Harnessing digital technologies to advance research and knowledge in the South

A community-driven, AI-enabled knowledge platform for researchers and evidence users
Project description

The problem and the context 

The world needs new forms of knowledge, produced in new ways. Climate crisis, technological transitions, pandemic diseases the fourth industrial revolution and the changing nature of work all affect different communities and countries in very different ways. As the coronavirus has clearly demonstrated, policy prescriptions designed for Northern economies and societies are often inappropriate for Southern communities and countries. 

To formulate appropriate policy and practical responses policy makers, practitioners and researchers in Africa, Asia and Latin America need knowledge and ideas that are rooted in their own contexts, and which address their specific problems and needs.

Too often, knowledge produced in the North dominates the search results, papers and reports that can be easily accessed online. Limited digitisation of research reports and data makes it difficult for knowledge users to access and build on relevant existing work in their field. 

Over the last 13 years INASP has developed a community of over 20,000 Southern researchers and knowledge users. They have told us that: 

  1. Southern knowledge is often relatively invisible to Southern and Northern users. Much knowledge is not effectively digitised or indexed, particularly grey literature. Where it is digitised, it is often rendered relatively invisible by the volume of Northern knowledge returned by search tools 

  1. Knowledge needs to be transdisciplinary: the challenges that we face require knowledge to be combined across disciplines and professions but knowledge is typically produced and published in disciplines. 

  1. Language barriers impede the accessibility and uptake of relevant knowledge. The technical languages employed by researchers and users in different disciplines, as well as the dominance of English, mean that relevant knowledge is harder to identify. 

  1. The skills to make effective use of data and knowledge are limited. Where knowledge and data are available in digital from, it is difficult for Southern researchers to harvest and build on it and for policy and practice users to synthesise and appraise it. 

  1. Awareness of existing tools is limited. Although tools exist to help researchers and users navigate through and make use of digital knowledge, many are not familiar with these. 

Our idea 

Between May and June 2020, INASP’s AuthorAID team, the Open University and Institute of Coding (UK) and Politics & Ideas convened a group of researchers and evidence users from the global South to identify how technology can better contribute to the production and dissemination of knowledge relevant to societal needs. 

Our vision is of a digital platform that makes Southern knowledge more visible, and which empowers experts and practitioners in the South to learn, to create new knowledge and collaborate to solve their own priority problems.

We want to build a community-driven, social learning environment to: 

  • Grow a global, connected community, spanning different disciplinary and thematic expertise, creating a critical mass of knowledge and experience that enables questions to be answered quickly and allowing members to overcome knowledge barriers that they encounter 
  • Connect evidence producers and evidence users and provide spaces through which they can identify research questions and develop new initiatives 
  • Facilitate access to Southern transdisciplinary research through intelligent search algorithms  
  • Provide a foundation from which research institutions can be supported and empowered to develop their own in-house learning programmes, connecting digital communities to locally-run, in-person training and mentoring, and offering routes towards institutional sustainability.  

Our approach

Working with Southern partners, we are developing a series of pilot-tested tools, initially embedded within INASP’s existing platforms in order to connect technical solutions to existing social learning communities.  We are using collaborative design and concept-testing process which: 

  • Convenes groups of Southern knowledge producers and users to identify how new technologies could be used to address these problems
  • Connects them to digital technology experts, to further scope the design of possible solutions
  • Identifies which solutions  should be prototyped and piloted
  • Identifies business models that would enable these tools to be further developed and sustained

The intended impact 

A large community of thousands of Southern researchers and evidence users able to:  

  1. Access the knowledge they need and using this to address the most important social, economic and scientific challenges in their countries and communities.  

  1. Advance their skills through tailored, flexible online learning developed in and provided from the South 

  1. Forge connections to their peers and to extend their networks across the world. 

For more information about this project - or to get involved, please contact