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Advocating for Scientific Temper

Photo of Inaya Rakhmani by Kelvin Param/Ear to Asia

Five questions with Inaya Rakhmani, Associate Professor, Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG), Indonesia, who has been involved with the Global Development Network’s Doing Research program, that seeks to make objective assessments of social science research systems in developing countries, in order to identify gaps that can be addressed through research policy.

Q. You completed a Doing Research Assessment in Indonesia – could you outline the main findings?

The Doing Research Assessment in Indonesia found that the country's social science research ecosystem needs much improvement. Indonesian social scientists exhibit poor performance such as low academic publication in peer-reviewed, reputable journals. Our evidence showed that Indonesian social researchers do not have enough time to carry out rigorous studies, and have limited access to academic mentoring as well as international peers, crucial to increasing academic quality and capacity. Despite this, research is being diffused and communicated widely, including to policymakers. And, this is of course worrisome. What kind of social research is being used in Indonesia's policymaking? Unfortunately, this is research that is not based on strong theoretical grounding, nor on a tradition of peer review. 

We also find that there is regional inequality in the production, diffusion, and uptake of research in Indonesia. The larger, more industrialized and urbanized cities on the Java island have more direct access to state, donor and private funding, while smaller cities, and those on the peripheries, have less access, pointing to the need for addressing the difference.

Q. How are you communicating your findings? Do you believe they will find their way into policy?

The Doing Research Assessment has been disseminated through our regional and national networks, in collaboration with the stakeholders we have had strong ties with, ever since we worked with GDN for the pilot study in 2014. We try, as much as possible, to involve state bureaucracies, international donors, civil society organizations, and academic associations who are concerned with the quality with which social sciences is informing Indonesia's policymaking. The study itself has provided the impetus to work on common concerns regarding endowment funding, so that basic science and social sciences receive funding together with ready-to-use research that is more market-oriented. In short, the DRA provided momentum to mainstream the issue of social sciences into state policymaking regarding research funding. 

Q. Do you believe that every country should do such an assessment? Why?

I believe every country, indiscriminately, should carry out an assessment on their social science research ecosystem. It is also important that local actors organize such studies, so that specific contexts and power relations are taken into account, in each report. The reason for this is because I think global, regional, national, and local policymaking must be informed by the social dynamics of research production. This can be done if every country has the resources, and of course willingness, to examine their social science ecosystem critically. 

Q. You have also been involved in an earlier pilot study, and with GDN, for a while. What did you learn and what impact did it have on your professional life?

It is safe to say that it was because of GDN's pilot study that I have been able to consistently carry out science activism, so to speak. The GDN's pilot study was translated into Indonesian at the initiative of the Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) – a partnership between Indonesia's National Development Agency and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs Australia to improve the research ecosystem – because they saw the relevance of the study's findings to their goals. The report was distributed among KSI’s government network and civil society organizations. Through GDN's pilot, I also learned a lot about how to carry out rigorous research and how to use science to advocate for structural changes. I have published the findings in various national and international media platforms, as well as peer-reviewed journals and book chapters. I have, since then, become an active member and caretaker of the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences, which advocates for scientific temper. All this has definitely set things in motion for Indonesian scholars to work together, and to strengthen the quality and relevance of the social sciences for a more resilient society.

Q. What drives you to do this type of research?  

I hope that there will be more and more social scientists, who not only do their jobs well, but also find meaning in what they do. The ultimate gain, perhaps, is to leave something behind that our mentors and many others, including GDN, have given to us. 

In correspondence with Madhuri Dass Woudenberg, Head of Communications at the Global Development Network, in June 2020.

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