Doing Research Background
The environment for undertaking socially relevant and useful research in developing countries is most often characterized by both systemic and extraneous factors that lead to low research capacity, under-investment in research, poor infrastructure and incentives, resulting in sub-standard quality of research, poor advice to governments, and unused or unusable knowledge. This ultimately also impacts the quality of public opinion and policy discourse in these countries, as well as the capacity of GDN and other global stakeholders to tailor their interventions, ultimately expected to enhance local research capacity.
There is a vicious cycle of under-investment and poor performance in research in developing countries, especially in the social sciences. Lagging infrastructure, absence of a research strategy and cohesive policy at national level, and lack of a professional cadre of research leaders and mentors for younger researchers or a critical mass of peers are just some of the main causes for this trend of under-performance. The underlying conditions in both the research environment at country level and organizational policies and practices translate into poor incentives and opportunities to carry out world class, solid, relevant social science research with the potential to impact policies and lives. As a result, currently most of the research applied to development is carried out by researchers in universities in Europe and North America. In 2012 for example, the share of the world’s research articles with at least one African author was only 2.3 % according to SCOPUS data.
Research systems analysis is key to understanding the poor performance of social science research in developing countries. Reliable and consistent knowledge on research systems will allow research and development actors to answer questions which are currently difficult to tackle in absence of the relevant performance metrics. How does local research fit in the development agenda and is this role played effectively and sustainably? What are the individual, organizational and institutional factors that impact the social and political process of doing research? What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of Southern research systems and how to build on them?
To answer these questions, GDN launched a pilot phase for the program to assess different methodologies for studying the research environment and identify barriers and challenges to doing research in developing countries. Nine studies were produced employing distinct research methods, all yielding very interesting results and lessons learned regarding the advantages and limitations of the various approaches, particularly with regard to data.
In several of the participating countries, the pilot case studies were the first analytical exercises aiming to discuss in detail the issues and challenges linked to the research environment. They identified the aspects that matter most when looking at social science research systems. GDN produced a synthesis of the pilot phase and engaged in a large consultation to scale up the program and build the Doing Research Assessment Framework, an analytical framework for assessing and benchmarking the performance of social science research systems in developing countries.
The Doing Research Pilot Phase Steering Committee
The Doing Research Steering Committee comprises renowned research actors from across the globe:
- Ian Carter, University of Sussex
- Jon-Andri Lys, Swiss Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries
- Joseph Hoffman, Independent Consultant
- Lemma Senbet, African Economic Research Consortium
- Lynn Meek, University of Melbourne
- Merle Jacob, Lund University
- Nupur Barua, South Asia Research Hub, DFID