Network of Excellence for Qualitative Research in the Social Sciences in sub-Saharan Africa


This project seeks to help strengthen the independent research capacity of institutions of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. It provides a new generation of African scholars access to cutting edge and innovative research design strategies in the social sciences and aims to establish a training and research network that will stimulate and sustain, over the medium term, the uptake of these methods by African university departments.

The training will be provided by three hub institutions:

  • Ashesi University College (Ghana)
  • University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
  • University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

They will be run in collaboration with the faculty from the Institute of Development Studies, UK, the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Boston University, USA, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and University of Central Florida, USA.

A select number of junior faculty at sub-Saharan institutions of higher education will receive intensive training in research methods that fosters critical thinking and theoretically informed methodological choices. Participants will receive the equivalent of a one semester postgraduate-level course in research methods.

Training and networking activities focus on increasing the quality of research on the Governance dimension (broadly defined) of socio-economic development. Governance is an area where qualitative methods skills and solid concept formation are disproportionately important. Understanding the dynamics of governance issues such as building state capacity at local levels, combating problems such as clientelism or corruption, enhancing democractic processes or citizenship, or dealing with the complex and multi-level dynamics of conflict and migration, depends on the ability to develop the conceptual clarity required to understand these phenomena and the subsequent capacity to conduct careful comparative research that identifies relevant causal relations and provides a better basis for developing modesl or theories.

Over the course of a six month period participants will take part in three intensive training workshops of 4.5 days led by prominent scholars, and ongoing peer group discussions and mentoring by senior faculty on-line through a Virtual Research Unit. Rather than focus on classic methodological debates, the workshop sessions are organised around the process of research design and will focus on key decision points at various moments in this process. Discussions are organised around the participants' research interests, and participants are expected to develop their own research designs as part of the project. Participants will compete for practicum funding for a field-test of the research designs developed over the course of the workshops.


Workshop 1 - covers the definition of research space, concept formation and typological theory.

Workshop 2 - examines different strategies for causal assessment, including novel experimental methods.

Workshop 3 - introduces new research designs that bridge qualitative and quantitative methods, such as network analysis, and critical data gathering issues.

Overall Goal

The project goals emerged out of a series of initial methods research workshops funded by the British Council's England-Africa Partnership. Participants in workshops in Ghana and Rwanda, as well as some HEI officials, emphasised a number of needs that have become the project goals:

  • greater capacity to undertake qualitative research that is methodologically rigorous (versus a-methodological)
  • greater access to potential research funding, particularly international sources
  • greater opportunity to publish in international (peer-reviewed) journals
  • greater institutional and professional support for Small-N research

In broader terms, the project seeks to address the needs and constraints faced by countries in sub-Saharan Africa by creating opportunities for African faculty to engage with each other and with their EU and US counterparts in an intensive and ongoing manner, breaking a relative international isolation often felt by African scholars. This ongoing contact increases the likelihood that African faculty will take up the latest innovations in qualitative research methods, gain access to international funding sources for their research, obtain invitations to conferences in OECD countries, and succeed in publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. All of these things will enhance the independent research capacity of Africa's HEIs. As such, it will contribute directly to the development of more appropriate and contextualised research designs, concepts and measures than currently prevail in research and commissioned work.

There have been important advances in concept formation, measurement validity, strategies of causal assessment and related case selection strategies, and network analysis, to name some of the areas of innovation. With this project we seek to counter the rise of an international consultancy market which favours quantitative, often survey-based, research or quick and largely 'a-methodological' case studies. And post-graduate programmes offer few or no courses on qualitative methods and social science departments lack resources to hire faculty who specialise in this area. Access to national or international research funding is extremely limited. The consultancy market dominates most funding. Within this market African researchers are at the receiving end of a set of externally derived concepts and indicators that are often poorly suited to analyse the complex realities of the continent. In turn, existing research from African scholars often lacks the support and audience it deserves.

Across the continent the fragility of much of the quantitative data produced by governments and survey research that relies on externally defined indicators reinforces the need for a qualitative push. A growing consensus argues that qualitative and quantitative studies have significant complementarities and share a number of features, including the need for careful conceptual work. In particular, qualitative work is seen as better suited to concept formation and theory development, and can handle multi-causality and complex feedback mechanisms. In the absence of strong qualitative studies, the concepts used in surveys and other forms of quantitative research, and the analytic assumptions about causal relations, are thin or sometimes simply inappropriate. Indeed effective quantitative research is undermined by a lack of access to new and more sophisticated qualitative methods and analysis.


Junior faculty in sub-Saharan African countries, of diverse disciplinary backgrounds, who teach and conduct research in the social sciences on issues that relate to governance.

The project aims to help train and network approximately 130 junior faculty from HEI. Participants will be divided equally between West, East and Southern Africa. The hub in West Africa is Ashesi University College (Ghana), and will draw faculty from Sierra Leone and Liberia. The East African hub is the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), reaching faculty in Uganda and Rwanda. In Southern Africa, the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) will be the hub for Zimbabwe and Mozambique.



  • Esi Ansah/Edgar Cooke, Ashesi University College, Ghana
  • Dr. Bernadeta Killian/Richard Mbunda, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Loren Landau/Ingrid Palmary/Darshan Vigneswaran, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Simon Turner/Nauja Kleist, Danish Institute of International Studies, Denmark


  • Arnab Acharya, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
  • John Gerring, Boston University, USA
  • Kerstin Hamann/Bruce Wilson, University of Central Florida, USA

Key contact

IDS staff or research student


More details
Project Dates:
January 2009 - June 2011
Project Status:
ACP-EU Cooperation Programme in Higher Education (EDULINK)