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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sharing knowledge across the digital divide

Margreet Van Doodewaard, Online knowledge sharing tools: any use in Africa? Knowledge Management for Development Journal, 2, 3 (2006).

Abstract:   There is no doubt that ICTs, particularly the Internet, can contribute to the effective dissemination and exchange of information and knowledge. Yet, even though the Internet holds such promise as a knowledge sharing vehicle, Africa and African organizations have not yet fully caught on. The reasons for this seem to be threefold. Firstly, civil society organizations (CSOs) in Africa often work for target groups which do not have the infrastructure, means, capacity and facilities to exploit the benefits of the Internet. To reach these groups more traditional methods of knowledge sharing need to be used such as face-to-face meetings, radio programmes and paper publications. Secondly, the capacity of CSOs to apply, promote and monitor the use of on-line knowledge sharing tools is often still relatively low. Furthermore, the use of the Internet as a knowledge sharing resource is often further hampered by the cultural and social principles underlying the knowledge and tools offered online, and the cultural and social realities of recipients in Africa. As a result, CSOs that do use the Internet tend to approach the Internet first and foremost as a marketing tool to create upward visibility, aimed at to those stakeholders that impact the organization financially or organizationally such as international donors and government agencies. In order to counteract this, donors should clearly separate their information need for monitoring and evaluation purposes from their knowledge sharing for development activities. Donors and practitioners should continue to promote the use of digital tools for knowledge sharing yet, at the same time keep, an open mind for the limitations of these technologies. Efforts to develop local solutions, including the Africanization of the Internet, should be encouraged as it increases a sense of ownership and can integrate local knowledge sharing habits.