A fifth generation of knowledge management for development is long overdue

This opinion piece is also part of two ongoing series of articles: stakeholder and community engagement and KM in international development.

A fifth generation of key knowledge management for development (KM4D) perspectives, methods and tools has been proposed in recent papers[1][2] (Table 1), based on generations identified by authors from mainstream knowledge management (KM) and KM4D.

Five generations of KM4D
(Source: Cummings et al. 2018, Cummings et al. 2013).

Based on my experience and knowledge of the body of research in regard to the sustainable management of landscapes, I welcome and support the findings and recommendations of these papers. But that same experience and knowledge leads me to wonder why it is taken so long for this point to be reached, and what this says about knowledge management as a discipline.

My first experiences with knowledge management in a sustainable landscape management context came more than 20 years ago, and the work in which I was involved exhibited all of the identifying concepts and features of the newly proposed fifth generation of KM4D as listed in Table 1. For example, as I discuss in the two RealKM Magazine articles Case Study: Knowledge transfer and sharing through collaborative learning and governance and Case Study: How to overcome resistance and denial when engaging stakeholders, the 1998–9 Sustainable Management of the Helidon Hills Project exhibited:

Cross-domain knowledge integration and knowledge co-creation — Collaborative learning and governance processes which were responsive to the situational complexities and social context of the Helidon Hills area.

Multiple knowledges — All scientific knowledge relevant to the area, and the knowledge of all stakeholders with an interest in the area including all landholders, all government agencies responsible for the area, and everyone in the wider community with an interest or stake in the area.

Multi-stakeholder processes — Facilitation of stakeholder input and involvement both individually and collectively, followed by bringing people with conflicting issues together to work through and resolve their concerns.

Global public good and knowledge commons — The Helidon Hills is a large area of high conservation value native forest. Through collaborative learning, the community of interest for the Helidon Hills developed a collective understanding of the natural values of the area and what needed to be done to conserve them.

Emphasis on local knowledge — The collaborative learning and governance processes emphasized local knowledge, and local knowledge was the foundation of the win-win solutions developed to identified issues. This was necessary to enable landholders and the community to feel a sense of ownership over the solutions.

Emergence and complexity — The Helidon Hills is a highly complex landscape, having both public and private land tenures a wide diversity of land uses and land management practices, some of which are competing or in direct conflict with each other. The collaborative learning and governance processes allowed issues of concern to readily emerge and be resolved.

Yes, projects such as this were practice rather than research, but as I report in an article discussing the lack of stakeholder involvement in the development of the new ISO 30401 KM standard, a body of related research exists dating back to 1969. However, this research is from sectors other than KM, much of it from the environment sector, and in the article I put forward lessons that the environment sector can offer KM in regard to stakeholder and community engagement.

For example, one of the recent KM papers states that (p. 23): “This [fifth] generation of KM4D is characterised by … [factors including] a growing awareness of multiple knowledges and multi-stakeholder processes in the solution of ‘wicked problems’ [and] recognition of the importance of complexity and emergence.” By comparison, in 2009, Harding, Hendriks, and Faruqi had advised that many environmental issues can be described as wicked problems, where complex interconnected ecological and social factors and uncertain contexts and boundaries make the issues very difficult to resolve, and that participation processes for environmental decision-making must be effective and appropriate, with higher levels of participation for issues that are more complex or controversial[3. Harding, R., Hendriks, C. & Faruqi, M. (2009). Environmental Decision-Making: Exploring complexity and context, The Federation Press, Sydney.].

Further, such environmental research has been very strongly connected to practice, with research both informing and being informed by practice. Supporting this, strategies and projects have involved academia, industry, government, and community — the four helices of the quadruple helix model of innovation. This model is a new evolution for open innovation, and as I discuss in another article has the potential to support knowledge-based development, but it has been in place in the environment sector for some time. I’ve coordinated and been involved in numerous projects that have facilitated quadruple helix collaboration. In addition to the Sustainable Management of the Helidon Hills Project that I’ve already discussed, examples include Crow’s Nest Shire Project Green Nest, the Biodiversity Recovery Plan for Gatton and Laidley Shires, and the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Recovery Program.

From these reflections, it appears to me that despite being the discipline that advocates knowledge sharing, KM is actually substantially in a knowledge silo itself, and failing to adequately learn from other disciplines.

Do you agree or disagree? If you agree, what do you think can be done to break down the KM knowledge silo?

See also the related articles:

Article source: The future of knowledge brokering, perspectives from a generational framework of knowledge management for international development is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Header image caption and source: Government, university, rural industry group, and community members share knowledge about sustainable landscape management during the 2009–11 Hawkesbury-Nepean River Recovery Program. Image by Bruce Boyes, published under CC BY 4.0).


  1. Cummings, S., Kiwanuka, S., Gillman, H., & Regeer, B. (2018). The future of knowledge brokering, perspectives from a generational framework of knowledge management for international development. Information Development, https://doi.org/10.1177/0266666918800174
  2. Cummings, S., Regeer, B. J., Ho, W. W., & Zweekhorst, M. B. (2013). Proposing a fifth generation of knowledge management for development: investigating convergence between knowledge management for development and transdisciplinary research. Knowledge Management for Development Journal, 9(2), 10–36.
  3. Harding, R., Hendriks, C. & Faruqi, M. (2009). Environmental Decision-Making: Exploring complexity and context, The Federation Press, Sydney.

Originally published at RealKM.