Making your research accessible

Getting to grips with the politics of research collaboration

By 7 November 2018

There’s a common story in development research. It goes like this. If academics from the global North, researchers from the global South, and CSOs participate in collaborative research – and if the partnerships between them are, in the current language of UK research funders, ‘fair and equitable’ – they can generate insights and evidence to inform development practice and policy, have an impact on poverty, and bring about more just societies.

So far, so good.

But there’s another common story, too. This one says that collaborative research partnerships often struggle to meet these aspirations. They can be complicated and time-consuming. There are all kinds of power imbalances and different practices at play that influence whose knowledge and values are most important. These things in turn shape what kind of uptake and impact is possible or likely.

New resources just published by the Rethinking Research Collaborative are really helpful in both untangling what’s going on in the second story and supporting the kinds of research partners who want to play a role in the first. What are fair and equitable research partnerships, and what’s needed to help them become more widespread?

Putting principles for better collaborative research into practice

The first resource is a research report which documents the perspectives and experiences of different research partners about what works and what doesn’t in collaborative research. These form the basis of eight principles for fair and equitable partnerships in development research:

  1. Put poverty first.
  2. Critically engage with context.
  3. Challenge assumptions about evidence.
  4. Adapt and respond.
  5. Respect diversity of knowledge and skills.
  6. Commit to transparency.
  7. Invest in relationships.
  8. Keep learning.

Again – so far, so good. But how can we put these principles into practice?

That’s where the second set of resources comes in – aimed at anyone involved in a collaborative research process. There are six modules targeted at six stakeholder groups – UK-based research funders, UK-based academics, academics based in the global South, international NGOs, CSOs in the global South, and research broker organisations. They’re designed to help each group think through the challenges and opportunities of partnerships. In addition there is a collection of written and audio case studies that feature different types of stakeholders discussing real examples of the dilemmas and opportunities of research partnerships.

What’s in it for research communication and uptake?

As a professional research communicator, one of the things I really like about the six modules in this package is how they are structured around the research process. That means that as well as considering research partnerships, governance, and design they also shine a light on the politics of research communication and uptake – something that isn’t often explicitly considered.

For example: Who agrees and signs off on communications in a partnership? What happens if an INGO partner needs to act quickly on research, before a lengthy academic publication process is concluded? Is the research data equally accessible to all of the research partners?

I think that if we can be up-front about these kinds of questions when we engage in collaborative research, we’ve got a better chance that our stories of research partnership will end with uptake and positive impact. And we might move a step closer to the just and equitable societies that we’re hoping for.

 

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