Impact Practitioners

Making knowledge systems more equitable: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

By 09/05/2024

This brief paper by the international development charity INASP delves into the injustices exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic within our knowledge systems. As we continue to rebuild our societies, it is crucial to scrutinise and challenge the prevailing processes that originate in the Global North and are imposed on Southern systems.

The paper elaborates on the following inequities and what they mean for knowledge:

  1. What types of evidence are valued. The pandemic has revealed, in stark terms, the unequal valuation of various types of evidence. In many nations, biomedical sciences have received more attention than the social sciences, leading to the neglect of other important sources of knowledge regarding disease and health.
  2. Equity of access to digital infrastructure and tools. The digital divide has become more pronounced during the pandemic. Well-resourced institutions with robust digital infrastructure can continue their work and education, leaving others behind.
  3. Who produces and uses knowledge. The pandemic has unveiled disparities in individuals’ ability to produce and use knowledge based on their identity. Women researchers, for instance, faced reduced submission rates and working hours due to increased family responsibilities during the pandemic.
  4. How evidence is used. Better-connected experts tend to dominate debates, while certain types of evidence are privileged. Inequities also persist at sub-national levels, affecting officials’ access to data for local decision-making.

While the pandemic has brought both positive and challenging aspects of knowledge use to light, INASP proposes the following considerations for promoting equity in knowledge systems:

  • Extend online and digital support, particularly for marginalised individuals and organisations.
  • Collaboratively explore the potential of AI and other new technologies.
  • Champion policy communities in the Global South.
  • Deepen our focus on privilege, inclusion, and gender responsiveness.
  • Recognise that inequity is rooted in power dynamics and be ready to challenge them.
  • In our pursuit of more equitable knowledge ecosystems, these steps are essential to ensure that knowledge benefits all, regardless of geography or circumstance.

Overall, this paper highlights the glaring inequities and exclusions exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and calls for proactive measures to promote more equitable knowledge ecosystems.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.