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Knowledge sharing is a fundamental part of implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, SDG 17 underlines the importance of “knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms,” accentuating the transition from traditional donor-recipient relations to a partnership based on shared learning. In the context of HLPF, Voluntary National Reviews has emerged as one of the instruments for such knowledge exchange.

However, the global knowledge ecosystem has been tested by the COVID-19 outbreak. Indeed, in the global efforts to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic and its subsequent socio-economic crises, the effective sharing of knowledge in relevant communities of professionals has proven to be critical. As the pandemic spreads around the world, the demand for information on relevant practices, policies, and response measures has increased substantially. This flow of knowledge is becoming increasingly multi-directional, transcending the traditional patterns established between the North and South.

In this context, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea and UNDP Seoul Policy Centre (USPC) jointly hosted a virtual side event at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on “Learning Lessons from COVID19, sharing knowledge for SDG implementation: Knowledge actors in a rapidly changing context” on Tuesday, July 07, 2020. This event aimed to contribute towards increasing collective understanding on the knowledge management frameworks needed to facilitate sustainable development.

Stephan Klingebiel, Director of USPC, started the event with his opening remarks by highlighting the following three points. First, he accentuated that knowledge plays a significant role in achieving the SDGs, and that capacity building, science, and technologies is becoming increasingly important in this regard. Second, he emphasized that there are emerging approaches to knowledge sharing such as South-South Cooperation. Third, he underscored the challenges behind knowledge sharing. To conclude, he then expressed his gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea for its close partnership.

Young-kul Koh, Director of the Development Policy Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, provided his introductory remarks with a call for solidarity and collective action stretching beyond both physical and non-physical boundaries to combat the pandemic. He emphasized that the Korean government is actively sharing experiences and best practices with the international community and will continue to scale up such knowledge exchange and peer learning. He introduced the Building TRUST (Transparency, Resilience, Unity, and Safety Together) Initiative to provide comprehensive development support to partner countries in tackling the challenges related to COVID-19. Accordingly, he described capacity building as a “key to advancing the national knowledge ecosystem” and an essential component of a ‘sustainable resilience’.

Taidong Zhou, Director of Global Development Research Division for China’s Center for International Knowledge on Development (CCIKD), began the panel discussion by presenting on CCIKD´s approach to knowledge sharing. In doing so, he emphasized that the CCIKD aims to share Chinese experiences through demand-driven bilateral and multilateral forms of support such as exchange activities, virtual events, and progress reports. He also underlined the importance of comparative studies, process-oriented approaches, and being aware of challenges in areas such as 1) tracking policy changes in partner countries, 2) identifying real demands, and 3) reporting achievements.

Philani Mthembu, Executive Director at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), elaborated on the lessons learned within the African context in the area of knowledge exchange. He accentuated that there is a gap between policy-making and the role of science, and subsequently argued that the COVID-19 Pandemic has compelled countries to close it. Additionally, he stated that knowledge is not a one-way mechanism consisting of North-South flows, but includes North-North, South-South, and South-North flows as well. Lastly, he mentioned the need for capacity building within the African continent, as it provides the ability to build resilience.

Kim Taekyoon, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of International Development at Seoul National University, agreed that the traditional donor-recipient (North-South) paradigm is no longer effective and suggested that a “new architecture of knowledge sharing be introduced as an alternative.” He listed six proposals to establish this toolbox for effective knowledge sharing.

1)      Include experiences and good practices into volunteer natural reviews

2)      Provide digital access for such information as a new public good

3)      Establish a new global framework for infectious diseases

4)      Re-channel expenditures to be used more effectively

5)      Launch a new platform for knowledge sharing initiatives based on South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation

6)      Incorporate public-private partnerships and voluntary civic engagement

Milindo Chakrabarti, Visiting Fellow at Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) posited that the COVID-19 Pandemic has emphasized the importance of achieving the SDGs. Moreover, he explained that the SDGs, compared to the MDGs, no longer rely on just investments and other forms of financial capital, but also other types of assets such as knowledge, which also contribute to the growth of an economy.

Citlali Ayala Martínez, Academic Coordinator at the Mora Institute, presented on the various efforts being made on the part of Mexico to contribute to knowledge sharing. Moreover, she spoke of the various challenges, such as the need for inclusivity and coordination, that have been experienced in this process. Thus, she emphasized the role of science and data in overcoming such limitations.

Niels Keijzer, Senior Researcher at German Development Institute, noted the need to move away from the traditional conceptualization of knowledge sharing. He mentioned that more open-ended and communicative forms of learning could be advanced to support country-specific approaches to global challenges, and that this may increasingly take place through online channels. In this context, he emphasized the need to understand more about the process of learning and the different methods that can be used to facilitate it.

Stephan Klingebiel, Director of UNDP Seoul Policy Centre, concluded the webinar by highlighting some of the key points found in the discussion. These key points included the following:

(1) The benefits of comparative perspectives (what are conceptual options based on different knowledge actor approaches? Etc.)
(2) The interface between science and policy- / decision-making (COVID-19 shows how much decision-making should be informed by independent evidence)
(3) The need for an inclusive multi-actor approach (COVID-19 illustrates how much public and private actors need to interact (private sector, CSOs, academia, governmental institutions, etc.))
(4) Viewing knowledge as a global public good (quite often, ‘knowledge’ is not seen and managed as a “public good”)

(5) State of the art practices in knowledge exchange (we know from development cooperation experiences that knowledge exchange is not an easy exercise).

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