Inclusive Knowledge Systems in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Three things to remember

[This blog post was produced by Clément Gévaudan as a generous and thoughtful contribution to ignite discussion around our paper “State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: do Knowledge Systems matter?” . Clément is a Program Specialist on Science and Innovation research and policy. His focus is on strengthening knowledge and innovation systems to create an enabling environment for pressing issues of the digital transformations agenda. He designed the ‘Doing Research Assessment’, a method to assess and benchmark national research systems in developing countries. In 2018, he was the co-director of the 18th Annual Global Development Conference on ‘Science, Technology and Innovation for Development’ in New Delhi, India]

We live in a world of systems. The growing interconnection of global actors is leading us into a new era where technology occupies a major role in organizing our lives, our jobs and our economy. This is the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), where big data and artificial intelligence enable a shared infrastructure that creates an abundance of spillover network effects and sectoral gains of productivity. The 4IR brings multiple new opportunities for policymakers to coordinate and implement policy processes, but most notably it will require the participation of everyone, something which can only be achieved through the development of strong and resilient knowledge systems.

The report “State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?” provides an excellent introduction to a debate on knowledge systems in middle-income countries. It raises priority questions relevant to the 4IR and aims to spark a much-needed debate on the production, demand and use of knowledge in modern society. The authors define knowledge systems as “the interaction of research, innovation, higher education, citizen and professional knowledge in order to produce, provide, demand and use knowledge to support the development of public policies”. Such a reflection is essential to ensure that citizens are empowered through intelligent consumption and production of knowledge in a fast-changing world.


The promise is great, but the foundations are lacking

 The emergence of digital platforms and big data analytics means the cards have been shuffled in how society processes and shares information. Worrying issues of fake news and digital safety constitute new threats and require fast government and citizen responses. Digital transformations affect our lives in more ways than we can imagine when pricing algorithms determine market exchanges or drones are deployed to assist emergencies in Africa. It comes with a promise of important gains through sheer size effects in the network infrastructure that characterizes big data. Yet this requires that everyone has access to these technologies and has the capability to understand them and harness their benefits. In 2018, 44.9% of the world’s population did not have an active access to Internet (Internet World Stats) and 14% were still lacking access to electricity (International Energy Agency). Through its activities in digital development, the World Bank promotes an internet that is universal, affordable, open and safe. While the dawn of the 4IR is changing our perception of the future, there are imminent challenges that require us to continue reforming traditional institutions and establish the enabling environment for digital transformations to ‘leave no one behind’.


We need a new lens of analysis in order to build strong knowledge systems

We propose to underline three key aspects to further discuss the topic of knowledge systems in the 4IR. This list is not exhaustive but aims to guide the design of synergies between higher education, research and innovation systems for future programs and policies on regional and national knowledge systems.

1. Knowledge systems must be multi-stakeholders but also inclusive

A strong effort is needed to ensure that those without access to internet or electricity can leap forward and have a voice to the chapter. We have the means to do it and a lot has already been achieved, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Digital platforms and technologies of the open web offer a formidable opportunity to empower user groups and internet-based communities. This in turn raises critical issues of governance and transparency. Policymakers must act to balance new types of inequalities by providing inclusive institutions, regulations and infrastructure for the digital economy.

2. Policies should aim to integrate processes to increase cooperation and scale outcomes

How can we improve the ways we compete, collaborate and co-create with each other in order to be more efficient and create sustainable outcomes? Coordinating the interaction between citizens, governments and businesses lies at the core of the challenges facing policy actors. These processes determine our ability to identify relevant regulations bottlenecks, to build strong user networks and develop the right skills for tomorrow. Policymakers should aim at leveraging synergies in this interaction and improving the quality of knowledge production, diffusion and use. Citizens and businesses must ensure that these processes are bottom-up, inclusive, innovative and efficient. Processes must be designed to involve all actors at all stages and safeguard a multi-stakeholder governance model adapted to the fourth industrial revolution

3. The fourth industrial revolution is global by nature

Much like climate change, the digital transformation is a force that grows beyond the control of one country’s government. New actors like user groups, digital platforms and data aggregators are all transnational by nature and it has never been easier for businesses, academics and innovators to share and co-create without borders. Netflix, Facebook or Google continuously collect our data at a global scale and their revenues are comparable to the GDP of an advanced economy. There is an increasing number of non-traditional partnerships between governments and new actors of the 4IR, which can improve service delivery but also causes concern for lack of data protection. The partnership between Google’s Deepmind Health and the UK government has risen concerns when healthcare data could be obtained and traded by Google’s other services. The solution is for the government to assume its role as innovator and create the regulatory framework needed to work with these new global actors.


Important threats of the 4IR should also be watched

The fourth industrial revolution bridges the physical and digital worlds and enables a shared infrastructure through an open and safe internet. We must be equipped to include everyone and avoid a two-speed digital transformation. Protecting digital rights, ensuring algorithm fairness, monitoring big data… Basic rights are threatened but they constitute an important prerequisite to a safe and dynamic knowledge system. The academic community should take up these issues which also represent a specifically good case for social scientists and interdisciplinary research.

As the report mentions it, “whatever the origin of the change, with it comes unpredictability”. Will all lawyers have to be coding experts? Will the future have any lawyers at all? Some argue that blockchain could bring the end of all intermediaries as transaction costs fall near to zero. Whether it will be true or not, policymakers, businesses and citizens must work together through the digital transformation and integrate research, innovation and education strategies to build stronger knowledge systems tomorrow.

If interested in joining this discussion, please register to our webinar “Fourth INdustrial Revolution: are knowledge systems ready?” on March 7th at 1 PM GMT: Please register here.







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