This summary was compiled by Valerie Traore. Valerie is the Executive Director of Niyel, a campaigns agency specialising in creative strategies for development, political and cultural agendas. She is a moderator and facilitator at the TTI Exchange.
The TTI Exchange 2015 e-forum ran from 26 January to 4 February 2015, as part of the preparations for the TTI Exchange which takes place in Istanbul from 18-20 February 2015. The e-forum’s objectives were:
- to provide a space for participants from TTI-supported institutions to share initial thoughts and experiences relevant to the theme of “research quality”
- to surface expectations of participants on what they hope to bring to the event, and what they hope to gain
- to highlight key questions and issues that will inform the dialogue and planned sessions in the Think Tank Initiative Exchange.
Almost 60 contributions were made to the e-forum, with ideas and perspectives that not only provided a stimulating dialogue, but also are proving an important contribution to the preparations for the TTI Exchange itself.
The following summary draws on the posts received, but although they cannot do justice to the full range of thoughtful insights and experience shared, they aim to draw out the key issues discussed.
On defining research quality
If there is one agreement from the discussions, it is that there is no one definition of research quality. As Carmen Ortiz and Olga Loarca from ASIES in Guatemala put it, it is more about a set of characteristics that make up research quality, rather than one definition. Most of the contributions have focused on three stages where these characteristics can be assessed: pre-, during- and post-research.
- Pre research is all about the process that leads into the research. Musambya Mutambala of STIPRO, Tanzania highlighted the need for stakeholder consultation in ensuring that it is responding to a need, whereas Wilson Winstons Muhwezi, ACODE in Uganda, focused more on the design of the study itself in terms of the “judgment regarding the match between research methods and questions, selection of subjects, measurement of outcomes, and protection against systematic bias, non-systematic bias, and inferential error.”
- During the research is really about the product, or output of the research, ensuring that it is scientifically strong.
- Post- research output – one thing that is a very strong sentiment regardless of the specific characteristics, stated by María Elena Rivera, from Fundaungo El Salvador, and reiterated by Priyanthi Fernando of CEPA in Sri Lanka, is that research has to serve a public good, focus on changing problematic policies and/or fixing a problem. It is a process that leads to a product and the product that comes out of that process should add to the current body of knowledge and benefit society. John Omiti from Kippra in Kenya adds, the relevance, topicality and timeliness in delivery of various research products are crucial. In the words of Mezgebe Mihretu, of EDRI in Ethiopia, “research can only be labeled “quality” as long it influences change, a new way of doing, new technology, development and growth.”
On policy uptake of research
There is a general agreement that it is the primary responsibility of researchers and their respective institutions to do what they can to promote this, even if there are different ways in which that work is done. In looking at the institutions though, should the researcher him/herself be the only one to push for policy uptake? As an example of something that works well, Prof. Khalida Ghaus, SPDC Pakistan described the value of having a Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) unit with different functions including social media and the appropriate platform to support it. This is especially important when the researcher may not have all the engagement tools to be able to carry the policy engagement strategy alone, given the variety of the strategies that will be needed at different moments.
Adriana Arellano, Research Director at Grupo FARO, Ecuador, also points this out as she notes the various direct and indirect engagement strategies with policy makers.
Whether or not the ownership of this mandate exists within think tanks, Bitrina Diyamett from STIPRO in Tanzania raises the question of whether think tanks should be held accountable in the event that their recommendations are not taken up, a very important point to consider.
On stakeholder consultation
There seems to be complete agreement. Consultation should be as broad as possible and be done before, during and after the research. Annapoorna Ravichander from CSTEP in India highlights that at “the beginning of research (it serves) to ensure that all are on the same platform, during major escalations/discussions/decisions and at the end/completion of the research/project to ensure that all goals set in the beginning of the research have been considered, met and achieved.”
Most interventions focused on the importance of stakeholder consultation. Job Eronmhonsele from CPED in Nigeria also added that it “is an instrument that provides stakeholders with the opportunity to participate in the implementation of a research or intervention programme and potentially influence the articulation and adoption of recommended policies.” Rodulio Perdomo of FOSDEH in Honduras recommends always including decision makers, the national research community and the general public within the overall research process.