The main focus of this aspect of our research will be to devise alternative means of assessing knowledge production and use in African contexts, with special focus on innovation as an instrumental pillar of knowledge.
Why Do We Need New Measures?
Africa always appears at the tail of rankings of knowledge and innovation indices. Does this mean there is no knowledge produced in Africa? Is there no innovation happening on the continent?
Most of the knowledge and innovation indicators provided in both published literature and used by international organisations measure how many patents were filed, how many copyrights, etc. While such measures may reflect innovations in developed-country contexts, they fall short in portraying the wealth of knowledge and innovation organically created in African contexts and miss the great amount of the tacit knowledge that especially thrives in the informal economy. Our previous research, published in Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa, indicates that
“the lack of salience, in many African settings, of conventional IP, drives home the fact… that using patent numbers… is too crude an instrument to adequately measure innovation [across the continent].” (UCT Press, p. 389)
Based on this previous research, Open AIR believes that knowledge stems from unique community histories, experiences, and cultures, and that innovation is devised to solve context-specific problems and issues, reflecting the intricate realities of knowledge production settings. Accordingly, the standards used for measuring knowledge should be from the ground up and include small-scale, local innovations as they occur. Such measures should capture elements of knowledge and innovation that often escape the conventional, mainstream measurements.
As such, our previous work aimed to document evidence of user-driven, informal, organic, accidental, incremental, and local modes of knowledge production. The result of which was that there needs to be the development of
“contextually appropriate metrics sensitive to the monitoring of meaningful changes in behaviour around innovation and creativity [and] instrumental for promoting African grassroots entrepreneurship, broad-based business development, and a vibrant private sector built on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with a sustained ability to innovate.” (UCT Press, p. vi)
Our new research will continue to highlight the gaps in the literature, provide an analysis of conventional knowledge measures, and present the case for a nuanced assessment of African knowledge and innovation in light of new business structures and existing tacit and informal knowledge. We will design and adopt bottom-up approaches in measuring African knowledge rather than relying on the classical, top-down indicators that do not reflect the realities on the ground.
While the previous research has succeeded in bringing some much-needed attention to these knowledge governance characteristics, it has become clear that we have barely scratched the surface of a very large and complex research problem. Now, with the benefit of insights and evidence gleaned from our previous research, we are in a position to move forward with some specific remedies for the assessment gaps, and thus conceptual gaps, we have uncovered.