Knowledge Networks for Sustainable Development – The 2030 Agenda as an Imperative for a Sustainable Future

5 Discussion Points by Karsten Weitzenegger
delivered at the German Development Institute (DIE) Alumni Conference, Bonn, 9 September 2016

Challenges and Solutions -The 2030 Agenda as an Imperative for a Sustainable Future

1 The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is challenging at local, national, and global scales. Knowledge is recognised as ‘Means of implementation’ for the SDGs, in form of capacity‐building, technology development and transfer. Beyond the technical solutions, knowledge for social change is needed at all levels.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)

2 Sharing knowledge has helped humankind to survive and evolve into an intelligent and productive species. Knowledge sharing can make the difference between survival and extinction. In a historical dimension, states have to learn quickly how to cooperate, especially in managing the global commons. However, humankind has not enough experience in saving our planet. We have to learn beyond experience, from the future we want.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” (Albert Einstein)

3 Although widely agreed, the SDGs still stay at the level of technical expert discussions. Risk of losing the momentum to technical details is high. For getting started with implementation, practical solutions for sustainable development are needed. Policy makers and managers, as well as citizens and educators, need tools and guidelines, which are harmonised with the entire 2030-Agenda, but applicable to their particular practice. Capacity comes from experience by actions. Evaluation can bring knowledge on what works, in which context, how and why. But the link to better policy making is weak. Informed Global Citizens have to push governments towards result-oriented and evidence-based policies. In most contexts, this means a conflict scenario.

Everybody knows something; nobody knows everything. Knowledge is the only resource that grows when shared. The need for knowledge sharing is evident in der SDGs. No single individual can cover all aspects of the SDGs; even not entire scientific disciplines are enough to solve the holistic and interlinked problems. We have to rely on knowledge of others, accept diversity of approaches and learn to deal with uncertainty.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” (Albert Einstein)

4 Development policy must provide the best conditions for dialogue and learning. Creation and dissemination of sustainable development solutions must be organised and promoted. All stakeholders (Agencies, academia, think tanks, businesses, consultants, citizen organisations, indigenous communities, add more) need more incentives to share and use these solutions. However, knowledge is increasingly owned by proprietors, especially if based on patents or “big data”. Financial and non-financial instruments are needed to increase open access, public domain and Free and Open Source and to support knowledge brokers. Germany can lead a transparency initiative by opening its own knowledge production. German discussions and knowledge networks must be better linked to European and global networks – to get knowledge flow in all directions.

“The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy” (Albert Einstein)

5 Peer-to-peer learning networks are an important way to share, replicate, and scale up what works in development. Germany sponsors many interesting knowledge networks, gathering large numbers of alumni. However, the real peers from Germany are mostly missing in these networks. German development policy should link individuals and partner organisations better to their peers in Germany, instead of creating separate South-South networks. Sustainability of knowledge networks often suffers, because Websites and hubs go offline with the end of funding. Germany should fund and build knowledge and learning structures, which are driven by knowledge communities themselves. This should be part of the main research and innovation networks, not separated from them.