Policy and Decision Makers' case for Action

Wikipedia is often cited as an example for an internet-based project of reverse engineering an encyclopaedia. More importantly, Wikipedia is an example for a new principle of global networking and it is a showcase of how we all generate and use knowledge in the near future. It is fundamentally different from the principles we have applied for the last 500 years. This new paradigm of “knowledge societies” (UNESCO 2005) is mainly characterized by four pervasive mega-trends:

  1. Appreciation of knowledge as the most important factor of production, success and development in both rich and poor countries (UNCTAD 2011)
  2. Digital revolution, i.e. acceleration and globalisation of those aspects of life transformed by the increasing use of digital, internet-based information and communication technologies, e.g. social media (Rosa 2005, World Bank 2016)
  3. Rise of collaborative communities as a basis for utilizing the “wisdom of the crowd” based on shared values, e.g. for tackling global challenges (see, for instance, the case studies provided by Rüther/Martinez/ Müller 2014, ch. 7-16, and Seibold 2014)
  4. Conflicting knowledge cultures for institutionalising intellectual property rights, access to information and commonly-owned knowledge (Hess/Ostrom 2006)

Each of these mega-trends is controversially debated both in literature and in practice. This entails difficult challenges for policy and decision makers in governments, business, administration and civil society. In a globalized world, however, these actors more and more realize that they cannot find solutions to their problems on their own. Companies struggle to stay innovative and relevant in a rapidly changing and diverse market environment. Development actors and governments face ever more protracted and interlinked challenges like climate change, energy shortages and food insecurity. International organisations and civil society actors look for ways to achieve more impact and reach. International education providers attempt to empower participants of their programmes to cope with rapidly increasing interdependence and complexity. In its paper „Open Innovation in Global Networks“, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD 2008) concludes that new global innovation management policies are needed.


Policy and decision makers’ case for action, today, has to consider at least two major challenges.

Challenge I: Policy Making today faces a catch-22 situation

On the one hand, ongoing mega trends require action and rapid solutions. Policy and decision makers are expected to enable economic, social and cultural innovations based on opportunities provided by the knowledge society, such as

  • sharing lessons learned between states and other key development actors on a South-South, North-South, triangular und multipolar basis (UNOSSC/JICA 2013)
  • jointly developing new solutions to global challenges (e.g. climate change, clean water, peace and conflict, etc.)
  • applying new methodologies for involving stakeholders (and their knowledge) in international policy dialogues, e.g. multi-stakeholder dialogues
  • peer-to-peer learning on local, regional and global scale applying new forms of social media-based communication and open licenses (see Seibold 2014)
  • systematically merging “classical” capacity building methodologies (e.g. training, e-learning, etc.) into a wider concept of network-based “Human Capacity Development”, (GIZ 2013a and 2013b, Schwaab/Seibold 2014)
  • creating global knowledge commons, and/ or providing better access to information, education and networks for scaling-up successful approaches and innovations

On the other hand, complexity and speed of the mega-trends mentioned above hamper blue-print solutions and often leave behind classical patterns of conflict solution and institutional adaptation. At the same time, the knowledge society creates a plethora of new challenges that have to be met, such as

  • the “digital divide” (or “knowledge divide”) between those who have access to information and the internet, and those who don’t, thereby creating new inequalities between households, countries, businesses, etc. (World Bank 1998, 2014)
  • conflicts about intellectual property rights and patents
  • global competition for and migration of skilled labour (“talent war”), eventually resulting in a “brain drain” in developing countries
  • new forms of internet-based espionage and crime, raising difficult questions of data access and security
  • new forms of research and business models based on “big data” offering both new opportunities of insight and artificial intelligence, as well as rising risks of data abuse.
Figure 1: Information flows about the Egyptian revolution on twitter I Source: https://blog.gephi.org/2011/the-egyptianrevolution-on-twitter/

Challenge II: Policy making must accept new players

The dense, action-geared network activity during the Arab revolutions of 2011 has impressively demonstrated the power of networks and the “digital crowd” well-connected by social media. Figure 1 gives an illustrative example how largescale self-organisation in the knowledge society happens. Computer science professor André Panisson (2011) used Twitter data to analyze information flow during the Egyptian revolution. When Mubarak resigned from power in February 2011 information spread quickly around the world through tweets and retweets – here shown as a network of dots connected by lines. This visualisation also helps to understand the connectedness of people worldwide and how efficiently information, ideas and knowledge flow around the world due to social media.


Worldwide, networks are considered new players for change. Countless networks on almost every topic of sustainable development organize relationships and actions of like-minded people who share a mission or an idea. Networks have many types and concepts. Typically, within organizations, “communities of practice” enable collaboration across departments and hierarchies. “Formal networks” and “cooperations” link different institutions or formally organize interest groups. “Social networks”, emerge from self-organizing groups of like-minded people. Key characteristics of network culture are

  • openness (for new members, etc.)
  • intrinsic motivation to participate and share
  • voluntary membership (participation is often unpaid but not unrewarded)
  • non-hierarchical (self-) organization
  • horizontal flow of information, i.e. across hierarchies and organizational borders.

Social media play a crucial role for networks. In general, they include all internet-based applications that allow co-creating, sharing and exchanging user-generated content (Kaplan/ Haenlein 2010), e.g. forums, weblogs, wikis, social networks, podcasts, microblogging, social bookmarking, crowdsourcing, music- or video sharing, etc. Network platforms typically combine various of these tools in order to support communication, collaboration, learning and sharing among network members.


Migrating such organizationally open and technologically diverse networks to “classical” organizations or at least interfacing with them at first hand creates a clash of cultures: Traditional hierarchical organizations do not easily adjust to such an open flow of communication. Management of both networks and their organizational interface, thus, play a crucial role if policy and decision makers want to benefit from the potential of networks (for a discussion of viable approaches see Schwaab/Seibold 2014).


>> Ch. 2 'Visions of Innovation in the Knowledge Society'