Framing challenges

Q&A with… GDN President, Pierre Jacquet

By 19 February 2015

This morning Research to Action caught up with Pierre Jacquet. He kindly answered a few questions and shared his thoughts on the TTI Exchange.

Pierre Jacquet is the President of the Global Development Network, a public international organisation headquartered in New Delhi, India, whose mission is to develop the capacity of economists and social scientists in developing countries so that they can inspire policy making and development in their own countries.

What are the opportunities and challenges of an exchange such as this?

I think first of all it is a great idea to have the Think Tanks meet and discuss issues related to the connection between knowledge and policy. This is the first one I have attended, and the theme is quality…how we define the quality of research. I think this is fundamental. I believe these exchanges go to the core of a subject which is of common interest… the link between knowledge and action and how we can think about that link. It does not happen automatically and spontaneously, so what can be done? This is one of the main missions of the Think Tanks.

Quality of the knowledge that is created, quality of the transmission of knowledge, quality of the information given to policymakers- this is not easily defined. It’s not easily done. It was shown this morning, for example, that it is not easy to pinpoint the exact time at which research becomes belief and when that becomes advocacy. What is the role of scientific advice as opposed to ideology? All these are central questions and they deserve a lot of exchange of experience, information and knowledge.

What is the value added?

It is not a series of issues in which you have one single scientific answer. It’s more a process and, in that process, exchanging experience is a crucial element. I believe that having all these think tanks together, commenting on how they [approach the link between knowledge and action] in their own environment is a vital contribution to better understanding that process and ensuring that it preserves what we want, which is very good quality interaction between knowledge and policy.

How do the cultural dynamics of the different Think Tanks affect and enhance these types of events?

They confirm that there is no one-size-fits-all review about the process which I was describing. Also, it may seem obvious, but in most discussions people forget about that multiplicity, the multi-dimensionality of the process. People tend to have a simple view about the researcher having a monopoly on knowledge creation and then transmitting that knowledge down to policymakers who will be happy to receive wisdom and then devise policy accordingly. I think the merit of having this kind of exchange from various cultural perspectives is to show that it doesn’t work that way.

In a way this interaction between knowledge and policy is always a social and political process and we need to understand that to be able to understand how it works.

Who are shining stars among the Think Tanks?  Why? What are they doing in order to shine? 

From what I have heard this morning and yesterday, there are a lot of stars. It’s a constellation!

What are the challenges for those organisations supporting Think Tanks to maximise impact?

Well, I can tell you that one of the main challenges is getting access to funds. It’s of course a reality, but I think it goes deeper than that. One of the challenges in today’s world is that there is a tendency to think that development is a series of problems that have solutions, and that the role of research is to find out what those solutions are. [People think] therefore that research may be conducted in the best universities in the world and that they take the problem and they find a solution…It doesn’t at all correspond to the image I have of development.

I think development is a process that is localised in a given country, a given context, a given cultural, historical, social, economic, political context… any “solution” means that we need to see how action can take place on the given issue in a given country. That requires local knowledge to be created and for that we need to build the capacity of researchers.

I would like development assistance to better understand that it is a crucial element of aid effectiveness to build the capacity of these local researchers, that’s what my organisation does, and, of course, if there was better understanding of that we would find more resources to conduct our mission.