In pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of all

Published on Friday, 01 February 2019

Published by Bambang Susantono on Friday, 01 February 2019

Participants at the 2018 ADB Knowledge Forum.
Participants at the 2018 ADB Knowledge Forum.

The economic transformation of Asia and Pacific in the last quarter of a century has been nothing short of extraordinary. Many countries have now reached middle-income status and millions have been lifted out of poverty. Yet, many critical challenges remain. These include, among many others, a massive infrastructure gap, vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, accelerating urbanization, environmental degradation, and changing demographics such as aging societies.

My own organization, ADB, has recognized the need to address these challenges in its new long-term Strategy 2030. But given the complexity of the challenges, ADB’s continued relevance will depend not just on a source of finance but also on the knowledge it can provide. This is at the crux of my own role in the institution as Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. This position comprises oversight of three of the departments most concerned with knowledge production as well as ADB’s knowledge strategy in general.

​But measuring the success of delivering “knowledge” is not quite as easy as when delivering finance for projects. And sometimes, trying to quantify knowledge delivery feels almost like grasping at thin air. Yet there are some concrete ways to talk about knowledge – and here we must distinguish between two types of knowledge.

First, there is the overt knowledge such as that delivered through ADB’s various knowledge products and services, including publications and technical assistance. Examples include the Asian Development Outlook, our flagship economic report, and the acclaimed report on Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs. Other products on topical areas are developed in complimentary partnerships such as the Asia-Pacific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), jointly produced by ADB-UNESCAP-UNDP, which provides a “goal by goal” snapshot of where we are, and what we should do in reaching the SDG targets. From these and many others, our developing member countries and other clients gain new insights for addressing the myriad of development challenges.

  Focus on tacit knowledge

But it is generally assumed that only a quarter of the knowledge produced is overt (or explicit). A much larger part is tacit. This is knowledge that resides in our minds, which is difficult to convert to tangible form and not necessarily codified.

There is, for example, the knowledge we share through various formal forums. Recent examples at ADB are the annual Asia Clean Energy Forum, which is a must-attend knowledge event in the region, offering the world’s best know-how in energy. The ADB Transport Forum, Water Forum, Knowledge Forum, and Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum also bring together the world’s best expertise in these fields. Other forums on specific topical areas—just to name a few—cover emerging challenges in skill development, financial innovation and disruptive technology, digitization, health impacts, the aging society, and regional integration. Such events allow us to advocate, promote, and share experiences and valuable lessons that inform emerging and future developing member countries’ needs.

At a country level, tacit knowledge is shared directly through learning from experience of the design and implementation of ADB’s operations. When this is combined with interactions with practitioners and policymakers, it provides insights for improving the quality of investments and effectiveness of implementation.

Developing Asia has benefited greatly from tacit knowledge. One example is an ADB project building eco-districts in Ulaanbaatar. This project supports the Ulaanbaatar City Master Plan to integrate and upgrade the ger areas and transform Ulaanbaatar into a more inclusive city. The project will build on the prior ADB Housing Sector Finance Project and experience of the provision of housing loans to the very poor. Another example is a project to create floating solar photovoltaic systems in Central Asia. ADB’s technical assistance helped Uzbekistan create the International Solar Energy Institute, the region’s first solar research and knowledge hub. It also supported developing a road map with enabling policies and develop the 100-megawatt Samarkand Solar Power Project, the region’s first solar photovoltaic power plant.

  Knowledge increases by sharing

Today, solving problems requires many specialists and specialisms to work together in unison in a collaborative venture. Given the increasing complexity of the world’s development problems, there is no other avenue for all parties involved in the development process to but share knowledge. Since no one entity has all the answers, there are tremendous benefits gained from collaborating and complimenting expertise and experience of other development organizations. This entails also a transition from silo thinking to networking thinking. In addition, increasing the findability of knowledge is important if sharing and dissemination is to be strengthened. ​

​This implies that any organization that claims to be a knowledge institution should seek to aggressively address the issue of sharing knowledge.

ADB has enshrined this principle in its Strategy 2030 since the organization’s continued relevance will increasingly depend on its role as a knowledge institution. Even when developing countries can tap other sources of finance, they often turn to ADB for high standards in project design, the transfer of the latest technologies and good practices, and the sharing of knowledge, skills and expertise accumulated over more than 50 years working in Asia and Pacific.

The institution will continue to work closely with its developing member countries to produce the most relevant knowledge products and services and is looking how to best generate, capture, and share knowledge to meet future development needs in the region. It will work to expand knowledge partnerships as well as promoting the importance of knowledge sharing across the institution. In doing so, ADB will improve the accessibility of knowledge gained from operations, research, dialogue with governments, and capacity development for the benefit of all in Asia and Pacific.