Knowledge Hubs in Practice – The Bali Lessons

Over the past years, knowledge exchange has started to overhaul development cooperation with a renewed energy of connecting and sharing among practitioners. More and more developing countries are fully engaging in mutual learning around best practices and proven solutions. Around 300 representatives from 46 countries have now gathered on the island of Bali, Indonesia, to discuss how to improve institutional and operational capacities to exchange knowledge at a larger scale and in a sustainable way.

During the Bali High-Level Meeting on Knowledge Hubs, held on 10-12 July 2012, government officials and practitioners shared their innovations around organizations and platforms for high-quality knowledge exchange (see press note). Crystalizing the commitment of developing countries with sharing public sector expertise, the pioneer debate on knowledge hubs enabled participants to identify feasible options to build smart and flexible country-led knowledge institutions.

In addition to practice-based roundtables, the Bali event was informed by an ongoing multi-country study coordinated by the World Bank Institute in collaboration with national experts. For the first time ever, knowledge hub experiences in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Singapore and South Africa are being analyzed to identify feasible options and practical solutions [see summary ppt]. Above all, this effort intends to find entry doors for mutual learning among national agencies and sector departments that are fine-tuning their capacities to exchange knowledge with partners abroad.

Enriched by these inputs, the Bali discussions addressed the following knowledge hubs dimensions:

  • Institutional models: Some developing countries are using national agencies hosted at Ministries of Foreign Affairs, such as the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) and the Mexican International Agency for Development Cooperation (AMEXCID). There are also long-standing sector experiences, reflected for example in the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) which maintains a growing number of offices in partner countries. Apart from these government institutions, the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), a public-private company, pioneers an innovative approach to joining efforts among public sector and business partners.
  • National coordination: Knowledge hubs are critical to bring together national players interested in sharing knowledge and expertise with partners abroad. In many cases, this coordination takes place among central government institutions. Indonesia leads the way with its Coordinating Team shared by the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development Planning (BAPPENAS), as well as the State Secretariat. By contrast, the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) hosted at the South African Treasury has started to connect not only budget officials at participating Ministries of Finance, but is also reaching out to sub-national governments. Finally, the experiences of Brazil and Mexico show that it is possible to coordinate both central and sub-national levels in parallel, especially at the sector level, where Mexico’s Ministry of Environment (SEMARNAT) is a good example.
  • Sources of expertise: Finding and ‘packaging’ the right experience is a challenge which many knowledge hubs have started to address by building knowledge catalogues. These catalogues almost exclusively relate to public sector expertise, in particular in sector ministries and agencies dealing with specialized development areas. An exception is the Singaporean SCE which apart from government experience also draws on national business expertise, offering partners a blended mix of public and private knowledge. An overall conclusion is that existing national and sector knowledge hubs still might involve more actively non-governmental players, in particular national academia and civil society, where both the Brazilian EMBRAPA and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) are gathering important experiences already.
  • Funding: Sustained knowledge exchange requires financial means for coordination and implementation, to cover human resources, event and travel costs. Some countries such as China and Indonesia are already allocating substantial financial resources from state budgets to South-South knowledge exchange. At the same time, the Brazilian ABC is experimenting with a diversity of funding options, complementing relatively limited public sector resources with finance from multilateral organizations, bilateral development partners and private organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, multilateral organizations have started to offer specific financing mechanisms, such as the South-South Knowledge Experience Exchange Facility hosted at the World Bank.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: Knowledge hubs can play a vital role in ensuring that the results of knowledge exchange are tracked and shown. While many national agencies struggle with moving beyond the focus on implementation, sector-level knowledge hubs such as the Mexican SEMARNAT or the Brazilian EMPRAPA can already share models for a strong development result orientation. A valuable experience can be found in the CABRI initiative which uses a clear impact narrative (connect-share-reform) for its knowledge exchange activities. At the national level, this might require further efforts to provide tools and guidance. Here, the Indonesian Coordinating Team is already piloting M&E guidelines for result-oriented knowledge exchange throughout all layers of its South-South system.

Drawing on this pioneer debate around practical solutions, the participants of the Bali meeting agreed in a Communiqué [see pdf] to engage in a Community of Practice on Knowledge Hubs anchored in countries and supported by multilateral partners. In addition, an Options Paper on existing knowledge hub experiences is expected to be launched in October this year, in order to guide ongoing and future efforts to invest in institutional and operational capacities of developing countries to engage in large-scale knowledge exchange.

With these inputs, countries such as Colombia, Indonesia and Turkey already voiced their interest to enrich their ongoing institutional processes with the lessons learned in Bali and contribute their experiences to the cross-country dialogue on knowledge hubs. In other words, knowledge hubs have come to stay as a reference to institutionalize South-South collaboration and knowledge exchange in practical, concrete terms.

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