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Global Development Institute

Knowledge matters: the potential contribution of the co-production of research to urban transformation

Diana Mitlin, Jhono Bennett, Philipp Horn, Sophie King, Jack Makau and George Masimba Nyama.

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to share our experiences – as academics and professionals – in co-producing knowledge to improve urban development outcomes in the Global South. The focus of the paper – urban research and practice – is a context in which academic work influences policy and programming, and professional knowledge – validated and certified by academic institutions – forms the basis for urban planning and management. Collaborative research – co-produced with social movement activities – suggests that four issues need to be addressed to establish more equitable relations. First, alternative theories of change about how research leads to social transformation must be recognised, even if they cannot be reconciled. Second, the contribution of social movement leaders to university teaching needs to be institutionalised. Third, the relative status of academics vis-à-vis non-academics must be interrogated, and better understood. Fourth, researchers’ accountability to the marginalised needs to be established. We argue that academics are insufficiently self-critical about the power dynamics involved in knowledge production with social movements, and that long-term relations enable understandings to be built and some of these tensions to be alleviated. Our conclusion highlights the unequal power relations that lie behind these challenges, and summarises key measures to address inequalities and their negative consequences.

Keywords

Participatory research, coproduction of knowledge, urban development, learning

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