IDS is a collaborating partner on the Pathways to Impactful and Equitable Partnerships in Research for Development (R4D): A Co-Created, Action-Learning Initiative project, which is led by Southern Voice and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The 23-month project seeks to contribute to the reform of the R4D system through a co-produced process of articulating an agenda for change and fostering a community of open dialogue amongst key actors in the R4D space.
Research partnerships for global development
Research partnerships have gathered importance, becoming a go-to strategy of funding mechanisms in the global development sector. Consequently, research collaborations between stakeholders in the global North and South are expanding. At the same time, there are active debates about how these partnerships ought to be informed, framed, designed, and implemented in ways that encourage power-sharing and increase impact. There is the risk, however, that current understandings and guidance on equitable North-South research partnerships do not sufficiently account for the priorities and perspectives of Southern-based researchers, nor address embedded power relations that contribute to different forms of inequity and injustice.
The loudest voices in current debates tend to be those from the global North. A recent scoping review of guidance on these types of collaborations confirms that ‘Northern perspectives dominate the guidance’ and that ‘further exploration of what matters to Southern stakeholders is needed’ (Voller et al. 2022: 532). If a new wave of efforts to create equitable and impactful research in development is driven only by priorities and narratives from institutions in the global North, this will be a lost opportunity to bring about meaningful change.
Partnerships involve multiple stakeholders, and everyone’s perspectives should be considered so that agendas are co-created. But can this occur when there are significant power imbalances between those involved? This action-learning initiative begins from the starting point that frank conversations and open spaces of dialogue that account for diverse points of view are needed to reform the problematic patterns of current research partnerships in international development. Instead of rushing towards consensus on how to achieve more equitable partnerships, this project aspires to hold space for dissent and critical reflection. We aim to put in place, and learn from, careful, intentional, and thoughtful processes in which there is the capacity to account for diverse points of view whilst at the same time identifying action-oriented pathways forward.
We will work in two stages. First, we will work in parallel and independent tracks. While Southern Voice will focus on the ‘global South’, IDS will do the same for the ‘global North’, each recognising that these terms fail to capture the complexity of research for development relationships and networks that cross these boundaries. In each track, we will both carry out reviews of the literature and exploratory research, paying close attention to divergence and convergence in the perspectives among stakeholders, complemented by reflective conversations with key stakeholders to garner a range of experiences, views and insights.
At a second stage we will bring together ideas and actors that have surfaced during the first phase to work together on an action-oriented research agenda to enhance research for development impact by improving the framing and implementation of North-South partnerships.
At the end of the process, we aim to have an action and research agenda to improve research partnerships in global development. We will also foster a community of practice invested and committed to advancing such an agenda from their own positions and roles within the system.