Knowledge and Practices

The Merging of Knowledge and Practices© is a dynamic process that creates the conditions so that the experiential knowledge held by people familiar with poverty, who are members of an activist or citizen association can engage in dialogue on even footing with scientific knowledge and professional knowledge. The meeting of these three different and complementary forms of knowledge produces more accurate knowledge and more effective methods of action against poverty. The ultimate purpose of the merging is to improve in a sustainable way the living conditions of people living in extreme poverty.
The Merging of knowledge, which has been implemented in many countries, can be applied to a wide range of fields: health, social work, education, human and social sciences, etc.
The approach
The approach, co-constructed as part of a partnership between ATD Fourth World and academic and professional institutions, is based on a rigorous methodology. It has been in development for nearly twenty years.  It is presented in the book The Merging of Knowledge: People in Poverty and Academics Thinking Together (Fourth World-University Research Group University Press of America, 2007, 490 pages) and has been the subject of numerous articles published in specialized and scientific journals. The Merging of Knowledge Guidelines explain the political stakes, as well as the ethical and pedagogical principles involved.
“Involving people living in poverty, academics, and practitioners in the process of Merging Knowledge and Practices requires a belief that is both ethical and epistemological: that every individual potentially has the means to understand and interpret his or her own circumstances. The starting point for building merged knowledge is an analysis of the lived experiences of people living with poverty and exclusion. It is a process of cross-fertilization that involves all participants in the process and that allows them to share the elements necessary to produce and transform their own knowledge. It is not a matter of advocating for singular or uniform knowledge, or for some kind of synthesis of different types of knowledge. Each individual participates both as an actor and as the author of his or her own thoughts and actions, possessing a knowledge that is recognized by other participants. The Merging of Knowledge and Practices involves uniting each person’s efforts to build his or her own knowledge with a collective effort to build a common product. It is a matter of deconstructing in order to rebuild, of opening one’s mind to others’ ideas, and of seeing things from another point of view.”

Merging of knowledge

The first condition for the effective merging of knowledge and practices is the actual presence throughout the process of people living in poverty. They should be collectively involved and recognized as holders of knowledge related to their life experiences. Under no circumstances should other actors take the place of those people living in poverty or speak on their behalf, even if they have some knowledge of or intimate involvement with the world of poverty.

The conditions for autonomy of knowledge

Autonomy and reciprocity cannot usually be taken for granted in relationships between academics/professionals and people living in poverty. To safeguard this autonomy, “peer groups” are set up, within which participants are able to formulate their thoughts and contributions. The approach is based on an alternation of work in peer groups and plenary sessions.
  • The working groups should be composed in such a way that people living in poverty are not dependent on or close to professional actors. This is to preserve everyone’s freedom of thought and speech.
  • Every actor should have their own reference group or group of peers (actors living in poverty, members of NGOs or associations, professionals, academics...). It is within such groups that each participant can find the security, freedom, and time to work on their own thoughts before taking part in the merging of knowledge and practices. On the other hand, understanding and taking in the knowledge of others requires maturation and clarification. The time and space within peer groups allows participants to make certain questions their own, form their own inquiries, and develop their own analysis.
Merging knowledge and practices is only possible when all participants can trust in and feel secure with each other and with the framework in which the discussions are held.
  • A form of contract should set the rules, security, and confidentiality covering the words and writings produced. (In particular, what people living in poverty express is most often the result of a long experience of suffering and struggle, and they themselves can still feel very fragile. This fragility must be protected. This also fully applies to all that is said by the academics and professionals, whose work elsewhere often requires them to respect rules of professional confidentiality.)
  • An ethical framework should be established that includes a number of values related to dialogue between people: active listening, respect for what others have to say, others’ speech, a willingness to be critical about one’s own knowledge and ideas, and a conviction that all knowledge is always under construction.
Write by :  Atd quart monde 

Unequal positions

The reality that people often occupy many different and unequal positions in society is clearly also present in the merging of knowledge and practices. It would therefore be wrong to fall into the trap of pretending that all the participants are automatically in a position of equality, when this is not the case.
Making discussion possible thus depends on creating the conditions where everybody’s voice carries the same weight, and this is the role of a pedagogical team or of the discussion facilitators. This team should be made up of people who have known, over a good number of years, those living in poverty, their difficulties and their resources as well as people from the world of academics or professionals.

With regard to those people living in poverty

The role of the discussion facilitators is to help the people living in poverty to express themselves in their own words without trying to take their place or put words in their mouths. This means creating the conditions which will allow them to build on their own knowledge: taking a step back to review their experience, looking at their experience in the light of that of others to generate broader lessons, and to supporting them as they try to understand the other participants. It also means accompanying those living in poverty both before and after each training session so that they do not lose contact with their own life and social environment.

With regard to the academics and professionals

Academics and professionals also have difficulty expressing exactly what they want to say in words and in writing. Accustomed and trained to work and communicate with their peers, they tend to use words or phrases that appear abstract and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. The role of the discussion facilitators is to help them make their thoughts more accessible to others and to accompany them in their efforts to understand what those living in poverty contribute to the discussion. The role of the discussion facilitators is also to help the academics and professionals understand the validity of the rhythm and the time necessary for the Merging of Knowledge and Practices© and the need to not by-pass certain stages.

The Merging of Knowledge and Practices© approach was used in the context of the ÉQUIsanTÉ research project, the report of which was published in February 2015. The project brought together academic researchers, health professionals, and community stakeholders in the fight against exclusion. It aimed to establish a dialogue between people living in poverty and primary care teams in order to improve the quality and equity of care for people living in poverty.


  1. Identify the barriers between people living in poverty and healthcare teams in Quebec.
  2. Identify the means and actions needed to promote implementation of professional practices focused on social competencies in a primary care clinical setting.
  3. Identify factors promoting the involvement of people living in poverty in the process of developing social competency.

At the international level, ATD Fourth World has conducted an international research project on the hidden dimensions of poverty

Challenges and ethical issues

The merging of knowledge, like participation, is not an end in itself. The ultimate goal is the eradication of poverty, and each instance of merging of knowledge has an objective that contributes to this goal, which must be made explicit to all the actors involved in the process. The prerequisites are:

Be aware that change is necessary: Extreme poverty is not an inevitable fact of life. Being dissatisfied with the social, economic and cultural realities of today’s world leads to the desire and the will to change things.

  • See each and every person as possessing knowledge: People living in situations of poverty and social exclusion should not be defined solely by what they lack or what they need since they too have knowledge to contribute. The experiential knowledge they possess, when crossed with other types of knowledge, can reveal their ability to distance themselves from their own situation and reflect on it. Such merging produces knowledge that is more complete and more faithful to reality.

  • Nobody should be left on their own: It is the sense of belonging to a social or professional group which reinforces and consolidates the knowledge that each of us possesses. People living in poverty should not be left isolated; they need to be able to relate to other people living in similar conditions and to have space to reflect, express themselves, and discuss.

  • See each and every person as part of the research team: Each and every participant must feel that they are a co-researcher, co-trainer and co-actor with a role in identifying and formulating the questions, in coming to common understandings, and working out solutions together. Each and every participant has something to offer to every aspect of the research.