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We need to prepare today the knowledge systems of the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Martin Dietz until recently led the HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation team implementing the Performing and Responsive Social Sciences (PERFORM) project in Serbia and Albania. The aim of the project was to test ways to strengthening the relevance of social sciences for social and political reforms in the two countries. The project has been funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and ended in December 2018.

Preparing the knowledge systems for the 4IR requires looking beyond technical solutions, Martin Dietz

Martin is now a Senior Advisor for Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Development with Helvetas and shares here his feedback on the discussion that I have co-produced with Maria Malho, Vanesa Weyrauch and Fred Carden with support from Helvetas: State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?.

‘Thank you for sharing the discussion paper on State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution with me.  The question of whether knowledge systems matter is probably more semantic; they very much do matter, already today.

The paper provides for fascinating reading, in particularly your reflections in which ways a 4IR may impact on knowledge systems and policymaking in future.

The thought I want to share here is twofold. Knowledge systems are relevant and important not just with the advent of 4IR but very much today, and many of your recommendations can be taken up already today. Fostering knowledge systems and their links with policy institutions is not just a matter of technical skills and technical infrastructure. Trust and incentives are strong factors that should not be overlooked.  

I have been working with a team to support the strengthening of knowledge systems and in particular the linkages in the pentagon between stakeholder groups in Serbia and Albania. When I talked with colleagues and friends here in the Western Balkans about the discussion paper and its hypotheses, the response was rather lukewarm: should we spend time discussing what a 4IR will bring to countries in the region whose policy institutions are just in the process of embracing the 3IR?

The thinking is that we should not link the importance of knowledge systems in support of policymaking with the advent of 4IR. They are important today.

Numerous of your recommendations for the evolution of knowledge systems (Chapter 4.2 and Annex II) can be addressed today. With a good understanding of what knowledge systems entail and what the benefits are, governments can start working today on an enabling environment for the evolution of knowledge systems. Frameworks need to address technical capabilities and infrastructures. However, what I can see from my perspective is that we should not just focus on technological dimensions. That will be too narrow. Governments need to create an incentive system for stakeholders in knowledge systems to work together. If, for instance, policy-relevant research is not considered by performance assessment systems, it will not work. The nodes of the knowledge system pentagon don’t connect in the region where I am working. Technology alone will not overcome this.

Apart from governments, many of the development agencies have not understood the concept of knowledge systems, and do not appreciate the significance of knowledge systems for policymaking. When I hear the argument that they will consider it as a cross-cutting issue, then it’s a dead horse from the beginning.  

Your foresight thinking is important to understand how the 4IR will impact on policymaking and knowledge systems. By its very nature, the discussion paper includes many vague assumptions.

It would be interesting to focus in future more on particular sectorial fields, take the example of youth employment and actually work on knowledge systems on the ground that will foster policies that are based on evidence and good practice. That would provide rich learnings.’

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