IK economy and development concepts

International development concepts are markedly different from internal Australian policy.  In part this is a necessity: the governance structures, economies, demographics are substantially different in character.  International development often occurs in countries with no welfare safety net.  Aid often relies on the employment or funding directive of donor countries.

The Indigenous Knowledge for Development Results of the World Bank identifies a four step process for development: (1) disseminating knowledge; (2) learning; (3) mainstreaming the application of IK; (4) partnerships.

It is the third step that focuses on the IK economy

The World Bank produced what is in my view a landmark paper: Local Pathways to Global Development (2004).  The paper outlines 60 successful development projects that rely on IK for success.   

In my view, the four step process represents a refined concept of self-determination.

Some Indigenous leaders promote self-determination as a function of Indigenous-led decisions, absent of non-Indigenous influence.  Progressive opinion promotes a model of independant and autonomous NGOs and legal structures, with boards and committees comprising Indigenous people.

Neo-conservatives criticise this model on the basis that it creates apartheid and isolationism.  Further grounds include allegations that levels of standards and accountability measures are skewed. 

The 4-step process as a refined concept of self-determination mediates the tensions between progressive and conservative opinion, not just in politics, but in policy substance.

The properties of Aboriginal knowledge are largely localised.  They focus on families, particular parts of lands, relationships, identities, kin-ships, language, obligations, et cetera.  In a community development context the important point to make is that these properties reflect the capacity of ‘ownership’ to solutions.  Since Aboriginal people own their problems they are the only ones who can own the solutions.  Above all, governments role is to serve an enabling purpose.

The first and second step of this process (disseminating and learning knowledge) ensures the transfer of knowledge and the development of capacities.  These broad steps can be applied in any objective situation, but the exchange needs to occur in a setting where everyone is aware of its purpose.  There will be parts of knowledge wholly contingent on both external (donor support) and internal influences (Indigenous Knowledge), and parts that will overlap between both.   

The third step (mainstreaming the application of Indigenous knowledge) ensures a strategic approach to leveraging the capacity of Indigenous peoples to own solutions.  Macro-level applications of ‘mainstreaming’ are fruitless unless local and micro-level considerations are taken into account.  And unless Indigenous knowledge and ownership is converted to the centre of a particular project or program, the focus of the project itself will be isolated.  It is this step that forms the IK economy, and a particular project must resource IK and its influence as the primary support.   

The fourth step (partnerships) ensures a defined set of relationships and responsibilities.  As public money is nearly always used in the development context, these funds can ensure levels of accountability and standards.  Governments need to support community development practice in an enabling context, and the most effective way to achieve this is through partnerships.


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