Working on (knowledge) cooperation means working in cooperation

Transnational knowledge cooperation is becoming increasingly important – in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in dealing with global crises such as the current pandemic. The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) with its Managing Global Governance (MGG) Network has a particular interest in the role of transnational knowledge actors and knowledge communities that research and shape global change.


Co-developing expertise for societal change

When engaging in transnational cooperation, we need to reflect on its historical legacies first: Our world continues to be coined by postcolonial inequalities that determine access to knowledge and science infrastructures, to particular fields of expertise and the ability to put different economic, social and political knowledges to use. At the same time, years of ‘transfer of expertise’ approaches in development cooperation have shown how limited the potential of knowledge transfer is, if the expertise that is to be transferred was not co-developed, taking into account the particular local contexts in which it is supposed to contribute to transformational change. Co-developing expertise for societal change therefore forms the starting point of the MGG Network.


Global equity and justice are an integral part of sustainability. The mode of cooperation may either reinforce pre-existing imbalances or foster fairness in cooperation. In the MGG network, partners strive for cooperation and joint knowledge creation to implement the 2030 Agenda. In addition, cooperation within the network also aims to overcome the systemic global inequalities even beyond the scope of internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hence, the MGG Network strives for equitable and fair cooperation, while acknowledging and nurturing diversity among partners and perspectives. In the advanced training programme MGG Academy, instead of merely transferring knowledge originating from the global North, cooperation means to jointly reflect shortcomings and successes of current sustainable development, its governance, or roles of different actors around the globe. Facilitators, lecturers and participants engage in respectful dialogues and peer exchange – building on mutual appreciation and fostered by interactive, inclusive and participatory methods.


Knowledge cooperation entails value cooperation

As a firm normative basis for cooperation, institutions and individuals within the MGG Network share a set of human values: Safeguarding a sustainable, equitable future on a shared planet. In brief: promoting the global common good. In cooperation, values are communicated, redefined and negotiated. Cooperation requires, but at the same time enhances and reaffirms shared values. Knowledge cooperation for global sustainable development thus entails value cooperation. 


Against this background, a first cooperation principle within MGG is to engage with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs as a shared responsibility of all countries. As a Northern partner within the network, DIE understands itself as an equal participant in the exchange and partner in knowledge creation, solution seeking and mutual learning.


The distribution of power in the current science system continues to blindfold world society by repeatedly allowing Northern biases in empirical research and theory development. MGG aims to reduce these knowledge hierarchies: Networking between South and North consequently means sharing access to publications, editorials, resources and thereby to increase access to the global scientific knowledge system as a second principle of cooperation. The publication of short, often policy-oriented pieces or collectively edited volumes (co-)authored and (co-)edited by Southern authors is one way towards representing diverse global perspectives in science cooperation and policy dialogues, overcoming the barriers of the knowledge system, and challenging existing hierarchies.

Graphic: Elements and Value of Knowledge cooperation

Acknowledging inequalities in global knowledge production

Following a third cooperation principle, MGG engages in dialogues with a variety of actors. Reaching complex objectives such as global sustainable development is a knowledge-intensive endeavour, and for knowledge to become transformative, it needs to be contextualised and relevant. To ensure this, different societal groups, such as policy-makers, researchers, civil society and business representatives, need interfaces. MGG provides these rooms for discussing different opinions and finding common grounds. The production of actionable knowledge must avoid biases induced by narrow understandings of science and scientific knowledge while keeping academic standards for evidence-­based knowledge production. In different working strands of MGG, exchange among different actors and sectors is therefore standard practice, as for example in the initiative on strengthening the public sector capacity for implementing the 2030 Agenda. In transnational workshops, stakeholders from academia, policy and public administration discuss how sustainability can be integrated into the curricula of public schools of administration, in order to equip future civil servants with the necessary transformative knowledge.


In the practice of cooperation, some real-life ­complexities lurk, even in long-grown cooperation networks such as MGG. Reflexivity is the key here: It starts with acknowledging inequalities in global knowledge production. Such a starting point enables joint reflection on roles, positions and privileges in the system, as well as on shared knowledge, norms, values and ideals of partnerships. On the road towards global sustainability, fairness in cooperation is essential. And questions on cooperation can be best answered in cooperation.


Against the background of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the MGG Academy was carried out entirely digitally in 2020. The concept of the real-life MGG Academy had to be substantially transformed to adapt it to the virtual realm while safeguarding its premise of learning in interaction and dialogue. The digital MGG Academy combined various forms of live online sessions as well as asynchronous individual or group work. Participatory digital tools, interactive working methods, peer coaching and personal reflection ensured that the MGG Academy’s spirit of mutual learning was maintained. At the core of the MGG Academy, participants focused on the opportunities and challenges of global cooperation and transformation to sustainability in times of disruptive crisis.

The authors

Photo: Anna Schwachula

Dr. Anna Schwachula is researcher in the research programme "Inter- and transnational cooperation", Cluster Knowledge Cooperation, at the German Development Institute (DIE). She works on the role of knowledge cooperation and science policy for sustainable development from a sociological perspective.

Prof. Dr. Paulo Esteves is Associate Professor at the International Relations Institute (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro), the director of the BRICS Policy Center, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies and a fellow at Brazil’s Public Administration School (ENAP).