#ICRD2012 Showcasing research on development

August 22, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Communicating through creative and innovative ways can enable researchers to reach audiences beyond academic circles. This is crucial in order to raise awareness among relevant stakholders, and to influence policy and practice. For this reason, it forms a key feature of the NCCR’s approach to development work. And as a journalist, I was naturally interested in attending a session titled ‘Showcasing Research Products’ which focused on this issue specifically.

One particular presentation stood out. “Voices of Youth” was a video project that aimed to raise awareness of teenage pregnancy in Tanzania; a country with one of the highest rates in the world.

Researchers from the NCCR carried out a workshop with young people to find out the reasons for teenage pregnancy and the main sources of information for them on how to reduce risk. Based on the results of this workshop, the teenagers planned, scripted and acted in a video to voice their thoughts and experiences. Ultimately, the project was aimed at empowering teenagers with information to avoid risks associated with teenage pregnancy, which is linked to poverty.

In workshops, the teenagers presented the video to various interested policy makers and practitioners from international organisations (including UNICEF and USAID) and the Tanzanian government; a fine example of a transdisciplinary approach. Significantly, it was the very first time that policy makers, sexual and reproductive health practitioners and young people were brought together to meet and discuss the relevant issues.

Screenings of the video, which have been used for reproductive health interventions, were funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The video was aired on local TV stations, and magazines featuring articles and relevant information were also created and widely disseminated among teenagers.

Back at the session, it was argued that the videos were able to reach relevant audiences in ways that would not have been possible through communicating research through traditional channels; in a journal or a book, for example.

It was also highlighted that the use of videos, and other creative ways of communicating, are gaining momentum among researchers working in development. But support and funding for such initiatives has yet to catch up, especially because the impact of such projects can be difficult to predict and assess.

The “Voices of Youth” video can be watched on YouTube as well as a useful video providing an overview of the production process. Click here to watch the videos.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.


Research needs “radical transformation”

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


A radical transformation in the way research is carried out by universities and institutions is needed to improve the use of evidence by policymakers in the global North and South. This is what John Young, director of impact assessment, partnerships and RAPID at the Overseas Development Institute, UK, argued on the first day of the International Conference on Research for Development.

Young’s talk, on enabling research in global transformation, focused on influencing policy on what he refers to as ‘wicked problems’. These are global challenges that are difficult to define, multi-causal, socially complex and experience chronic policy failures. Needless to say, perhaps the most pressing wicked problem of our time is climate change. And as we have seen, despite the urgency of the problem and its prominence in research and political limelight, collective political action has been, and still is, lacking.

Why?

Policymakers do not use evidence to inform decision making for a number of reasons, Young explained. These can be neatly summarised as (quoting British politician Vince Cable): speed, superficiality, spin, secrecy and scientific illiteracy among policy makers.

He urged the need to recognise that policymaking involves a range of factors other than evidence, such as economic, social and political factors, resource limitations and increasing pressure from NGOs, and called the process “chaotic”. To appreciate the reality of this complex situation, he suggested a shift from using the phrase evidence-based policy to evidence-important policy.

While it is quite easy to become discouraged and complacent about these challenges, Young explained that research carried out in the right way can be hugely influential.

But how?

Young argued that research requires a radical transformation. As it stands, classical research takes too long, is expensive and focuses on academic questions and not practical solutions.

So first of all, evidence needs to be relevant. The key to this is a transdisciplinary approach, focusing on practical solutions. Researchers can no longer work alone; it is crucial to build a coalition for change with individuals and organisations not necessarily from the research community.

Collaboration of Indonesian women. Photo credit: vredeseilanden, Flickr

For this, researchers need to become good communicators and networkers. It is important to understand what the policy issues are and how these are likely to change what research is carried out. Incentives for researchers also need to be reconsidered, as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is not relevant or timely for transdisciplinary work.

Innovative communication and advocacy work is needed to improve access to research for policymakers. Demand for research can be created by presenting information in a policy-friendly way: focusing on what is known about the issue, how strong the evidence is and the likely effects of new legislation. Simplicity is key.

The importance of think tanks should not be underestimated, Young explained. Many carry out research, and have extensive policy and public affairs programmes. There is an increasing number of think tanks in the global South with strong networks of key actors, and this is crucial to influencing policy.

Young referred to exciting projects such as the Indonesia Knowledge Initiative and the Climate Development Knowledge Network that aim to improve the use of research in policy by working on capacity development with researchers and policymakers. These programmes are needed in developing and emerging countries for a vibrant knowledge economy and research to influence policy and practice.

More information on ODI’s work, and its various tools for researchers using evidence to shape policy making can be found here.

Do you have any advice or tips on how to make research more policy friendly or successful examples on the uptake of research into legislation? If so, please leave a comment below.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.


ICRD2012 research agenda draft published

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


During his opening speech yesterday, Hans Hurni, director of the NCCR North-South programme, emphasised the need to learn from current experiences. From this, he hopes that the conference will end with the finalisation of an agenda to improve the conduct and impact of research on tackling global challenges.

For those who were unable to attend the conference, a draft version of the research agenda is available online here.

Attendees at ICRD 2008. Photo credit: NCCR North-South

It was drafted by the organisers, session leaders and participants of the conference, and provides information on the background of the NCCR, ICRD and why a research agenda is needed. The agenda discusses choosing a research topic for sustainable development, lists the challenges involved, and considers research approach, capacity development and how to increase effectiveness.

If you would like add your voice to the discussion, leave a comment below by 14.30 (BST) Wednesday 22 August, before the final session on the research agenda, and I will pass it on to the organisers of the conference.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.


Poor show at ICRD 2012

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


After a short flight from London to Bern, I finally made it to the International Conference on Research for Development.

As I explained in my previous post, the conference is focused on showcasing the NCCR North-South programme’s work on addressing global challenges, such as climate change, poverty and conflict, through its research and capacity building in the global South.

Despite the programme’s key focus on the global South, and the fact that this is the final conference before the NCCR’s funding comes to an end next year, there is not a particularly strong representation of southern researchers.

Only around one third of the 360 participants present at the conference are from a country in the global South; 16 per cent from Africa, 16 per cent from Asia and six per cent from Latin America. Unsurprisingly, women represent less than half of the total number of participants.

While the figures are disappointing and not a problem unique to this particular conference, I look forward to hearing about what this programme has achieved for the global South through the interesting 11 key note lectures, 29 sessions and 66 colourful posters.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.


Transforming global development through North-South research partnerships

August 17, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Global change through sustainable development is urgently needed to address many of the pressing challenges facing our world today. Stabilising the world’s population, producing sufficient food, improving health systems and managing urbanisation, migration and conflict are just a few examples of major challenges that affect all countries.

The National Centre of Competence Research (NCCR) North-South programme has put science, research and capacity building at the very heart of its drive to overcome some of these problems. The programme is hosted by the University of Bern and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

With a network of over 350 researchers in more than 40 countries, the programme works on the development of sustainable and practical solutions to global challenges through research carried out by individuals and institutions in its North-South partnerships. Research focuses on the needs of developing countries in the global south, as this region is considered the most vulnerable to risks of climate change, poverty and conflict.

Next week, I will be attending NCCR’s third and final International Conference on Research for Development in the picturesque city of Bern in Switzerland.

Bern, Switzerland. Photo credit: eGuide Travel

The conference aims to share and discuss development-oriented research carried out through its North-South partnerships, and to develop a research policy agenda for equitable and sustainable global transformation.

I’m particularly interested in finding out about the success of the programme, lessons learnt and the innovative ways in which research — especially from the South — can help to change or shape the future of how global challenges are addressed.

If you have any questions or would like to get involved in the discussion, leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter using the hashtag #ICRD2012.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.


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