Uncomfortable truths in international development: approaches to the decolonization of knowledge in development practice


  • Sarah Cummings
  • Bruce Boyes
  • Jorge Chavez-Tafur
  • Peterson Dewah
  • Charles Dhewa
  • Srividya Harish
  • Ann Hendrix-Jenkins
  • Gladys Kemboi
  • David Ludwig
  • Rocio Sanz
  • Thomas Senaji
  • Denise Senmartin
  • Stacey Young


knowledge management, knowledge management for development, coloniality, justice, development organizations, international development, journals, practical wisdom, indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, evaluation


This Special Issue comprises two poems, 9 papers, two case studies, and one tool, blending abstract concepts with practical initiatives to decolonize knowledge. Drawing from the discussions on 'Uncomfortable truths in development' from within the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community and enriched by a diverse array of perspectives, this issue shows how a range of development organizations and institutes are currently undertaking decolonization in development practice, dismantling entrenched, unequal patterns of knowledge creation and use. 


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.

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., Dhewa, C., Kemboi, G., & Young, S. (2023). Doing epistemic justice in sustainable development: Applying the philosophical concept of epistemic injustice to the real world. Sustainable Development, 31(3), 1965–1977. https://doi.org/10.1002/sd.2497

Cummings, S.J.R., Regeer, B., de Haan, L., Zweekhorst, M., and 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, S.J.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., and Shapland, P. (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., and 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., and 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 filosófico 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. and 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. SOAS 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., and 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)

Prys-Hansen, M. (2023). The global South: A Problematic Term. Europe and the global South. Internationale Politik Quarterly. 29 June 2023. Issue #3/2023 - July https://ip-quarterly.com/en/global-south-problematic-term(Accessed 17 August 2023)

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.

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)




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