These are several conclusions drawn from a seminar on aid and development research organized by the Swedish Development Research Network (SweDev) held in Sweden. The theme of the seminar attended by researchers, civil society and decision makers active in development aid included the following questions:
Our recent study shows that researchers would like increased collaboration with practitioners, but until the establishment of SweDev, there had been no network in Sweden focusing on this topic.
Anna Ioannou, former SweDev coordinator
The study that SweDev conducted on the contacts between research and various actors working with development shows that decision makers and practitioners see research as important and relevant, but at the same time, they experience challenges finding relevant research. Research is often perceived as something remote with little connection to the practical reality that often changes rapidly.
When organizations and authorities use research, it is often to back up and justify decisions that have already been made and strengthen existing arguments. At the same time, only 12% in the study said that their managers expect them to use research results to inform decision-making.
It is evident that research that is more critical will not be used, while 'mainstream research' often is used to confirm what is already being done.
Janet Vähämäki, Programme Director of SweDev
According to the study, lack of time and budget are other factors that are limiting the use of research.
“Seventy-two percent say they do not have sufficient time to follow the most recent research. This means that if we would like to improve our collaboration, it must be encouraged, and time and resources need to be set aside,” said Vähämäki.
Another challenge is the lack of communication. While researchers primarily publish in scientific journals, practitioners and decision makers prefer to use Google and seminars to gain new knowledge.
“It is true to a certain extent that research is used to confirm what is already known. My experience is that research results are used by local organizations to test different hypotheses and develop their own methodology,” said Gunnel Axelsson Nycander of Act Svenska kyrkan (Church of Sweden).
“Presently, organizations often use consultants because they are needed for rapid studies and evaluations, but not least the processes that are underway to decolonize development assistance should be interesting to collaborate with researchers on,” she added.
At the same time, decision makers often use international research rather than research produced in Sweden. One reason for this is to encourage research in the partner organizations’ own countries, but also that research networks in for example the UK may be more established and have a better reputation internationally than Swedish researchers. According to SweDev, this entails a risk that Swedish research weaken in the long run.
Christina Hartler, head of Sida’s unit for thematic support, pointed out that Swedish research is relatively small internationally and that it is more likely the case that the importance of Swedish research is overestimated than the other way around.
“I do not agree that lack of time would be a reason for the lack of contacts. Rather, it is a question of management, and that management does not prioritize collaboration with researchers,” she said.
Per Trulsson, Deputy Director at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Sweden, said that time is an important issue for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it comes to moving in contexts when situations change very quickly, with recent examples shown not least by the developments in Myanmar and Afghanistan.
What our employees often need is a policy brief of one to two pages that is relevant to what they do. For the researchers to reach out, it is also necessary that they understand the processes that prevail at Sida and the ministries.
Per Trulsson, Deputy Director at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Magnus Walan, Senior Policy Officer at Diakonia, highlighted a different type of research than that carried out by academic actors.
“We collaborate with local researchers and networks around the world, trying to connect them with Swedish decision makers,” he said. “We also support and encourage organizations such as Swedwatch and Fair Finance Guide who do extensive research and experience challenges to obtaining funding, even though we know that the financial sector really needs to be examined.”
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