ABCs of KMDecolonising knowledge & KMFeatured Stories

What can KM4Dev and RealKM do to assist the decolonisation of knowledge and KM?

This article provides notes and links to accompany my part of KM4Dev Knowledge Cafè 16: Decolonisation of knowledge action plan on 20 May 2021.

Suggestions in regard to what KM4Dev and RealKM can consider doing to assist the decolonisation of knowledge and knowledge management (KM) are made across four areas. Included are suggestions that are relevant to both KM4Dev and RealKM’s own activities and the role that they can play in promoting and supporting decolonisation in the broader global KM community.

The four areas are:

  1. Decolonising KM research
  2. Decolonising KM discussions
  3. Decolonising KM practice
  4. Narrative disruption.

1. Decolonising KM research

Euro-American geographic bias

A 2018 study1 found a serious imbalance in global KM research. Two-thirds of KM research papers have been produced in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. By stark comparison, there are very few KM research papers from much of Africa, South America, Central America, the Middle East, Central Asia, South-East Asia, and Russia.

Suggested action 1.1 – The Knowledge Management for Development Journal editorial team to consider publishing a special issue or issues on topics related to the decolonisation of knowledge and KM. An example from another field is the current Alternation Special Edition2 “Decoloniality and Decolonial Education: South Africa and the World.”
Suggested action 1.2 – The Knowledge Management for Development Journal editorial team to consider aiming for a wider global spread of editors across issues.
Suggested action 1.3 – KM4Dev and RealKM to encourage the editors and publishers of other knowledge management journals3 to aim for a wider global spread of editors, authors, issues, articles, and peer reviewers.

English language bias

In the #75 article4 in Altmetric’s top 100 list for 2020, Valeria Ramírez-Castañeda explores how Colombian researchers in biological sciences are disadvantaged in publishing their work in academic journals by the dominance of the English language in science. She states that although having a common language is important for science communication, generating multilingual alternatives in global academic publishing would promote diversity.

Suggested action 1.4 – The Knowledge Management for Development Journal editorial team to consider how to address the potential multilingual alternatives suggested by Valeria Ramírez-Castañeda.
Suggested action 1.5 – KM4Dev and RealKM to encourage the editors and publishers of other knowledge management journals5 to consider how they could address the potential multilingual alternatives suggested by Valeria Ramírez-Castañeda.

2. Decolonising KM discussions

As with KM research, geographic and language biases exist in KM discussion forums, but it needs to be acknowledged that it is very challenging for voluntary or small not-for-profit organisations to implement multilingual alternatives (and indeed, RealKM Magazine has geographic and language biases because of these challenges). However, there are some initial steps that can be potentially taken.

Suggested action 2.1 – KM4Dev and RealKM to consider how they could implement multilingual alternatives, and how other KM forums and could be encouraged to do the same. A potential way of commencing the implementation of multilingual alternatives could be through following the model of the Integration and Implementation Insights blog, where multilingual authors can publish versions of their posts in both English and their first language.

A further issue is the potential for people with long-term KM experience in the Global North to talk over or talk down to people with lived experience in the Global South.

Suggested action 2.2 – KM4Dev and RealKM to consider how principles and practices for empowering lived experience6 could be reflected in KM discussion forums.

3. Decolonising KM practice

Recognising different KM approaches

Aligned with the geographic biases in KM research mentioned above, what we know as KM originated in a relatively small part of the world7 with generally uniform culture and values. While much of the rest of the world may not have practiced KM as such, it has been successfully managing knowledge for a very long time, and has learnt much in the process. Given this, it would be very wrong to assume that what we know as KM constitutes all there is to know about managing knowledge, or has even found the best ways of doing it.

Case study 1 – Xiaomi. While teaching KM lessons learned techniques to my KM & Innovation PhD student class8 at Shanxi University in China, one of my students brought the iterative innovation approach practised by electronics maker Xiaomi to my attention. Xiaomi engages directly9 with its customer support base to listen to and directly and rapidly respond to the problems this large and growing community identifies. This approach would potentially be a more effective lessons learned approach for Global North companies than traditional KM approaches.
Case study 2 – ISO 30401. ISO 30401:2018 Knowledge management systems – Requirements is promoted as a globally universal KM standard. But it isn’t. Not only was consultation for ISO 30401 limited, including geographically, but in the case of China, ISO 30401 can’t be considered to have ascendancy or superiority over China’s existing GB/T 23703 KM and GB/T 34061 KM systems standards. GB/T 23703 and GB/T 34061 have been developed by Chinese KM experts for the Chinese cultural context.
Suggested action 3.1 – KM4Dev and RealKM to consider how different KM approaches from the Global South can be identified and respected, and awareness can be raised in this regard.

Technoscientific and technocratic approaches in development

In a recent paper10, Maru Mormina and Romina Istratii write that in regard to international development, “the technoscientific paradigm serves a universalising, deterministic, teleological, western, and inevitably westernising, narrative of development that downgrades other forms of knowledge.”

Similarly, another recent paper11 states that “Narrow and technocratic understandings of accountability [in international development] can inadvertently depoliticise the humanitarian space and undermine community self-advocacy efforts and local visions for change … The paper advocates for humanitarian accountability as a site of potentiality and innovation. It argues that innovation through accountability can be achieved by an active engagement of recipient communities based on principles of deep listening and action.”

Suggested action 3.2 – KM4Dev and RealKM to consider how to assist in replacing technoscientific and technocratic approaches in development with humanitarian approaches that better engage local communities and their knowledge.

4. Narrative disruption

In a recent book chapter12, Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudo advocates for “cognitive decolonisation” as a starting point in decolonisation, stating that “I can guarantee that those experiencing only the Western reality, where academic conditions are optimal, will not be aware of the realities and barriers faced by African universities and researchers. That is why it is so important to decolonize the way of thinking of scholars from the North.”

This lack of awareness by those in the Global North of realities in the Global South gives rise to and sustains cognitive biases and biased narratives not just in academia, but in all aspects of society.

As David Gurteen advises in a recent article on societal KM, “As individuals, we know almost nothing compared to what we think we know. Our personal knowledge is more than just an illusion. It is a delusion. If we thought deeply for one moment, we would realize we are ignorant of our ignorance.”

This knowledge delusion provides the foundation for the existence and persistence of the coloniality of knowledge, which is why Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudo contends that “cognitive decolonisation” is a necessary first step in the decolonisation of knowledge.

Case study 3 – Shenzhen. False but persistent narratives in regard to “ghost cities” in China and that “Shenzhen [transformed] from a fishing town 35 years ago into a megacity of more than 10 million people,” including in peer-reviewed research, has meant that a fascinating story about Shenzhen’s villages is being overlooked, a story which contains important knowledge of potential benefit to urban planning in western countries.
Case study 4 – Animal key chains and beach behaviour. False narratives in regard to live animal keychains and beach behaviour in China reinforce and perpetuate negative and inappropriate cultural stereotypes.
Case study 5 – Little Emperors. False “Little Emperor” narratives in regard to sole children in China have been used to oppose China’s one-child policy. However, rather than being socially isolated at home with “doting parents,” children in China live in a highly socialised extended family environment, and also board at school in highly socialised dormitories for at least all of their senior high school years.
Suggested action 4.1 – KM4Dev and RealKM to consider how approaches that identify, challenge, and counter false and biased narratives can be facilitated. Potential approaches include:


  1. Wang, P., Zhu, F. W., Song, H. Y., Hou, J. H., & Zhang, J. L. (2018). Visualizing the Academic Discipline of Knowledge Management. Sustainability, 10(3), 682.
  2. Maart, R. (ed) (2020). Decoloniality and Decolonial Education: South Africa and the World. Alternation, Special Edition 33.
  3. Serenko, A., & Bontis, N. (2017). Global ranking of knowledge management and intellectual capital academic journals: 2017 update. Journal of Knowledge Management, 21(3), 675-692.
  4. Ramírez-Castañeda, V. (2020). Disadvantages in preparing and publishing scientific papers caused by the dominance of the English language in science: The case of Colombian researchers in biological sciences. PloS one, 15(9), e0238372.
  5. Serenko, A., & Bontis, N. (2017). Global ranking of knowledge management and intellectual capital academic journals: 2017 update. Journal of Knowledge Management, 21(3), 675-692.
  6. Gayde, R. et al. (2020). Lived Experience Framework, Principles and practices for Lived Experience partnerships. WACOSS.
  7. Wang, P., Zhu, F. W., Song, H. Y., Hou, J. H., & Zhang, J. L. (2018). Visualizing the Academic Discipline of Knowledge Management. Sustainability, 10(3), 682.
  8. Boyes, B. (2018). Educating knowledge managers. Information Professional, March 2018.
  9. Ortiz, J., Ren, H., Li, K., and Zhang, A. (2019). Construction of Open Innovation Ecology on the Internet: A Case Study of Xiaomi (China) Using Institutional Logic. Sustainability 11(11): 3225.
  10. Mormina, M., & Istratii, R. (2021). ‘Capacity for what? Capacity for whom?’A decolonial deconstruction of Research Capacity Development practices in the Global South and a proposal for a value-centred approach.
  11. Aijazi, O. (2021). Why technocratic understandings of humanitarian accountability undermine local communities. Development in Practice, 1-13.
  12. Nkoudou, T.H.M. (2020). Epistemic Alienation in African Scholarly Communications: Open Access as a Pharmakon. In Eve, M. P., & Gray, J. (Eds.) Reassembling scholarly communications: Histories, infrastructures, and global politics of Open Access. MIT Press.
  13. Cummings, S., De Haan, L., & Seferiadis, A. A. (2020). How to use critical discourse analysis for policy analysis: a guideline for policymakers and other professionals. Knowledge Management for Development Journal.
  14. Botticello, J. (2020). Engaging Many Voices for Inclusivity in Higher Education. Journal of Impact Cultures, 1(1), 22-38.
  15. Moreno-Cely., A., Cuajera-Nahui., D., Escobar-Vasquez., C., Vanwing., T. and Tapia-Ponce., N. (2021). Breaking monologues in collaborative research: Bridging knowledge systems through a listening-based dialogue of wisdom approach. Sustainability Science, 16: 919–931.
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Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and project management professional. He is a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. His expertise and experience includes knowledge management (KM), environmental management, project management, stakeholder engagement, teaching and training, communications, research, and writing and editing. With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee an award-winning $77.4 million western Sydney river recovery program, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support the sustainable management of landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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