we get beyond the dominant technocratic and managerial approaches? We need a more pragmatic framework and strategic orientation which can take into account large scales and long time frames, as well as complexity, uncertainty and multiple stakeholders, while also recognizing that government and non-government decision makers and actors experience limited capacity to exercise authority. They must craft or leverage consensus across contested political legitimacy to achieve social transformation.

Marsh and Smith’s (2000) “policy networks” perspective offers a useful way to tackle some of the complexities involved in policy making processes. It helps to explain how and why particular types of knowledge get established in policy, as well as to think about how policy processes might be opened up to more diverse forms of knowledge.

Marsh and Smith’s (2000) approach expresses the failure of public policy to deal with complex problems. It is a reaction to the traditional view of government as a top-down entity and a critique of rational models for explaining multi-actor participation in policy-making. The most powerful innovations require systems change rather than impact on part of the system or on sectorial public policy or service.

Policy networks help explain that, in most situations where knowledge and power are dispersed, synthesizing knowledge and managing unknowns is not simply about anticipating what will appear on the horizon. It is also a complex normative political activity of defining what long term societal goals are preferable, how to reach these goals, and against what costs for whom. Analyzing policy networks also cuts to the heart of key debates in social science: How important is political conflict over the distribution of power in the co-creation knowledge processes?

This approach, combined with the work of John Dewey and Elinor Ostrom, provides a framework to facilitate not only the generation of new knowledge, but also the creation of pluralist alliances, the building of a new democratic capacity and the power to drive political change.

Dewey’s (1927) ‘pragmatist perspective’ of ‘the public space’ solves specific problems through what he sees as ‘co-operative inquiry’. The creation of knowledge is rooted in a collaborative process of concrete problem-solving in which participants are led to question and jointly reframe their values and understandings. Thus, the challenge for Dewey was to reconstruct a way to enable thinking and handling change, contingency, heterogeneity and unpredictability.

Ostrom (1996, 2010) coined the concepts of co-production and action arena and developed a general framework for the analysis of “social-ecological systems”, called polycentric systems.

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Research into dealing with complex policy problems repeatedly shows that knowledge and information cannot be seen as separate from political struggles over the definition of ambiguous societal problems, goals, and values. Co-creation of knowledge must ensure that power is central to the discussion and make the relationship between knowledge, power and vision for the future central to its analysis.

References:
Dewey, J. (1927). The Public and its Problems. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012 (Reprinted from The Collected Works of John Dewey: The Later Works, Volume 2: 1925-1927, 1984, Southern Illinois University Press).
Additional Information on Dewey is available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/dewey/

Marsh D. and Smith, M. (2000). Understanding Policy Networks: Towards A Dialectical Approach. Political Studies, 48, 1: 4-21.

Ostrom, E. (1996). Coproduction, Synergy, and Development. World Development, 24, 6: 1073-1087.

Ostrom, E. (2010). Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. American Economic Review, 100, 3: 641–672.

Biography in English: Cristina Zurbriggen PhD is a professor at the Universidad de la Republica Uruguay. Her research has addressed governance and policy networks, co-creation in public policies, Innovation Labs, sustainable agriculture (meat traceability, soil erosion, water sustainability). She uses co-creation methodology and other systems methods to investigate the future of complex public issues, often working directly with government by applying innovative methods. She is a member of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

Biography in Spanish: Cristina Zurbriggen es profesora de la Universidad de la República Uruguay. Su investigación se centra en gobernanza y redes de políticas, co-creación de políticas públicas, laboratorios de innovación pública, innovación en políticas hacia una desarrollo sostenible (trazabilidad de la carne, erosión del suelo, agua). Ella utiliza la metodología de co-creación y otros métodos de sistemas para investigar el futuro de los problemas públicos complejos, a menudo trabajando directamente con el gobierno mediante la aplicación de métodos innovadores.

This blog post is one of a series resulting from the first meeting in April 2016 of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit. This pursuit is part of the theme Building Resources for Complex Action-Oriented Team Science funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

9 thoughts on “The interplay between knowledge and power / La interacción entre el conocimiento y el poder

  1. Interesting blog Cristina Zurbriggen. Thanks for this. I find your piece very interesting for a range of reasons. Firstly, at deeply practical level, it provides some insights into the complexity of the pragmatics of doing knowledge management. The politics of power is a primary disruptor of effective KM at so many levels, even down the miniature of the interpersonal level.

    Secondly at an intellectual level, the reference to the dynamics of pragmatism that you reference goes to the challenges of reconciling the intellectual worlds of constructivism and realism. One of the most challenging books I have read about this challenge is Peter Munz’s book: Beyond Wittgenstein’s Poker: New Light on Popper and Wittgenstein.

    I have in a rather unorthodox and personal way tried to find my way through these mazes going back 10 years no. Your reference to Dewey and the notion of public space reminds me of a book chapter and an article, I wrote some years ago.

    The first called: Textual representations and knowledge support-systems in research intensive networks [https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Textual-Representations-and-Knowledge-in-Research-Vines-Hall/8514c18f86d8a0f0271d4b045371f9daebbe9bb9]. This chapter (now in hindsight in a rather convoluted way) argues for the notion of a public knowledge space.

    The second called: Cities, Human Well Being and the Environment: Conceiving National Regulatory Knowledge Systems to Facilitate Resilient Knowledge, Knowledge Based Development and Inter-Generational Knowing [https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Cities%2C-Human-Well-Being-and-the-Environment%3A-to-Vines-McCarthy/dacfb5f049ad6c3cc912e2b2639d8bdfe7d1f825]. This reflection (also now in hindsight in a rather convoluted way) also argues for deeper consideration of ways to reconcile the worlds of constructivism and pragmatism. It specifically outlines a case for the context of what the great pragmatist Charles Pierce argued was “abductive reasoning” within what I described as a logic of pragmatism.

    I hope you have success in advocating your perspectives and causes.

    This comment was originally posted on: https://realkm.com/2019/09/05/the-interplay-between-knowledge-and-power/#comment-47787

    • Richard, thank you very much for your comments and the links.

      A pragmatic constructivism perspective is very relevant in understanding the process of policy design in a public knowledge space to solve complex problems.

      For example, Peter Knoepfel has developed a systemic and non-positivistic approach to public policy to better explain the dynamic interaction between relevant actors in the policy arena. Knoepfel adopts a pragmatic perspective, using empirical knowledge of the structural mechanisms regarding the interplay between institutional rules, actors and resources to make decisions, which enables understanding of policy transformation (or abandonment) processes. The relevant question is which actors are going to contribute to solving the problem, based on which rules and using which resources?

      But into this process, Knoepfel also introduces a constructivism perspective. His approach to public policies draws explicitly on the assets of cognitive perspectives which, in public policy analysis, serve to indicate the structural importance of the ‘causal stories’ (Stone, 1989), ‘normative frameworks’ or ‘scalar narratives’ (Mahon & Johnson, 2006), frame-reflexión (Rein and Schon), that point out the right key to define public problems and legitimate policies. Knoepfel believes that the analyst’s work consists in identifying competing causal stories so as to understand how a dominant ‘problem causation hypothesis’ emerges in a contentious debate about complex problems and provides possible solutions. The construction of what is then called a ‘normative frame’ is at the very heart of the policy production process (Jobert, 1999). The pragmatic constructivism perspective implies not only understanding how the actors are responsible for the construction of the problems and the solutions, but also how the framing of the problem impacts the course of the policy.

      • Philippe Warin. A pragmatic constructivism. Stéphane Narath; Frédéric Varone. Rediscovering Public Law and Public Administration in Comparative Policy Analysis: Tribute to Peter Knoepfel, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes / Haupt Verlag, pp.319-332, 2009, Contributions à l’action publique. ￿halshs-00434096￿

      • Scharpf F.W. (1990). Politische Steuerung und Politische Institutionen, Politische Vierteljahresschrift (PVS), 3 (30): 10-15.

      • Mayntz R. (2001). “Zur Selektivit.t der steuerungstheoretischen Perspektive”, in H.P. Burth und A. Gorlitz (dir.), Politische Steuerung in Theorie und Praxis, Baden-Baden: Nomos: 17-27.

      • Thanks Cristina for these follow up comments. I read the Philippe Warin piece with great interest: (A pragmatic constructivism).

        On page 13 Warin states:

        “Let us therefore dare to compare pragmatic constructivism at the service of a logical reasoning in policy analysis to LÉvi-Strauss’s break with the travel novel genre, with the aim of establishing an intellectual experience of another kind, that of structural logic.”

        He also states (page7)
        “The pragmatism of the approach is measured, therefore, in terms of the deliberately a minima treatment reserved for the actors’ personal variables (interests, motivations, intentions, beliefs). These exist and influence the actors’ behaviours but they are excluded from the analysis because they are not independent of the actors. Pragmatism here resembles a form of realism.

        And (page 8)
        The pragmatic constructivism characterizing this approach to policy is then locked in by the granting of (systemic and non-positivistic) methodological priority to the endogenous explication of explanatory variables. This complicates the connection with the substantive approaches to politics in the production of policies.

        I did find great connectedness in these and other views to an idea I have been interested in namely: the principles underpinning the harnessing of evolutionary possibility. Such an idea necessarily would require commitments to the sorts of logic that you and Parin seem to aspire and what I have described as a “logic of pragmatism” (which includes reference to the interplay of different reasonings such as deduction, induction, abduction and relationships to continuous actions in the world.

        I agree with you that it would be helpful if there was better understanding of and commitments to these sorts of deeply theoretical constructs. There continues to be, in my opinion, a deepening crisis in the integrity of public policy plays in the real world. But the movement towards the sorts of worlds you are describing requires sound foundations. All of this is occurring at a time when we continue to be impacted by the roll out of constructivist inspired story telling, messaging, public relations and “schmoozing”. Adam Curtis’s “Century of Self” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s} provides a hugely interesting analysis of the sort of view of the world we are grappling with more and more.

        Thanks again.

  2. Hola Cristina!! Very interesting. Love the reference to Dewey! I wonder about the pragmatist approach to inquiry, evidence-use, and policy making in general. Pragmatic assumes a reasonable agreement on utility and functionalism. Whose utility? Whose functionalism?

    • Hola Kirsten,

      Dewey considers his pragmatic philosophy as a tool for humans to solve problems in changing social environments. He argues that truth is not discovered, as absolutists claim, nor is it invented, as relativists claim, but that it is rather ‘constructed as the by-product of a process of solving problems’ undertaken by people in particular places and times. The assumptions and beliefs should be thoroughly examined and criticized in the present context, with potential for revision when necessary. Thus, the challenge for Dewey was to reconstruct a way to enable thinking and handling change, contingency, heterogeneity and unpredictability. For that matter, he developed his reflective inquiry approach, turning to the scientific empirical methodology of observation, deliberation, hypothesizing and experimenting (Dewey, 1920).

      Two relevant concepts are deliberation and experimentation.

      Margherita Pieraccini and Emma Cardwell (2016) Towards deliberative and pragmatic co-management: a comparison between inshore fisheries authorities in England and Scotland, Environmental Politics, 25:4, 729-748, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2015.1090372.

      Ansell, C and Bartenberger (2016) Varieties of Experimentalism, Ecological Economics, Vol. 130, 2016.

  3. Hola Cristina me parece muy interesante y pertinente la vision que aportas en la confluencia de conocimiento y poder. Creo que es muy pertinente a la luz de los diversos aconteceres en el mundo que dan la sensación de un debilitamiento en el funcionamiento de las democracias. A menudo he observado
    como el poder tambien condiciona la produccion de conocimiento por razones políticas y/o económicas.
    Esto es realmente preocupante porque muchas veces no se investigan problemas que tienen financiación.
    Felicitaciones por tu contribución desde un abordaje que contempla la complejidad y muestra un posible camino de esperanza a traves de las redes.

    • Google translate renders this as:
      Cristina Hello I find very interesting and relevant vision you bring in the confluence of knowledge and power. I think it is very relevant in the light of the various happenings in the world that give the impression of a weakening in the functioning of democracies. I have often observed as the power also affects the production of knowledge for political and / or economic reasons. This is really worrying because they often do not have funding problems are investigated. Congratulations on your contribution from an approach that considers the complexity and shows a possible way of hope through networks.

    • Hola Ana
      Es un tema muy relevante, la relación entre poder y conocimiento
      El punto central para avanzar hacia una mayo diálogo ciencia y política es necesario reconocer que no existe un conocimiento “científico” y “objetivo” sino varias visiones de la realidad. Jasanoff (2010) señala que las investigaciones científicas nunca echan raíces en un campo interpretativo neutro; forman parte de contextos que ya han sido condicionados a producir respuestas culturales distintivas de las afirmaciones científicas. Por tanto, los procesos de toma de decisiones y los procesos de conocimiento son procesos dinámicos e íntimamente conectados a través de una gama de escalas socio-políticas, destacando las relaciones importantes entre la ciencia y la política que están enraizadas en contextos sociales, culturales y políticos.
      En este proceso, las relaciones entre poder y conocimiento son centrales en la literatura de la coproducción (co-creación) y reconocen la articulación entre ciencia y política como un punto necesario de entender para un mayor diálogo de saberes (Hilgartner et al., 2015; Jasanoff, 2006).

      • Google translate renders this as:
        Hello Ana
        It is a very relevant issue, the relationship between power and knowledge
        The central point to move towards May 1 science and policy dialogue must recognize that there is no “scientific” knowledge and “objective” but several visions of reality. Jasanoff (2010) points out that scientific research never take root in a neutral interpretive field; part of contexts that have already been conditioned to produce distinctive cultural responses scientific claims. Therefore, the processes of decision making and knowledge processes are dynamic and intimately connected processes across a range of socio-political scales, highlighting the important relationships between science and politics are rooted in social, cultural contexts and politicians.
        In this process, the relationship between power and knowledge are central to the literature of co-production (co-creation) and recognize the link between science and politics as a necessary point of understanding for greater dialogue of knowledge (Hilgartner et al., 2015 ; Jasanoff, 2006).

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