Spread the bounty, credit the growers: A feminist approach to knowledge management

Oxfam Gender


Knowledge management might not be the first thing one thinks of when tackling issues around Violence against Women and Girls and Gender Based Violence, but it can be essential for practitioners to share their learning outcomes. Here, Caroline Marrs and Christine Hughes from Oxfam Canada, share with us their experience in a networked approach to sharing knowledge.

Knowledge sharing is essential to ending Violence Against Women and Girls and Gender-based Violence (VAWG/GBV).  We all need to stay up to date on emerging understandings and practices, and apply them to our efforts to address and eliminate violence.  Yet, we’re increasingly coming to recognize the incredible importance to our work of how knowledge is managed and shared, not just what that knowledge is.  The world needs more of a feminist approach to knowledge management.

Who has knowledge? 

“Knowledge is Power” – we’ve all heard that before, and many of us see this adage play out in positive ways in development work.  When it comes to good knowledge management, however, it is not only about who has how much information, but who is deemed to have knowledge worth sharing and using.  

Knowledge is still commonly conceptualized as something that is graciously given by so-called experts at the “centre” and gratefully received by users in the “periphery”.  That understanding can and must change if we are all to benefit from field-tested, practice-based knowledge and theory.  

After close to three years managing Oxfam’s Knowledge Hub on VAWG/GBV – some of the work of which is highlighted in this issue of Gender & Development – it is clear that there is as much knowledge and innovation sitting with people working closest with the “peripheral” communities that we work in than anywhere else in the system.  

Unfortunately, we have found that it remains a challenge to get proper recognition for the contributions that field-based practitioners make to knowledge generation.  They offer real-time analysis about what works and why, and contrary to other views, their ideas for research can indeed be “agenda setting”.  The transformative concepts they generate often deserve more than just a listen, they are already driving change. it is clear that there is as much knowledge and innovation sitting with people working closest with the
“peripheral” communities that we work in than anywhere else in the system. 

A feminist approach to knowledge management

Our Knowledge Hub has been founded on a feminist perspective of knowledge, one that not only tries to advance women’s rights through what we know, but that also tries to equalize power imbalances in where knowledge comes from, and in whose knowledge and ways of knowing are recognized.

Although we can’t claim to have coined the term, Feminist Knowledge Management has been essential in helping to surface the insights and emerging practices of our colleagues around the world. In our Feminist Knowledge Management system, knowledge is exchanged in an active, facilitated network where everyone is encouraged to share the valuable information they have. There isn’t a one-way transfer of knowledge as in the traditional “Technical Assistance” model.

At a recent learning event on attitude, norm and behaviour change that we organized, every participant (en masse coming from over 40 countries) provided content in a wide range of formats (posters, pamphlets, presentation, etc.) with the Knowledge Hub providing templates, tools, and feedback.  For colleagues who were eager to facilitate learning sessions, we developed a menu of session types from which to choose in order to value different types and sources of knowledge.  This strategy of emphasizing their contributions set up participants as
providers and co-creators of knowledge, and elicited very high quality inputs that have been avidly shared.  

Challenges of sharing knowledge from the margins

Does a feminist, networked approach to knowledge just add yet more demands on practitioners?  Probably.  Is it challenging to adequately resource this approach in a world that still under-values knowledge that is located far from the bright lights of the “centre” or is not polished enough to count?  Absolutely.  

Yet, “honour practitioner knowledge” has been a critical principle that has guided us well over these past few years, and one that this issue of Gender & Development continues to demonstrate.  We’ve found that the combination of showing strong and sustained interest in colleagues’ views and offering a lot of “behind the scenes” support to help concretize and profile their knowledge has been a promising one.  And digital spaces, although not without a hefty price tag, provide opportunities for people to share what they know and seek out what they

In conclusion, great ideas that advance women’s rights are out there for the sharing, but we need to make more of an effort to find, nurture, and make space for them.  In our experience, a feminist approach to knowledge management helps to spread the bounty, credit the growers, and nourish the work of us all.

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Photo credit: Coco McCabe / Oxfam

Author: Caroline Marrs
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.