the spaces between the fingers

Gregory Bateson challenged his audience to look at their hand and describe what they could see. They described the fingers, the thumb, palm, the back, hairs on knuckles. “But”, he said, “the most important thing is the spaces between them, the relationships between them which allows them to do all the things they do”.

I was reminded of this reading a paper on an innovation systems view on capacity building in agricultural research (Hall 2005). (OK, it was on agricultural biotechnology, but that is by the by as I am more interested in the systems bit and the capacity bit and the spaces between the fingers). The paper talks about how capacity building efforts generally “focus only on competencies to produce knowledge” and fail to develop “complementary competencies and structures to put that knowledge into use and the need to take account of how scientific resources integrate with the rest of the economy and respond to society as a whole”.

I love that idea of the research responding to society as a whole – it has to connect. This is so important in our agricultural research. And it means that “institutional change is a large element of capacity development”. There is no innovation if it is not used, and use is going to be context-driven, or path dependent.

The paper concludes with some key messages: “The first is that policy should recognise that capacity development in a contemporary sense is a multidimensional concept. It requires skills of both a scientific and a non-scientific kind; it requires linkages between producers and users of knowledge and between scientists and policymakers; it requires the types of relationships and institutional setting conducive to knowledge sharing and interactive learning; it requires a policy environment that is sensitive to the need to create the conditions needed to make productive use of knowledge rather than focusing solely on the creation of that knowledge; and it needs a policy capacity with the perspective to deal with innovation as a systemic phenomenon.”

Finally I understand why capacity development and knowledge management are housed in the same unit at my workplace! This makes much more sense to me than the arrows I was complaining about it my last post.


Hall, A. (2005), Capacity development for agricultural biotechnology in developing countries: an innovation systems view of what it is and how to develop it. J. Int. Dev., 17: 611–630. doi: 10.1002/jid.1227

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: