Strengthening “Local” Demand for Research Capacity Building....GDN African Research Capacity Building Workshop, Arusha, Tanzania
The production and exchange of independent knowledge in economics as well as in the social sciences, in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been hampered by chronically weak research capacity. To bridge this gap, GDN organized an ‘African Research Capacity Building’ workshop on 1 December 2012, in Arusha, Tanzania.
Rather than hypothesizing about the underlying causes of weak research capacity through a typical, "top-down" approach, the workshop aimed at a consultative process involving researchers and other stakeholders in Africa. The aim was to better understand the conditions in which African researchers work, and the obstacles they face in the production and dissemination of their work.
Arranged in an interactive way, "The workshop was successful, both in format and substance, and broadly validated the approach initiated by GDN: of questioning local ‘demand’ for research capacity building," explains Pierre Jacquet, GDN President.
The workshop discussion focused on the "research climate" in the Sub-Saharan Africa region; key challenges faced in research capacity were debated during the interactive sessions. It was unanimously concluded that the basis for strengthening research capacity is dependent, in the first place, on having viable institutions to build the research capacity of African researchers. To achieve it, the region needs more investment towards building research facilities and promoting research leadership and research governance.
It emerged that there is also a perceived gap in the absorption capacity of policymakers and stakeholders. Besides building viable research institutions, it is, therefore, vital to build the capacity of policymakers and stakeholders so that they can understand the research semantics. In fact, according to Pierre Jacquet, "One of the most promising ideas that was floated around was that of policy networks: structuring some activities around questions asked by policymakers on which selected academic members of the network bring responses." This in time could lead to a culture of evidence-based policy making and also make research viable economically.
Interestingly, the workshop revealed that there is a need to engage with policymakers from the beginning vis-à-vis contacting them only during disseminating research outputs. This would facilitate in better understanding the demand for particular research studies in specific areas and eventually, make research studies more timely and demand-driven.
Finally, participants expressed the difficulty encountered by individual researchers to influence policy unless they were very well connected. It was proposed that the interaction between individual researchers as well as across institutions should, perhaps, therefore be supported, in order to create a mass of researchers within a discipline who can collectively communicate their research results and influence policy decisions. This could help in breaking barriers of “isolation” that researchers feel in the absence of research consortiums that facilitate the exchange of information and sharing of best practices among peers and across institutions.
The discussion highlighted a few areas of potential cooperation between African institutions’ networks and between them and GDN. Pierre Jacquet noted: “One element of value added of the workshop was this exchange of information and institutional interaction, which probably does not take place often enough. The discussion also emphasized the need for many things that GDN already does, and doing more of them for Africa might be an option to consider.”
The workshop concluded with some proposed solutions to tackle the above-discussed challenges like mentoring, peer-reviews, policy workshops, multidisciplinary research studies, and choosing topics aligned with country priorities.