Hiroshima, July 28, 2017

The Arab Knowledge Project team participated in the 12th interdisciplinary social sciences conference, held in Hiroshima, Japan, on 26-28 July 2017. The 3-days international conference comprised more than 30 sessions involving more than 70 different presentations and research topics, with more than 300 attendants representing at least 100 countries, and with experts from academia, international organisations and policymakers specialised in sectors as diverse as social and community studies, cultural studies, global studies, environmental studies, organizational studies, communication, educational studies and civic and political studies.

The opening took place on the 26th of July, at the international conference center in Hiroshima, a city that has been remarkable as an international city of peace and culture. Speakers at the three opening sessions included José Luis Ortega Martín from the University of Granada, Spain, Robert Jacobs from Hiroshima Peace Institute, Hiroshima City University, Japan; and Masae Yuasa, also from Hiroshima City University.

Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Conference

The conference is organized by the U.S.- based Common Ground Research Networks, with the aim of exploring disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, within and across the various social sciences, and between the social, natural and applied sciences.

Maintaining that science can be any or all of these experiential, conceptual, analytical and application-oriented knowledge processes, the conference seeks to provide a space to discuss these varied disciplinary practices, and examine examples of these practices in action. It is based on the belief that the deeper perspectives of the discipline may need to be balanced with and measured against the broader perspectives of interdisciplinarity, and that broader views may prove to be more powerful than narrower ones, and even the more finely grained within-discipline views may prove all-the-more powerful when contextualized broadly.

Knowledge Index

Under the title “Measuring Knowledge from a Development Perspective: The Knowledge Index as a Case Study”, Dr. Hany Torky (CTA) and Mariam Itani (Researcher) presented the Arab Knowledge Index on the second session of the first day. The 20-minutes presentation introduced the Knowledge index as a leading international interdisciplinary initiative to construct an index on knowledge and development. It focused mainly on the concept, process, key challenges, and future directions.

Torky started by saying that both knowledge and development are at the center of inter- and trans- disciplinary social sciences. He added that “the importance of the index stems from the important role of knowledge today, in the various sectors of human civilization, and more specifically in the context of development” and that “even though there is an abundance of international indices that deal with areas related to development, economy, governance, and human welfare, there is shortage in international measures that focus specifically on knowledge, especially after the World Bank discontinued the production of its Knowledge Economy Index several years ago”.

Then Itani presented the index methodology, structure and results, emphasizing that “the Knowledge Index is based on the concept that each nation has its own knowledge capital that supports and catalyzes the achievement of sustainable human development”.

On the limitations and challenges, Itani and Torky mentioned the limited availability of data, and more specifically measures related to knowledge and knowledge retention. Other challenges include the lack of national bodies and authorities that are concerned with knowledge, the challenges at the policy level of interdisciplinary work, and the challenge of going global.

Itani and Torky stressed finally that in reading any index results, we should not confine ourselves to the ranking, because not all aspects of knowledge can be measured, adding that perspective is always the key in constructing the index and selecting the index structures and variables, and in the case of the knowledge index, the main focus was on knowledge in the context of sustainable human development.

Education Expert Group

Alongside the conference, Torky and Itani also took part in the focused group discussions, namely the education experts group. The group brought together experts from more than a dozen countries across  five continents. Sector-wise, the participants represented academia, international organizations and consulting industries, and their areas of interest ranged from basic education to higher/tertiary education, from subject (reading, writing, mathematics) to civic education, and from education technology to knowledge and measurements relating to knowledge and development (Knowledge Index).

Among the concerns raised was the short attention spans and the fact that social media has led to the fragmentation of reading, so that it is more difficult to get students nowadays into serious reading, which would require teachers to tap and utilize more consciously and smartly the “intelligent attention spans” of students. More fundamentally, several participants have mentioned the gap between the knowledge delivered and its applications in actual life situations. In other words, link between labor market and student skills should be given more attention; in addition to issues of governance, scholarship and funding especially in rural areas and developing countries.

About the Knowledge Index

The Knowledge Index is produced by the Arab Knowledge Project. The project is a partnership initiative between United Nations Development Programme – Regional Bureau for Arab States and Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation in UAE.

The Project’s mission is to support and promote knowledge for sustainable development. Towards that end, the Arab Knowledge Index seeks to assess the current knowledge-state of nations from a development perspective.

Until date, two editions of the index were released, the 2015 index and the 2016 index. Both editions include solely Arab countries (22 countries), while preparations are currently in progress to release a global edition in November 2017. This shall be the first ever global knowledge index for development.