Valuing Different Ways of Knowing

FoodARC’s emphasis on Participatory Action Research means that we believe that people’s real life experiences and their own understandings of those experiences are crucial to developing solutions to any challenges they may face.

Photo - woman looking at chartHowever, when decision-makers in government or other agencies make policy decisions, they usually base them on just expert-driven, scientific, or fact-based knowledge. While expert knowledge is important, we can develop appropriate and effective policies best when we combine it with people’s experiences and then examine the situation through critical reflection. To do this, we use a Ways of Knowing framework. This framework values all three types of knowledge, with an emphasis on critical knowledge as a way of creating relevant and meaningful solutions to collective challenges.

The “ways of knowing” framework is from the work of Toba Bryant1, a faculty member at the University of Toronto. There are three components to the framework: the three types of knowledge – instrumental, interactive and critical knowledge.

  • Instrumental knowledge typically thought of as scientific and expert-driven, such as academic or government / industry research. In other words, this kind of knowledge is often what we consider as “facts;”
  • Interactive knowledge comes from the lived experiences of individuals and communities. It represents the knowledge that we gain throughout our lives; and
  • Critical knowledge comes from reflecting about both instrumental and interactive knowledge and relating them to our society impact, including how our social structures and policies affect quality of life. From this reflection, we can also generate alternatives for improving things.

How does the Ways of Knowing Framework work?

Photo - group talkingWays of Knowing develops through ongoing rounds of dialogue, using all three types of knowledge. Within FoodARC, new knowledge is co-created by community, university, and government partners, along with students and support from project staff through all project activities.

This “new knowledge” may include compiling existing knowledge (e.g., through literature reviews), conducting original research, working with communities to develop tools for research or policy change, or bringing many perspectives of diverse group together to make sense of all of this information.

In reflecting together and valuing different perspectives and different kinds of knowledge, those involved create a new understanding. This can enhance their own capacity, leading to empowerment and ability to act for change.

For more information on how FoodARC has used dialogue to build knowledge visit the community dialogue stream of the Make Food Matter toolkit.

1. Bryant T. Role of knowledge in public health and health promotion policy change. Health Promot Int. 2002;17(1):89-98.