Uncomfortable truths in international development: approaches to the decolonization of knowledge from development practice, policy and research


In this Special Issue, we are aiming to consider both the theory and the praxis of decolonizing knowledge. We will build on the activities already undertaken by the KM4Dev community, such as the ‘Uncomfortable truths in development’ knowledge café and blogs, as well as on the work carried out by other individuals, organizations and networks. We are particularly interested in analyses of how power is shifting or how it should shift, equitable knowledge, and how the unequal patterns of knowledge creation and use can be dismantled. 

Building on the intellectual legacy of critics of colonialism (see, for example, Busia, 1960; Freire, 1996; Mafeje, 1978; Nkrumah, 1961; Okot p’Bitek, 1997; Said, 1979) and on a growing call from within the development sector for a shift in power toward local communities (see, for example, Hodgson, 2019), decolonization of knowledge focuses on dismantling the fundamental inequities of the knowledge system in which coloniality and actual colonization interact with neo-liberal economics to exclude knowledge and knowledge holders from the multiple peripheries of the Global South, First Nations and indigenous communities, Eastern Europe, women and youth. In this discussion, coloniality refers to ‘long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations’ (Torres 2007: 243). Indeed, there is evidence these exclusionary patterns are becoming further entrenched.

The term ‘decolonization of knowledge’ refers to a group of processes and actions that intentionally dismantle these entrenched, unequal patterns of knowledge creation and use (Cummings, et al., 2021) and is full of ‘complexities, tensions, and paradoxes’ (Oliveira Andreotti et al. 2015: 22). Many academics are engaging with the emerging decolonial agenda (see, for example, Bumpus, 2020; Demeter, 2020; Doharty et al., 2020; Dussell, 2020; Hermida and Meschini, 2017, Istratii and Lewis, 2019; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2019; Pailey, 2020; Patel, 2020; Rodriguez 2018; Torcigliani et al., 2022, Vince, 2019), and there is a growing number of initiatives which are aiming to match actions to words, including Convivial Thinking,[1] EU COST Action Decolonising Development: Research, Teaching and Practice,[2] Decolonising Research Development in Higher Education,[3] Decolonial Subversions,[4] RealKM Magazine on decolonising knowledge and KM,[5] Working Group Epistemologías del Sur of the Social Sciences Latin American Council (CLACSO), The Decolonial Critique,[6] Decolonising Library and Information Services (LIS),[7] an initiative of one of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) of the UK-based CILIP, as well as the KM4Dev community.

Although the participation of the global South in agenda-setting related to the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been curtailed (see, for example, Cummings et al, 2018), South-South cooperation is contributing to the transformation of the norms and principles of international cooperation (UN Secretary General, 2018). There is a need to reflect and find practical approaches to expand the concepts of equity and inclusion, recognizing the importance of local knowledge and embedded values, giving an action- and practice-orientation to the academic decolonization debate. The Agenda Knowledge for  Development (Brandner and Cummings, 2018) has, for example, attempted to do this by advocating for multiple knowledges for the SDGs and Agenda 2030.

In this Special Issue, we are aiming to consider both the theory and the praxis of decolonizing knowledge. We will build on the activities already undertaken by KM4Dev, such as the ‘Uncomfortable truths in development’ knowledge café and blogs (Young 2021; Pradhan, 2021; Hendrix-Jenkins, 2021; Cummings, 2021) as well as on the work carried out by other individuals, organizations and networks. We are particularly interested in analyses of how power is shifting or how it should shift, equitable knowledge, and how the unequal patterns of knowledge creation and use can be dismantled. With the aim of mapping a holistic view, potential themes include:

  • Theory and praxis related to epistemic injustice.
  • Changing power dynamics related to knowledge and knowledge management in international development, for example the status of different types of knowledge and the status of evidence.
  • Organizational change discussions related to whose evidence is heard and whose knowledge is prioritized, and decolonization processes, such as ‘internationalization’ processes.
  • Perspectives on local knowledge and engaging with knowledge holders, such as women, youth, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups, inclusively.
  • Systems approaches to decolonization of knowledge (see, for example, Cummings et al, 2021).
  • New methods of group facilitation and identification of approaches from the Global South for knowledge transfer and retention.
  • Technology and decolonization
  • Language diversity and decolonization (see, for example, Ramírez-Castañeda, 2020; Amano et al, 2021).
  • Coloniality and decolonization of political and social narratives.

We are also specifically looking at new methodologies and tools which are or could be part of the decolonial approach. These include those helping assess epistemic injustice in development projects (Boogaard, 2021), or those related to critical discourse analysis (Cummings et al., 2020), group facilitation (Torcigliani, 2022), many voices (Botticello, 2020), listening-based dialogue (Moreno-Cely et al., 2021), and others. Many different types of contributions are welcome (see Appendix 1). Given the nature of this Special Issue, we expect more informal types of contributions (thought pieces, stories and life stories, community notes, debates) than usual.

Your contribution
We particularly encourage submissions from practitioners, policymakers, researchers and activists from the Global South as well as from organizations promoting the use of information and knowledge management for development. We also encourage submissions from all disciplines, as long as they focus on information and knowledge management processes.

Submissions are welcome in English, French and Spanish. If you would prefer to write in another language, please let us know. We can offer ‘peer support’ to authors who are inexperienced writers.

Submission guidelines
If you would like to submit a paper or another type of contribution, please send a short proposal, including the title of your proposed contribution, the type of contribution (paper, case study etc.) and an abstract (minimum one paragraph – maximum one page) by email to:



Submission deadline for title and abstract - 01 May 2022
Acceptance/rejection of abstract - 15 May 2022
Submission of full paper - 15 September 2022
Completion of peer-review - 15 October 2022
Submission of final version of paper - 15 November 2022
Publication date - 15 December 2022

For further information about the journal, kindly consult the journal website at: km4djournal.org.

We are looking forward to receiving your abstracts.


Bruce Boyes, Jorge Chavez-Tafur, Sarah Cummings, Peterson Dewah, Charles Dhewa, Srividya Harish, Ann Henrix-Jenkins, Gladys Kemboi, David Ludwig, Rocio Sanz, Thomas Senaji, Denise Senmartin and Stacey Young  (Guest Editors)

About the Guest Editors
Bruce Boyes is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine. He holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction, and his work in cross-domain knowledge integration and knowledge co-creation for sustainable development is highly regarded. His expertise and experience includes knowledge management (KM), environmental management, project management, stakeholder engagement, teaching and training, communications, research, and writing and editing. Through RealKM Magazine, Bruce has been very active in advancing the decolonization of knowledge and KM. An impetus for this has been eight years of living and working in China, where he became acutely aware of the extent to which the global knowledge base is biased against the Global South, including learning about Chinese KM approaches that offer advantages over dominant Euro-American approaches. He is a Senior Editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. Email: bruce@bruceboyes.info

Jorge Chavez-Tafur PhD is an agronomist and rural development professional supporting the analysis and evaluation of projects and programmes; the exchange of information and the dissemination of the lessons learnt, and different capacity development initiatives. He is currently MEAL advisor at Oxfam Novib and was previously Knowledge Management officer at CTA, coordinating the Experience Capitalization project implemented in collaboration with other agencies; editor of Farming Matters and of the international edition of the LEISA magazine. He is a Guest lecturer at Universidad Agraria La Molina, Peru, and was previously a consultant with ETC Andes, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He is a member of the KM4Dev core group and Senior Editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. Email: j.chavez.tafur@gmail.com

Sarah Cummings PhD is the Editor-in-Chief of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal which she founded with colleagues in 2005. She is currently working as Researcher, Public-Private Partnerships at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), The Netherlands. She is a member of the KM4Dev core group. Email: sarahcummingswork@gmail.com

Peterson Dewah PhD is a lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe, and an Honorary Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Information Studies Programme. Dr Dewah is a C2 NRF rated researcher and his research interests are in knowledge management, records and archives management, ethics in information management and indigenous knowledge systems where he has taught and published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He has supervised BSc Honours and Masters Students, and examined PhD and Masters’ theses and dissertations in his years of university teaching and research career. Email: peterson.dewah@nust.ac.zw

Charles Dhewa is a proactive Knowledge Broker and Management Specialist committed to exceptional practical achievements in agriculture and rural development. Among other qualifications, he holds a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Information and Knowledge Management from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Based in Zimbabwe, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) Ltd which he founded in 2006 after realizing that agriculture value chain actors needed knowledge brokering services. He writes a lot of articles on thought leadership in agriculture and socio-economic development. Some of his ideas are shared through his blog. Working from more than 20 agriculture markets under a flagship known as eMKambo, his organisation gathers and processes data into market intelligence that is important for decision making and policy development. He is a member of the KM4Dev core group.
Email: charles@knowledgetransafrica.com

Srividya Harish is a collaborative senior development professional with 15 years of multi-disciplinary research, evaluation, and training experience to support quality, impactful and meaningful programmes. A knowledge management and learning expert with a track record of developing organizations’, individuals, and team’s capacity in 45+ countries. She is a member of the KM4Dev core group.
Email: chsrividya@gmail.com

Ann Hendrix-Jenkins is a jaded but nevertheless optimistic idealist about the potential of international partnerships. She has worked for 25+ years in organizational and social learning and change, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, writer, facilitator & convener, knowledge manager, and more. She believes that collective change and inclusive social cohesion are the ways forward. She loves the power of games and the social arts. Currently she works as a consultant, and as Chief Encourager to the National Chapters of the Movement for Community-led Development. Email: annhjenkins@gmail.com

Gladys Kemboi is a Knowledge Management Advisor with international development experience. Major strengths in knowledge management (KM) and global issues which include decolonisation of knowledge, social and gender advocacy, youth and women empowerment, climate change, and socio-economic projects, resulting in increased opportunities whilst fostering inclusivity and sustainability. Recognized and awarded for applying KM to address social and economic inequalities and the ability to develop and implement a highly successful knowledge management performance portfolio. Gladys holds Masters in Information and Knowledge Management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, as well as Bachelor of Technology in Information Studies (Major Knowledge Management) from the Technical University of Kenya and a Certified Community Manager by the World Bank Group. She is a member of the KM4Dev core group. Email: kemboigladys23@gmail.com 

David Ludwig PhD is an associate professor in the Knowledge, Technology, and Innovation (KTI) group of Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands, and the principal investigator of the Global Epistemologies and Ontologies (GEOS) project. He works at the intersection of philosophy of science and development studies with a focus on knowledge diversity among heterogenous actors from Indigenous communities to academically trained scientists. David is passionate about critical thinking about development and about turning philosophical reflection into meaningful and collaborative action.
Email: david.ludwig@wur.nl

Rocio Sanz serves organizations, teams and individuals as knowledge broker to improve their knowledge management strategies, competitive and business intelligence, work on developing frameworks, support information, networks, facilitation and communication requirements. Her work experience also includes assessments, profiling, monitoring and evaluation; capacity building, development of training materials, document management and other targeted and tailored innovative tools required for knowledge elicitation, sharing and generation. She is a member of the KM4Dev core group and Senior Editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal. Email: sanz_rocio@hotmail.com

Thomas Senaji PhD is Professor of strategy and knowledge management and Deputy Vice Chancellor at the East African University (TEAU), Kenya. He extensively provides consultancy services to governments and private organisations on information and communication technology focusing Broadband strategy in Africa and organisational strategy and knowledge management. He is the founding President of the International Society for Leadership and Management currently in formative stages. Email: tsenaji@gmail.com

Denise Senmartin is passionate about facilitating learning processes and multicultural conversations. Over fifteen years of experience in knowledge sharing and learning for development working with public, private, and multilateral organizations. Strong record on implementing south-south knowledge exchanges, designing, implementing and evaluating strategies and processes, often in multicultural and policy ­oriented contexts. Deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in maintaining a participatory dialogue with partners, both online and offline. Specific knowledge on community management, information and communication technologies for development, and project management. Proven solid remote work experience and excellent report writing and presentation skills. Last stage of a PhD on the Information and Knowledge Society, focusing on transnational participation and contemporary forms of engagements, social media. She is a Senior Editor of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal.
Email: dsenmartin@gmail.com

Stacey Young PhD is the Agency Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Officer, leading agency-wide knowledge and learning approaches at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Stacey Young also co-chairs the Multi-Donor Learning Partnership of nine major donor organizations working to advance organizational learning and knowledge management in international development. From 2011-2019, she served as a Senior Learning Advisor for USAID's Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Through her vision and leadership, USAID developed a holistic approach to Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) that is integrated across USAID’s country programs. also served as the Senior Technical Advisor for USAID’s first Agency-wide learning agenda, on the Journey to Self-Reliance. Stacey Young joined USAID in 2003 as the Senior Knowledge Management Advisor for USAID’s Microenterprise Development office, where she led an award-winning knowledge management program to facilitate learning in microfinance, market development and poverty reduction. Stacey Young has published several books and articles on development and knowledge management, and has taught political science, women’s studies and writing at Skidmore College and at Cornell University, where she earned a PhD in Government. Email: styoung@usaid.gov

Amano, T., Berdejo-Espinola, V., Christie, A. P., Willott, K., Akasaka, M., Báldi, A., Berthinussen, A., Bertolino, S., Bladon, A. J., Chen, M., Choi, C.-Y., Bou Dagher Kharrat, M., de Oliveira, L. G., Farhat, P., Golivets, M., Hidalgo Aranzamendi, N., Jantke, K., Kajzer-Bonk, J., Kemahlı Aytekin, M. Ç., … Sutherland, W. J. (2021). Tapping into non-english-language science for the conservation of global biodiversity. Plos Biology, 19(10), 3001296. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001296

Boogaard, B. K. (2021). Epistemic injustice in agricultural development: critical reflections on a livestock development project in rural Mozambique. Knowledge Management for Development Journal, 16(1), 28–54. https://www.km4djournal.org/index.php/km4dj/article/view/475

Botticello, J. (2020). Engaging Many Voices for Inclusivity in Higher Education. Journal of Impact Cultures 1(1), 22-38.

Boyes, B. (2018) How do we fix the world’s very unequal knowledge – and knowledge management – map? RealKM Magazine. 9 August 2018. https://realkm.com/2018/08/09/how-do-we-fix-the-worlds-very-unequal-knowledge-and-knowledge-management-map/ (Accessed 21 March 2021)

Boyes, B. (2019) New initiatives begin decolonising research, libraries, and knowledge systems. But what about decolonising KM? RealKM Magazine. 13 December 2019.

Brandner, A., and Cummings, S.J.R. (Eds.) (2018). Agenda Knowledge for Development: strengthening Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Vienna: Knowledge for Development Partnership/Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development. Xiii + 101pp. Agenda K4D - K4DP - Knowledge for Development Partnership

Bumpus, N. (2020). Too many senior white academics still resist recognizing racism. Nature, 583(7818), 661.

Busia, K. A. (1960). The sociology and culture of Africa: Its nature and scope. Universitaire Pers.

Cummings, S.J.R., Regeer, B., de Haan, L., Zweekhorst, M., & Bunders, J. (2018). Critical discourse analysis of perspectives on knowledge and the knowledge society within the sustainable development goals. Development Policy Review, 36(6), 727–742. https://doi.org/10.1111/dpr.12296

Cummings, SJ.R.. (2020) Coloniality and wilful hermeneutic injustice: script for the knowledge cafe on ‘Uncomfortable truths in global development.’ 20 November 2020. http://www.km4dev.org/profiles/blogs/blog-coloniality-and-wilful-hermaneutic-injustice (Accessed 7 March 2021)

Cummings, S.J.R., Munthali, N., & P. Shapland (2021) A systemic approach to the decolonization of knowledge: implications for scholars of development studies. In: Making knowledge work differently: The politics of knowledge in inclusive development and innovation. Edited by Ludwig, D., Leeuwis, C., Boogaard, B.K., & Macnaghten,. P. Routledge. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/oa-edit/10.4324/9781003112525-7/systemic-approach-decolonisation-knowledge-sarah-cummings-nyamwaya-munthali-peter-shapland

Demeter, M., & Istratii, R. (2020). Scrutinising what open access journals mean for global inequalities. Publishing Research Quarterly, 36(4), 505–522. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-020-09771-9

Demeter M. (2020). Academic knowledge production and the Global South. Questioning inequality and under-representation. Palgrave Macmillan.

Doharty, N., Madriaga, M., and Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2021). The university went to ‘decolonise’ and all they brought back was lousy diversity double-speak! Critical race counter-stories from faculty of colour in ‘decolonial’ times. Educational Philosophy and Theory 53(3), 233–244.

Dussel, E, (2020) El Primer debate filosofico de la modernidad. Biblioteca Masa Crítica, Buenos Aires.

Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed (New rev., Ser. Penguin education). Penguin Books.

Hendrix-Jenkins, A. (2020) Committed development workers: you are not alone. 2 December 2020. http://www.km4dev.org/profiles/blogs/committed-development-workers-you-are-not-alone (Accessed 7 March 2020)

Hermida, M. E. y Meschini, P. (2017): Trabajo Social y Descolonialidad. LUA Ed. Universidad de Mar del Plata, Mar Del Plata, Argentina.

Hodgson, J. (2019) Power is shifting to communities and INGOs need to be part of it. 11 March 2019, BOND blog https://www.bond.org.uk/news/2019/03/power-is-shifting-to-communities-and-ingos-need-to-be-part-of-it

Istratii, R. and& Lewis, A. (2019). Applying a decolonise lens to research structures, norms and practices in higher education institutions. Conversation event report,. SAAS University of London,: Research and Enterprise Directorate.

Mafeje A, (1978). Science, ideology and development: three essays on development theory. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies. Accessed 15 September 2020.


Moreno-Cely, A., Cuajera-Nahui, D., Escobar-Vasquez, C. G., Vanwing, T., & Tapia-Ponce, N. (2021). Breaking monologues in collaborative research: Bridging knowledge systems through a listening-based dialogue of wisdom approach. Sustainability Science, 16(3), 919-931.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. J. (2015). Empire, global coloniality and African subjectivity. New York: Berghahn Books.

Nkrumah, K. (1961). I speak of freedom: a statement of African ideology. Heinemann.

Okot p’Bitek (1997) Indigenous ills. Transition, 75-76, 40–42.

Oliveira Andreotti, V., de, Stein S., Ahenakew, C. and Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 4(1), 21–40.

Pailey, R. N. (2020) De-centring the ‘white gaze’ of development. Development and Change 51(3), 729–745.

Patel, K. (2020). Race and a decolonial turn in development studies. Third World Quarterly, 41(9), 1463–1475.

Pradhan, K. (2020) Sham of equality and dignity in development: script for Knowledge Cafe on ‘Uncomfortable truths in development’ 19 November 2020. 21 November 2021. http://www.km4dev.org/profiles/blogs/sham-of-equality-and-dignity-in-development (Accessed 7 March 2021)

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). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238372

Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. 1st edition. Vintage Books.

Torcigliani, I. et al. (2022) Aportes sobre la relación teoría-práctica del Trabajo Social Grupal.

Una relectura crítica contemporánea en contexto de pandemia desde los feminismos

nuestroamericanos y de las teorías descoloniales. Groupwork Journal (TBP)

Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being: contributions to the development of a concept. Cultural Studies,  21(2), 240–-270.

UN Secretary General (2018) Role of South-South cooperation and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development : challenges and opportunities : report of the Secretary-General. New York, 21pp. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1645261?ln=en

Vince, N. (2019) Decolonising the academy, the curriculum, and the history of decolonization: reflections on a workshop. Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study https://nias.knaw.nl/insights/decolonising-the-academy-the-curriculum-and-the-history-of-decolonisation/ (Accessed 7 March 2021)

Young, S. (2021) We can do better: comments at KM4Dev knowledge cafe #10 on ‘Uncomfortable Truths in Development.’ http://www.km4dev.org/profiles/blogs/we-can-do-better-comments-at-km4dev-knowledge-cafe-10-on (Accessed 7 March 2021)



Types of contributions

Articles are refereed through a peer support process. Each submission is limited to a maximum of 6000 words (including notes and references), plus a summarising abstract no longer than 200 words, a short biographical summary of the authors and contact details. Articles can include:

  • Theory-focused articles which introduce, or advance or question scientific concepts, models and approaches in knowledge management for development.
  • Review articles which review approaches and advance the field.
  • Practice-based articles which are based on the application of knowledge management for development. Although they may be focused on practice, they need to have a theoretical basis in the literature of knowledge management and development, and take the theory a step further. Articles may use case examples to illustrate a point, but a theory or premise is at the forefront.

Case studies are generally slightly shorter than papers, with a case example at the forefront serving as a basis for the author’s theories. The case studies should not exceed 4000 words and are subject to peer review by the editorial team.

Thought pieces are an outlet for expressing opinions, sharing new ideas, or presenting philosophical discourses. They should comprise a maximum of 2000 words and are not subject to peer review, although they should be revised in line with the comments of the Editors.

Short stories are short contributions (maximum of 2000 words), with a more personal take than an article or a case study. A short story can address either personal experiences or a newsworthy topic.

KM4Dev Community Notes comprise summaries of discussions which have taken place on the KM4Dev community of practice online discussion forum, or a conference or workshop report which has taken place under the auspices of KM4Dev www.km4dev.org/journal.


Life stories are portraits of figures from the knowledge management for development field, tracing back their crucial moments in the field, lessons learned and trends/observations for the future. These articles should not exceed 4000 words.

Debates are controversial exchanges between two persons about a specific topic in the field of knowledge management for development – for which the two persons disagree. Debates consist of a series of answers to one another, around issues introduced by a neutral voice. These articles should not exceed 3000 words. The summary and details of both authors should be shared. These articles require more preparation time.

Letters are open letters to either the editors or any person (as a reaction to a discussion, document or otherwise). These should not exceed 1000 words.

Annotated bibliographies are collections of publications (books, papers, articles and other written items) that deal with one specific topic. These articles should not exceed 4000 words or 30 references. Each reference should contain full author, access, publisher and publication details.


[1] https://www.convivialthinking.org/

[2] https://www.cost.eu/actions/CA19129/

[3] https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=DECOLONIALHE

[4] http://decolonialsubversions.org/

[5] https://realkm.com/decolonising-km/

[6] https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=THE-DECOLONIAL-CRITIQUE

[7] https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=LIS-DECOLONISE