Rachel Hayman, 8 October 2018

As part of our ongoing campaign to promote practitioner research, we are publishing new research and a set of resources on fair and equitable research partnerships.

Early in 2018, INTRAC joined forces with the Open University, Christian Aid, Praxis and the UNESCO Co-Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. Together we are part of the Rethinking Research Collaborative, an informal international network of individuals and organisations committed to working together to encourage more inclusive, responsive collaborations to produce useful and accessible development research.

With funding from UK Research and Innovation, we gathered perspectives from different kinds of partners in UK-led research collaborations – academics and practitioners based in the global South, UK-based international brokers, and INGOs – and have generated new data and practical tools.

The report shares findings on the persistent bottlenecks in research partnerships that risk undermining their international development goals, and describes eight principles for addressing them.

The resources – an introduction, six modules and nine written and audio case studies – are targeted at different stakeholder groups, and will help them to put the principles into practice. Case studies feature people from each stakeholder group discussing real examples of research partnerships, and the challenges and opportunities they present.

Why do we need to think about fair and equitable partnerships?

The UK government has invested highly in international development research, including through the Global Challenges Research Fund, a £1.5 billion fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries; and a £735 million match-funding stream, the Newton Fund, focused on tackling development challenges through science and innovation.

Both funds have partnership at their heart, building on trends for collaboration as a response to the complexity of development challenges, as well as a belief that collaboration is more likely to lead to accessible and useful research.

As I’ve explored before, this should give a more prominent role to practitioners based in the global South and the global North within academic research projects, bringing in their knowledge and experience to shape research questions, methodologies and impact. However, while the rhetoric of partnership sounds good, in practice these collaborative partnerships are often quite challenging and unequal, with UK-based academics holding considerably more power than their southern-based or non-academic partners.

Eight Principles to improve practice

Through interviews, focus group discussions and a round-table event, the research team collected views of what works and what doesn’t. This analysis formed a basis for developing eight principles for fair and equitable partnerships:

  1. Put poverty first. Constantly question how research is addressing the end goal of reducing poverty through better design and evaluation of responsive pathways to development impact.
  2. Critically engage with context(s). Consider the global representativeness of partnerships and governance systems and commit to strengthening research ecosystems in the global South.
  3. Redress evidence hierarchies. Incentivise intellectual leadership by Southern-based academics and civil society practitioners and engage communities throughout.
  4. Adapt and respond. Take an adaptive approach that is responsive to context.
  5. Respect diversity of knowledge and skills. Take time to explore the knowledge, skills and experience that each partner brings and consider different ways of representing research.
  6. Commit to transparency. Put in place a code of conduct or memorandum of understanding that commits to transparency in all aspects of the project administration and budgeting.
  7. Invest in relationships. Create spaces and commit funded time to establish, nurture and sustain relationships at the individual and institutional level.
  8. Keep learning. Reflect critically within and beyond the partnership.

Speaking on behalf of the Collaborative, Rajesh Tandon (PRIA and the UNESCO Co-Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education) explains:

“Research partnerships do not exist in isolation. They are part of a complex knowledge-for-development ecosystem, which includes research agenda-setting and governance alongside production, communication, uptake, adaptation and use. So it’s important to rethink fair and equitable collaboration across that whole system. This will allow us to respond to locally defined development agendas, to map and incorporate the relevant actors, to utilize the myriad of knowledge and skills that actors bring, and to take an adaptive and learning-oriented approach to collaboration.”

The Rethinking Research Collaborative will be working with UK research funding bodies to implement the recommendations from this work, and with diverse research partners to help put our principles for fair and equitable partnership into practice.