The importance of sharing knowledge to advance digital cooperation


Three questions on D4D series: Interview with Maxime Heyndrickx, D4D expert
Proyecto o iniciativa
AU-EU D4D Hub project

Digitalisation is a relatively new field for international cooperation, explains Maxime Heyndrickx, Digital for Development (D4D) expert at the African Union — European Union (AU-EU) D4D Hub. “It is only in recent years that development projects have started supporting countries’ digital transformation as a leverage to promote economic growth, job creation, and inclusive development,” he says.

In this interview, Maxime argues that due to the relative novelty of the sector, there is a strong interest from global partners to learn from different experiences, draw lessons, and apply good practices to promote a human-centric digital transformation.

“There is a gap when it comes to knowledge sharing,” he adds. “The actors driving the digital transformation — governments, civil society organisations, private sector — regularly encounter challenges that their peers in other countries have perhaps also faced. This is why it is so important to foster mutual learning and exchanges”.

Q: Why does knowledge sharing matter for D4D?

MH: Let’s first talk about knowledge sharing in the development sector. Traditionally, many international cooperation initiatives have prioritised ‘standalone’ financial and technical support. This is a consequence of the tendency to measure results as expenditures and direct tangible accomplishments.

But this type of ‘ticking the box’ initiatives often fail to recognise the importance of involving the partners in the design, implementation and, more importantly, the follow-up. In addition, this rather top-down approach can lead to difficulties to ensure longer-term and sustainable added value for the partners and genuine mutual ownership.

Facilitating said added value and ownership requires adopting a needs-based approach, which means designing envisaged initiatives based on the demands of the recipient country instead of the donor. In addition, the advancement of South-South and triangular cooperation has urged the sector to rethink the traditional ‘North-South’ model of international cooperation.

As part of this paradigm shift and recognising that we live in a multipolar world, demand-driven knowledge sharing and capacity-building activities have become increasingly integrated into international cooperation initiatives.

There is also a growing acknowledgement that sharing knowledge and learning is a de facto two-way street. In other words, by also focusing on demand-driven knowledge sharing, all entities involved in international cooperation initiatives can learn from their counterparts and co-construct more impactful cooperation. We are certainly not there yet, but the increasing attention paid to mutually relevant knowledge sharing is promising.

Now, let’s talk about the digital sector. As digitalisation is systematically and rapidly becoming an important part of our economies and societies, the global demand for know-how, skills and experiences related to the topic is increasing. In this sense, the integration of demand-driven knowledge sharing and exchange activities into digital cooperation initiatives should become an instinctive reaction.

Moreover, it goes without saying that the digital transformation, if done in a human-centric, inclusive, and sustainable way, can help improve access to knowledge, further highlighting the interlinkages between digitalisation and knowledge sharing.

Q: How does knowledge sharing look in practice? What role can digital technologies play to facilitate this process?

MH: “Knowledge sharing” as a concept is rather abstract, referring to the need to address information gaps in a systemic way through disseminating experiences, skills, and expertise to diverse societal actors. Nonetheless, “knowledge sharing” as an activity becomes very concrete as it facilitates the exchange of tangible and explicit knowledge between people, communities, and organisations.

Essentially, we can talk about two types of knowledge sharing activities. The first takes place face-to-face, while the second makes use of technological advancements to facilitate remote knowledge sharing.

Traditionally, face-to-face knowledge sharing relies on pedagogic activities such as training, study visits, or workshops. Although these types of activities require physical participation and limit the number of participants; the added value lies in the participants’ possibility to informally engage and exchange — which can also help share experiences.

In the case of remote knowledge sharing, the absence of physical contact might limit in some ways the possibility for interaction and full attention, it can actually reduce barriers and improve accessibility to knowledge.

Moreover, new tools such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are an enabler of large-scale dissemination of knowledge with limited investment. Using online knowledge sharing platforms can facilitate exchanges of experience, skills, and expertise, contributing to closing the digital knowledge gap at a global scale.

Q: What kind of knowledge sharing activities does the AU-EU D4D Hub support?

MH: One of the AU-EU D4D Hub’s three core components focuses exclusively on knowledge sharing. In doing so, it facilitates the exchange of relevant experiences, skills, and expertise between African and European stakeholders (which is the geographical scope of the project). The goal is to increase mutual learning and stimulate the application of good practices and lessons learned on the digital transformation.

The AU-EU D4D Hub’s work on knowledge sharing is rather varied, but can be structured along two main groups, which are aligned with the two types of knowledge sharing that I just mentioned.

First, the project supports physical exchanges that enhance knowledge sharing between digital stakeholders at national, regional, continental, and even transcontinental levels. Concretely, the AU-EU D4D Hub facilitates topic-specific workshops (think of e-governance, digital skills, or cybersecurity), international study visits, and training. For example, we recently facilitated a study visit for a Kenyan delegation to learn from Ghana’s experience using a mobile application to increase transparency in the use of public funds. This is a very concrete activity that benefitted government officers and civil society representatives.

Second, for the online part, the AU-EU D4D Hub helps African and European partners in developing knowledge products such as case studies, reports, podcast series, articles and expert analyses. The production of such knowledge products allows us to reach a broader audience through very accessible tools.

Moreover, the project has developed an online knowledge platform called D4D Access. D4D Access is an open platform for African and European users that aims to stimulate knowledge exchanges. The platform acts as a one-stop-shop for digital stakeholders interested in the challenges and opportunities regarding the digital transformation. Some of the areas covered by the platform include connectivity, data protection, cybersecurity, e-governance, and digital entrepreneurship

D4D Access will be launched on 30 November at the Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (on-site event only). Register here to attend

About the interviewee

Since 2020, Maxime Heyndrickx works as D4D Expert at Enabel, the Belgian development agency, contributing to both the Wehubit programme and the AU-EU D4D Hub. Maxime started his career as a project manager for the Belgian Federal Government, after which he became a Blue Book Trainee at DG INTPA (then DG DEVCO), working on D4D in (Southern) Africa.

After graduating from Ghent University in Modern History and International Politics, Maxime pursued an additional MSc in Public Policy and Human Development at Maastricht University/UNU-MERIT, focusing his thesis on Innovation Ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa.