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Local Knowledge MattersPower, Context and Policy Making in Indonesia$

Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, and Hans Antlov

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781447348078

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447348078.001.0001

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Forms of knowledge and policy influence

Forms of knowledge and policy influence

(p.29) Two Forms of knowledge and policy influence
Local Knowledge Matters
Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, Hans Antlov
Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

Scientific, professional, and local knowledge manifest themselves in various forms and are not discrete categories of knowledge. Rather, the boundaries between the types of knowledge are porous. The chapter discusses these variations and provides an illustration of one type of professional knowledge, bureaucratic knowledge and explores linkages among types of knowledge. The chapter argues for a co-production model of knowledge to influence policy processes and presents evidence on the value of diversity of knowledge in generating stronger influence on policy processes

Keywords:   policy processes, local knowledge, co-production, policy entrepreneurs, knowledge hierarchies

This chapter argues that there are many types of knowledge that contribute to a society’s body of knowledge. While the common perception of ‘knowledge’ is often limited to formal scientific knowledge, professional knowledge also matters, as does local knowledge. In professional knowledge, we include bureaucratic knowledge, without which many issues would not be able to make their way to policy makers. Those who work in policy research institutes and think tanks also produce professional knowledge: they can use and integrate evidence from scientific research with issues relevant to policy makers around local economy and politics in ways that make the evidence relevant, and, what is more important, usable by policy makers. This type of professional knowledge may be described as intermediary knowledge. Advocacy organisations, using activist knowledge, can use research evidence in similar ways to promote their agendas. Along with citizen evidence as part of local knowledge, religious knowledge can also play an important role. This chapter argues that if we ignore these forms of knowledge, if we treat them as irrelevant and assume that scientific evidence on its own can influence the policy process, we are missing some critical elements for success. Each plays an important role and brings different evidence to the policy maker. Without local interpretation and the intermediary, (p.30) activist and bureaucratic knowledge that moves ideas to policy makers, we are unlikely to see much influence of scientific knowledge. Before we turn to a more detailed treatment of local and citizen-generated knowledge as the primary focus of this book, this chapter gives an overview of the different forms of knowledge and how they interact with each other in the policy-making process.

As we will see in the descriptions of types of knowledge and in their applications, the categories are porous. No one sits squarely within one type of knowledge; we all use multiple sources of evidence, but we do tend to have a preference and put one above the others in assessing a situation and making a decision. Co-production, which requires a respect for knowledge which we ourselves do not prioritise, is inherent in some senses, but there is a need to make it more explicit and reflect the relevance of all forms of knowledge in that process. Each type of knowledge manifests in several different ways, as we saw in Figure 1.3.

Types of knowledge in public policy making

There is growing consideration of different forms of knowledge in the policy space (Jasanoff, 2012). Knowledge is produced in many different places and in many different ways. We argue here that the public is not only a consumer of knowledge but also a producer. Even bureaucrats who are consumers of knowledge for the drafting of public policy recommendations are also producers of knowledge. All forms of knowledge should have a place in a flourishing knowledge sector.

The pre-eminence of scientific knowledge has overshadowed the roles of other forms of knowledge in most of the research on the role of evidence in public policy making. While there has been much written about the role of the citizen and problems with too much focus on experts (Easterly, 2015; Eyben et al, 2015), and there is a whole field of literature on the role of citizens in governance,1 there has been much less consideration given to the roles of different forms of knowledge (p.31) in policy making, as opposed to the identification of community needs. The citizen is not thought of as a holder of knowledge, as one who produces knowledge that could be useful to the policy process (an important exception to note here is Chambers, 2012). Rather, the citizen is treated as one who is affected by policy. The discussion has been largely about the need to ensure adequate and appropriate consultations with citizens. Citizens are expected to respond to scientific evidence or attempt to refute it with other scientific evidence and scientific knowledge. They are invited to participate, to present opinions and perspectives on the known scientific evidence, rather than to bring new and different knowledge to the process (Nadasdy, 2003). Where citizens come from a different cultural or knowledge base, such as indigenous communities, this adds to the challenge. With its more than 300 different cultural groups and more than 55 per cent of the population in two main ethnicities, Indonesia faces particular challenges in this regard. The argument is that the range of views needs to be heard, various perspectives considered and multiple values taken into account (see Chapter Three), but the common assumption is still that the evidence and knowledge to be considered is scientific. This is seldom questioned.

In the same way, bureaucrats are not thought of as producers of knowledge. Equally, consultants who consolidate the research of others in their representations are not thought of as knowledge producers but as consumers of scientific knowledge. Think tanks, or policy research institutes, form a bridge, as many are both producers and consumers of scientific knowledge. Citizens, bureaucrats and think tanks are expected to engage with the processes and systems that have been set up to consult on scientific evidence. For much local and traditional knowledge, this is a particularly difficult transition and the knowledge presented in scientific forums seems out of place and spurious. It is treated as views and opinions and sometimes as quaint. We need some new ways to think about the relationships between different types of knowledge and to build acceptance of different forms of knowledge in policy processes.

(p.32) A typology of knowledge

Chapter One identified three main types of knowledge that influence policy (based on previous typologies such as that of Aristotle, as well as Hunt and Shackley, 1999). Aristotle defined three types of knowledge: episteme, techne and phronesis.2 Episteme is about the explanation of phenomena, usually referred to now as science. Techne is about the technical knowledge we possess, or what we will call professional knowledge. And phronesis is about how we ‘contribute to society’s practical rationality in elucidating where we are, where we want to go, and what is desirable according to diverse sets of values and interests’ (Flyvbjerg, 2001: 167). This is a type of citizen-generated local knowledge. The types of knowledge described here are not monolithic. Each is manifested in different ways and some illustrations are provided, such as bureaucratic knowledge as a form of professional knowledge, and religious knowledge as a form of local knowledge (Chapter Three). It should be clear that the categories are porous and most of us carry knowledge from different parts of this typology, but many of us privilege one form of knowledge over the others in our decisions. Like any typology it is a device to help us sort and identify patterns and ways of acting.

The first form is formal scientific knowledge that produces data sets from which we can extract conclusions about the state of the community and draw inferences about what that means for policy revision. Formal scientific knowledge gained stature in the (European) Age of Enlightenment, starting in the eighteenth century when ideas were presented based on logic and scientific reason, leading to the Scientific Revolution.3 This movement led to an explosion of thinking and perspectives about evidence and reason. Formal scientific research has many tools on which to draw, whether for research on natural science issues such as climate change, or research on social (p.33) change that tries to understand what will influence new behaviours in a community to improve health and wellbeing. Academics will collect scientific evidence using qualitative and quantitative methods. This evidence will be contested by the academy and some of it will be presented to policy makers to inform their decisions. This formal scientific knowledge is the knowledge that has been the focus of much effort – to have policy makers consider it and use it in public policy. It is often the ‘evidence’ in evidence-based policy making.

In thinking about the influence of knowledge on public policy, we therefore tend to privilege the ‘expert’, the scientist who is presumed to have superior knowledge and superior evidence. A great deal of research and writing has been done on the use of scientific evidence in the policy process (Jasanoff, 1990; Kingdon, 1984; Carden, 2009). It is indeed important and many cases have been written and many frameworks presented on how influence happens.

The key actors in this group are research scientists. They are often in universities, but sometimes in research institutes (which may be publicly or privately funded). Solid scientific evidence, well presented, is important. The climate debate has seen the rise of evidence in the discussion, from the early days when research was preliminary and questioned, until now when the vast majority of people believe that the evidence is compelling and that something must be done. International agreements, national and even local legislation have been influenced by concerns about climate change. Science has played a very influential role here.

The second form of knowledge we call professional knowledge (Aristotle’s techne, or what Hunt and Shackley refer to as fiducial knowledge and what Jones et al refer to as practice-informed knowledge).4 Professional knowledge is produced as a service to policy makers. We identify three forms of professional knowledge: bureaucratic, intermediary and advocacy. All three reflect the ability of particular groups to relate knowledge to practice in ways that have the potential (p.34) to influence; bureaucratic knowledge is most practised within the bureaucracy, intermediary knowledge is practised in think tanks, and advocacy knowledge is practised largely by advocacy groups. Professional knowledge is based on faith or trust that knowledge producers have made fair and honest use of the primary evidence and knowledge in their policy advice, that they have a good understanding of the context in which a decision has to be taken, and that they have not manipulated the evidence primarily for their own gain or purpose. It is for this reason that the reputation of a think tank is so important: it is taking primary research and often combining it with other knowledge that allows it to articulate the meaning of evidence for the policy maker. If its reputation suffers because of manipulation of evidence, or succumbing to a special interest group, its ability to influence is lost until it can rebuild its reputation. Professional knowledge is usually based on secondary sources of information as well as on the lived experience of its practitioners and their knowledge about the context and processes within which the knowledge is used. Whether bureaucratic, intermediary or advocacy knowledge, it synthesises and consolidates ideas and connects them to the context in which the policy operates.

Professional knowledge serves as a bridge between scientific knowledge and the needs of policy makers. It helps with the translation of scientific knowledge; its practitioners see themselves as capable of understanding both the scientist and the policy maker. They are usually not generating new basic knowledge; rather they are looking at research findings through a different lens and synthesising evidence that comes from different sources according to the needs of their clients and the contexts in which they are operating. Without professional knowledge, much scientific knowledge would not find its way into the policy space.

To be successful, producers of professional knowledge need to have both a strong understanding of research and a strong understanding of the needs of the policy makers who are their clients. Skills in knowledge translation and communication are central. Being able to interpret the evidence in ways that are meaningful to the policy (p.35) community is not easy. It is one that few scientists master, therefore producers of professional knowledge play a key intermediary role, often defined as ‘policy analysts’ in a government employment structure.

The third type of knowledge, local knowledge, will only be discussed briefly here, as it is the subject of the rest of this book. Local knowledge emerges from a society’s experience and practice. It is sometimes referred to as citizen knowledge (Jones et al, 2012), experiential knowledge or craft knowledge.5 Durose and Richardson (2016) reference Henry Mintzberg who makes the point that policy must not rely on science alone but also on ‘art’, which includes among other things local knowledge. A great deal of the knowledge we hold as individuals is experiential knowledge. It is the knowledge we have about how to act in our communities, what values are important in the societies in which we live, and what will give us access or make us outcasts. We learn how to cross a street using experiential knowledge – we learn that hand gestures help us, or that in some places we must cross at traffic lights. The framework developed by the Food and (p.37) Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2004) is a useful starting point to navigate different forms of types of local knowledge:

  • Common knowledge is held by most people in a community – almost everyone knows how to cook rice (or the local staple food).

  • Shared knowledge is held by many, but not all, community members – villagers who raise livestock will know more about basic animal husbandry than those without livestock.

  • Specialised knowledge is held by a few people who might have had special training or an apprenticeship – only a few villagers will become healers, midwives or blacksmiths.

Local knowledge is often implicit or tacitly held by citizens in a community. That is, we learn it by observing others or by trial and error. We seldom articulate it or create files about it. We learn it over time, through our actions and how others respond to us. Local knowledge helps us understand how to act in our homes, in our work places and with our friends. It helps us understand what is healthy and what is dangerous. It helps with practical matters in agriculture as well, as Grenier (1998: 50) notes from a study in Bali that, ‘villager descriptive knowledge for trees, bamboo, and soil resources was, at the very least, equivalent to, and likely more detailed than, corresponding data from trained scientific researchers’. Local knowledge is generated by citizens from a broad range of different communities in everyday conversations and forums, often articulated in civil society and through popular participation. It is part of a contextual and living discourse, contested through everyday interactions and through interpretation by citizens of the multiple forms of knowledge that are part of their lived experience – the social capital that allows individuals to become citizens and establish communities.

A challenge to using local knowledge and sharing it with other communities, such as the policy community, is that it is often passed on through oral tradition and has not been codified. Codifying it becomes part of making it accessible for use and transmission to policy makers (p.38) and other communities, as we will see in Chapter Five. Codifying local knowledge also risks bureaucratising it and freezing it in time.

Local knowledge is seen by those who hold it as co-production between communities and their environments.6 As such, it is constantly evolving and changing, just as other forms of knowledge change with new learning and new situations. Local knowledge is also place-based and its ownership is diffused rather than centralised. It is the groups that use particular local knowledge that hold it (be they men, women, children, farmers, fishers, or any other group) and evolve it as part of both their survival and economic and social development. Our case studies used a range of definitions of local knowledge:

  • a knowledge system – on farming and climate adaptation (PUSKA), against mining (POLGOV UGM), on forest conservation (BIGS) and on river-based living in South Kalimantan (LK3);

  • local innovation – a community’s local economy called mawah in Aceh (YKU), or a community health insurance system in Southeast Sulawesi (LAHA);

  • indigenous practices – embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, for example, whale hunting in Lembata (Poros Photo), clan-based water management in Kupang (Pikul), sasi eco-friendly fishing in Maluku (PATTIRO) and community-based water management in Aceh Besar (PKPM).

Key actors in this space are advocacy organisations, community leaders, religious leaders and practitioners of traditional medicine. Here, too, there are overlaps with actors in the professional knowledge space. As we will see in Chapter Six, advocacy organisations can play a (p.39) particularly important role because their success depends on a good understanding of the political space, but their origins are often in protecting communities on an issue that is deeply important to the leadership and is often embedded in local knowledge (an example would be the Indigenous People’s Alliance (AMAN) in Indonesia).7

The interaction between knowledge sources: local knowledge and citizen participation

Policy influence is strengthened when scientific, professional and local knowledge work together. The ability to work across these different types of knowledge is the special skill of an informed and engaged citizenry. It is often manifested in the policy entrepreneur (Kingdon, 1984). A policy entrepreneur may come out of any form of knowledge but is someone who is capable of integrating the other forms of knowledge into their arguments and advocacy, and through that bring different sides together around a common agenda. They are leaders in processes of co-production of knowledge. The cases illustrate the importance of relationships (between types of knowledge and different communities in the policy process), communication (of ideas, values and beliefs), networking (to use other resources to understand the political process) and institutional change. While local knowledge is applied by the producers and social actors themselves in their daily lives, scientific knowledge (and to a lesser degree professional knowledge) is diffused by agents who do not put it into practice themselves (Olivier de Sardan, 2005: 159).

Consistent with the argument we make here, Durose and Richardson (2016) make the case for a co-production model of policy making, treating all forms of knowledge as part of the process. Quoting some of their colleagues, they suggest that ‘co-production suggests the value of involving different forms of knowledge and expertise in the policy process, and even moves towards synthesis of different ‘ingredients’ of a policy puzzle’, while ensuring that these different forms of knowledge (p.40) are ‘integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed’ (Durose and Richardson, 2016: 40–41).

Each form of knowledge has several types of associated organisations. These categories are, however, porous and only represent where the predominant knowledge generated takes place in each organisation type. Universities provide professional knowledge in addition to their mandate around the accumulation of scientific knowledge, while policy research institutes may carry out research or be part of local knowledge in a particular field. Advocacy organisations may, and often do, operate with all types of knowledge. They are independent knowledge actors in the policy influence space, although they often act together with citizen groups and are often stronger when they do act together to bring several types of evidence to bear on a policy problem or on an effort to influence a policy maker.

Beyond normative democratic arguments, there are empirical reasons why it is useful to diversify sources of knowledge in policy making. As outlined in the Australian Government’s Women in Leadership Strategy (DFAT, 2015), empirical evidence shows that diverse teams and sources of knowledge produce stronger outcomes. For example, research studies have demonstrated that organisations with a critical mass of women in senior management perform better across a range of performance markers than organisations with less gender diversity in senior management. ‘The wisdom of crowds’, as one influential book calls it, is superior to decisions taken by a few (Surowiecki, 2004). There is a simple business case for improving diversity and involving more people in decisions: it makes decisions better.

Knowledge-to-policy processes and local knowledge

As we saw in the Introduction, ‘knowledge to policy’ is the process through which data, evidence and other forms of knowledge are created, turned into policies and implemented in ‘a maelstrom of political energy, vested interests and lobbying’ (Banks, 2009: 9). It is to this maelstrom we now turn.

(p.41) This process is not only about more sophisticated and accessible data, but a better understanding of the social context of knowledge and the relationship of social science to political deliberations. Policy making needs a wider range of contextually sensitive evidence and arguments brought to bear on a policy issue or social problem – investigating an increased number of relevant perspectives and adding more sources of knowledge. This is a refined understanding of the interactions that construct reality, the way that the empirical is embedded in the normative. If Stephen Lukes (1974) is correct that power shapes our preferences, we need to have a more astute understanding of the social and political context of policy making.

Local knowledge stands in concert with scientific or professional knowledge. Our case studies show the different ways that citizens can generate their own discourse that often acts as a counterpoint with the dominant development framework. This requires effort to strengthen local groups, allowing them to limit the indiscriminate extraction of local knowledge, to negotiate the way that research is carried out, to have a say in terms of intellectual property of local knowledge, and to defend local knowledge as their own treasure which belongs to their communities while not turning against ‘the other’. In this situation, local knowledge needs a clearer definition and role as ‘a common sense for people who share a communal sensibility’ (Geertz, 1983).

As a taster of what will come, the BIGS case in this volume (case study 6, Chapter Four) looks at how local and professional knowledge had to come together in a process of co-production of knowledge to solve a challenge. It reminds us that the process can be long and detailed and that it sometimes requires institutional change. BIGS is codifying local knowledge on forest management on the densely populated island of Java. On Java, deforestation and the consequent erosion and loss of topsoil are leading to reduced productivity and severe flooding in many areas. While codifying local knowledge and practices that can mitigate deforestation, BIGS is beginning to bring local government officials into discussions and to see the practices in use. It is working towards integrating principles contained in local knowledge into policies for forest conservation.

(p.42) Conclusions

So, whose knowledge matters in the policy process? We have made the argument that there are multiple forms of knowledge and they all play a role in public policy. We have further argued for the crucial role of citizen engagement and the importance for all to recognise the multiple forms of knowledge at play in any policy process. As a society, we have tended to privilege scientific knowledge but we have discussed examples of other forms of knowledge, and as the cases in this volume clearly illustrate, local knowledge matters and plays a role. Beyond individual forms of knowledge, interaction is often critical.

Professional knowledge is often the venue to translate scientific evidence and other types of knowledge into politically effective knowledge needed for policy making. Bureaucratic knowledge, for example, is a key feature of much policy influence. The bureaucrats know how the system works, they understand how to get ideas across to decision makers, and they can block ideas if they choose. Scientific knowledge producers must learn how to present their evidence in policy-relevant ways and must learn how to work with bureaucratic and other forms of professional knowledge to have an influence. Local knowledge does not always interact easily with bureaucracy, but in connection with other forms of professional knowledge it can play an important role. Sometimes the interaction is not through intermediaries but through an idea that directly captures the imagination of a policy maker.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that evidence and knowledge are not alone in influencing policy (Glover, 2015). Knowledge producers must present the best possible evidence and they must present it as persuasively as possible. But scientists and other knowledge producers must recognise that the evidence is not always paramount. Politics, beliefs and values play central roles and knowledge must dance with these influences to find its place.


(2) As explained in Flyvbjerg (2001).

(3) Described by Thomas Kuhn (1962) in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a paradigm shift in how we think about science and evidence.

(4) We prefer ‘professional knowledge’ as a term more easily communicated than ‘fiducial knowledge’. It is broader than ‘practice-informed knowledge’.

(5) Craft knowledge is often tacit, the knowledge we possess on how to complete a task. Often, it is not written down but passed down orally or by demonstration. See, for example, Wood (2006). Experiential knowledge is described as ‘truth based on personal experience’ (Borkman, 1976).

(6) Co-evolution refers to the continuous and dynamic process of mutual adaptation between humankind and the natural environment. The co-evolution theory shows how social (for example, knowledge systems) and ecological systems are interconnected, and how they influence one another. Co-evolution leads to constant adaptations to changing environments, which in turn leads to increased diversity (Blaikie, 1992, as cited in FAO (n.d.)).