“Knowledge Democracy: What is it and Why is it Important?”

The continued celebration of CKI's 10th anniversary was fortunate enough to welcome Professor Budd Hall to NUI Galway for a lecture entitled “Knowledge Democracy: What is it and Why is it Important?” and co-facilitate a workshop with Professor Darlene Clover, that focused on the realities of undertaking community-based research. Dr. Hall is a Professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada and co-chair of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. 

His lecture interrogated the “democratisation of knowledge” in higher education and the ideas that have lead to a successful Community Based Research ethos and practice at the University of Victoria. He was full of praise for the CKI programme and work of NUI Galway as a model of best practice in the area of community and civic engagement for community based research, the higher education curriculum and mission, and continuing to effect policy changes on a national and international level. 

Dr. Hall spoke about the creation of the UNESCO chair for Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education and its mandate to build capacity in the global south. Hi co-chair and he, Rajesh Tandon (Director of PRIA)work on three main directives: advocacy and policy development to help institutions of higher education change the climate of CBR in higher education and procure funding; a global survey of structures for facilitating CBR in a respectful, effective, and action-oriented atmosphere that seeks to study multiple approaches and find the best, most effective strategies for implementation; and capacity building within these institutions to understand how we can learn to do CBR and how institutions can help young people who want to learn it both within the university and outside of it in various community organizations. 

Professor Hall brought the theory and application of Community Based Research to life for an auditorium filled with academic staff, students and community partners. He came having studied up on Irish history (and even some of the language!) and the culture of social justice present here. He recited  poems by Indian writers, Irish writers, and even one he'd written himself which all spoke to the importance of education, the fires of idealism, and the necessarily democratic and inclusive nature of knowledge and learning. He filled the room with his enthusiasm and called on universities to remember that they have a particular mandate to manage knowledge on behalf of society and so must reflect on how they use and transmit knowledge and what effect they have on their wider communities. Universities then, as a representation of communal social knowledge, must take advantage of the varied epistemologies that exist across communities, and of the different life experiences and know-how that have developed along the way. 

In his work he seeks to use knowledge as an organising strategy to reduce inequality, be gentler on the planet, and create healthier more inclusive communities. The powerful effect of having data in discussions on these subjects is often where CBR comes in. Universities engaging in CBR then, must be willing to be not directors, but co-constructors in a social knowledge base that listens to the community and recognizes differences in knowledge cultures while building capacities for all those involved. This might mean a great deal of change for some universities and for how we view the role of knowledge in the global north, but this right now is a real and legitimate movement and its energy can be harnessed to mobilize the global south and vastly reduce knowledge and capability inequalities around the world. 

Professor Hall's lecture was an informative explanation of CBR and the idea of “knowledge democracy” and it was a call to action for universities to direct their energy and resources to important social and global change. His extensive experience around the world studying knowledge and its role in society brought an invigorating message to the Galway community and to those at NUIG working so hard on community knowledge and engagement themselves. He was a wealth of enthusiasm and an honour to have here at the University and we look forward to what he does next and to what he inspires us to do. 

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