and technologies currently existing in the country. Inevitably, emerging technologies could greatly affect the economic future of a country, either because they offer opportunities for exploitation, such as information technologies, or because they represent challenges and competition that must be met, such as bioengineered substitutes for natural products produced by the country. The Bank sought a methodology for assessing some of these technologies in the context of the economic, social, and cultural environment of the country, which led to the development of the “knowledge assessment.” The National Academies produced a version of the methodology in 1996, and it was field tested in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, in 1998.2
The knowledge assessment methodology was designed to draw on the lessons that emerged from the Indonesia and “Marshaling Technology” projects. It was intended to be used in small, relatively homogeneous developing countries and to be carried out by an organization providing foreign expertise in collaboration with a national institution, such as a university or nongovernmental organization (NGO). The participants in the PEI knowledge assessment described it this way:
Knowledge Assessment is based on a venture capital model, and involves some role-playing both by the foreign visitors and the local participants. The visitors act as the agents of hypothetical venture capitalists with a potential interest in investing in the local economy. The local participants act as consultants and possible partners anxious to help the investors find the most promising areas in which to invest. They also want to point out areas where there may be a perceived weakness in the economy or in the knowledge available so that remedies can be taken that would encourage investment. In later phases, local participants play the roles of stakeholders in the enterprises selected by the investors and help them prepare business plans. In each case, of course, the object is not to select enterprises for real investment but to use this method as a vehicle for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the local knowledge economy.
The methodology itself has its strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is that it is relatively rapid and low cost. It draws on the knowledge of insiders through strategic questioning by expert outsiders. Its weakness is that the information generated is no better than what is offered by participants (and understood and digested by the visitors), and superficiality, bias, and wishful thinking are risks. It is not an exact science, but
National Research Council, Prospectus for National Knowledge Assessment, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996, http://newton.nap.edu/catalog/9528.html; National Research Council, Lighting the Way: Knowledge Assessment in Prince Edward Island, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999, http://newton.nap.edu/catalog/6413.html.