The recent ratification of the SDGs heralds a new landscape of evidence for international development. A broader conception of ‘development’ combines with heightened pressure on policies and interventions to demonstrate their ‘evidence base’ and for research to demonstrate its usefulness. This has implications for the notion of expertise: whose knowledge counts? And how can diverse sources of knowledge from multiple stakeholders be usefully combined?
In response, ‘research partnerships’ between different actors (including academics and practitioners from NGOs) have gained attention as means of producing research that is both high quality and actionable. A number of studies have highlighted the benefits of collaboration between traditional researchers and the users and mediators of research. However, these same studies have also identified significant challenges facing partnerships, including divergent priorities, schedules, and capacity; knowledge hierarchies and power relations.
These partnerships were the focus of a recent ESRC-funded seminar series, which mobilized an extensive network of universities and international NGOs to explore the issue of ‘evidence and the politics of participation in academic-INGO Research Partnerships’. The series took a case-study approach, involving the presentation and analysis of seven cases of research partnerships. While these case studies could broadly be characterized as ‘successful partnerships’, the series identified and analysed a variety of challenges and tensions arising from collaborations. Despite the range of evidence preferences and research approaches adopted by the partnerships, and the diversity in scale and distribution (with many of the case studies involving additional partners from the Global South), the common thread running through the cases was the importance of understanding the context in which the partnerships were formed. The dynamics, agendas and priorities of the UK’s INGO and academic context (including policy and funding mechanisms for research and development) impacted on motivations for partnerships and shaped the types of evidence valued in partnerships with implications for the prioritization of certain approaches, skills, roles, knowledge and languages. A key aim of this event then, is to share lessons from the seminar series from a UK-perspective while incorporating actors from the Global South, in addition to people working in other UK sectors, to engage with these insights, and affirm, challenge and extend them.
Recent events in the UK have amplified the crises of identity affecting both Higher Education and international NGOs. Universities are responding to a national ‘impact agenda’, which calls for the evidencing of applied uses of university research, and may blur traditional boundaries around the role of academic research in relation to knowledge produced by other actors (including public-sector think-tanks, private-sector consultancy firms and the media as well as NGOs). In an era of austerity, International NGOs are challenged by increased attention to domestic charitable giving and cynicism surrounding the case for aid; alongside shifting global power relations leading to a (positive) emphasis on civil society in the global south. This is compounded by the increased presence of private sector consultancy firms in development; and the rise of online campaigning organisations. Against these pressures, both types of institution are being forced to redefine their authority as experts and their role in generating evidence and to re-examine their place within the knowledge-for-development ecosystem.
These crises are also heightened by a culture of ‘post-truth politics’ in which expertise itself is regarded as suspect. They are likely to be further exacerbated as the Brexit process unfolds, through changes to national policy, and changing relationships with the EU, the United States under its new president and the rest of the world. Universities and international NGOs face massive uncertainties, but also potential opportunities. Positive responses to this context might include charting out spaces for new research collaborations with counterparts in the global south; valuing alternative knowledges and perspectives; broadening traditional research approaches; and recognizing and contributing to increasing research capacity in civil society in many countries. At the same time, there are challenges to these opportunities, including those embedded in publications such as DFID’s new research strategy which highlights the role of the UK as “a global leader in scientific, research and technical expertise” and emphasizes the importance of working in partnership, while also implying a very unidirectional export model for research (DFID: October 2016).
This high-level conference will explore the prospects for productive research partnerships for international development, initiated in ‘Brexit Britain’ – referring to the complex and uncertain Brexit process itself as well as to an eventual post-Brexit reality. The two-day event will aim to:
- Share findings and recommendations based on the analysis of seven case studies of research partnerships between UK-based universities and INGOs (which formed the basis of discussions in the seminar series).
- Assess the challenges and opportunities of the current UK development context, including the recently released DfID research review, the SDG processes, Brexit and the shifting landscape for development research collaborations
- Respond to and extend this analysis with insights from beyond the UK and from other policy sectors within the UK
- Explore strategic ways forward for the practice, governance and funding of research and development
The conference will take place on the 27th and 28th March 2017 and the UCL-Institute of Education in London.
Spaces for this event will be by invitation and will be limited so please respond to email@example.com with an expression of interest as soon as possible and no later than Friday 30th December.
Expression of Interest
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Please provide a short statement (no more than 300 words) detailing your experience in this area and explaining why this event is of interest to you and how you would hope to contribute. Spaces will be allocated by the end of January and some funds will be available to subsidize travel and accommodation.