Identifying knowledge sources
Now add an extra column to the your table that you developed for the exercise ‘Gaps and Evidence’. Identifying how you access knowledge will be something you will continue to do once you have left this course. Use this opportunity to work together to come up with some ideas of where to start. See the notes below to help you now and when you are doing your Assignment. For an example of how to fill in the extra column in your table see the table I created from December’s assignment – Example: How could December answer his questions
a) Start with people
– Who might have this knowledge?
– Who do you know who works with this area?
Draw on your colleagues, other participants on the course and members of the SAWC. These people are already part of your knowledge network.
b) Contact organisations that may know something about your issue.
Ask yourself, what organisations do I know that could help me access this knowledge? Are there any organisations that specialize in producing educational material or learning resources that you could draw on?
c) Look for information in written documents.
Ask yourself has there been research/reporting done on this issue? This can be in the form of:
• research reports
• academic papers
• newspaper articles
• learning resources
• magazine articles
Some of the reports may be very technical and difficult to understand. What you can do is contact the people who wrote them. People who have research knowledge are usually willing to talk about their research and to share their knowledge so you just need to find out who they are. Most authors of research identify the institutions they work for and often provide their e-mail address on the research paper.
d) Look on the Internet (What other resources can you find?).
It is best to talk to people before going onto the Internet. We have found that going onto the internet without being prepared can lead to wasting a lot of time. In the previous course we struggled to find useful and relevant information that we could rely on. It was only when I drew on my knowledge networks and asked people to suggest relevant sites that we started finding the information we needed.
Step 4: Assess whether the knowledge is useful
Here are two suggested ways you can review the knowledge you are receiving. First ask yourself: Is this knowledge helping me to answer the questions about the practice that I have identified? Is it meaningful to my work? Second, ask whether the knowledge is reliable or not. To help you assess whether knowledge think about the following:
What are the criteria you use to judge whether something, such as your local police service or your transport system, is reliable? How do you know if a friend is reliable? In a group consider what these criteria might be and whether you could apply them to the information you are collecting. Come up with a list of criteria to share with the rest of the group.
In the last Changing Practice course we found that is was very helpful to start by identifying specialists or experts who can help decide which knowledge is useful or relevant and which is not. We drew on the expertise of a permaculturalist who had worked in rural areas for many years. He had a good reputation and lots of experience. We trusted him because we had worked with him before. We also drew on our research reference group. These people had been asked to be on our reference group because their expertise would help us. Participants also consulted staff at the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre. This centre has an international reputation for good research and practice so we felt safe consulting them. They were also known for their skill in applied research.
Step 5: Keep a record of your knowledge network.
You will continually add to this record as your network grows. This will also be useful to other people who want to find out more about the practice you are investigating and it makes your evidence trustworthy. You can develop your own categories, or use these ones:
1. People I have met (include their contact details and what their specialist knowledge is)
2. Organisations I can draw on for help (include contact details; what their specialist knowledge is; and the way in which they helped or can help you, for example, provided me with resources, could help with materials, funding opportunities).
3. Resources I have accessed. Include a brief summary of what the resource is about and how useful it is for you. (see Resources on Rainwater Harvesting: resources and how to find them for an example of how the researchers categorized their resources). This is important as it will help the people you work with to access information too.
4. Websites that may be useful. Include the same summary here of why this website is useful.