The aim of the conference on May 5 was to bring together all actors interested in the debate on decolonizing Swiss research collaborations. We experienced a diverse and interactive programme that provided different perspectives on decolonizing research collaborations, showcased different practical approaches and stimulated discussions among participants.
An introduction to the concepts of decolonizing research collaborations, challenges, best practices and motivations, dynamics and the KFPE Project.
Dr Mariah Ngutu
- Research Affiliate Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies, University of Nairobi
Decolonial perspectives question prevalent modes of producing scientific knowledge. Anthropologist Francis Nyamnjoh argues that recognition of our knowledge as incomplete is a crucial step to advance knowledge-making with others across geographies and disciplines. We explore what this means in a Swiss collaboration with Gabon.
Research and research collaboration can be meaningful if they inform policy making, strategy design and actions on the ground. However, they experienced two challenges: i) many of the research collaborations are dominated by the interests of northern scholars and/or funding agencies, and ii) often, research in the Global South have been pursed for personal carrier development or to satisfy the interests of the funding agency instead of the commitment to inform policy, strategy and development interventions. As a result, most research findings remain on shelf gathering dust and getting obsolete, while the Global South is still suffering from the combined impacts of extreme poverty, environmental degradation and climate change. We at WLRC tried to change this trend by introducing a hybrid approach, namely: linking research with implementation on the ground. The partners in the South had freedom to suggest context-specific approaches with the research collaborators in the North adding value to the new approach. This approach resulted in improvements on ecosystem services, livelihoods and resilience in the project areas. The approach also enabled to generate not only actionable recommendations but also additional empirical evidence for upscaling and out scaling.
The presentation will critically assess why current balance of power and resources continues to impede global efforts in achieving sustainable development goals. While there have been efforts to introduce elements of decoloniality in certain relationships and activities of international development, particularly in the health sector, the introduction of new terms to describe this lack of balance of power are leading to mixed results. There is a growing skepticism that terms such as “decolonization” are being interpreted equally by all or if the new terminology leads to yet another cycle of failure. The presentation will conclude with the promise of more equitable partnerships for research that addresses pertinent global challenges.
During this session we discussed different topics related to decolonising research collaborations in smaller groups. Participants in Bern and online could each choose from different topics to engage in an in-depth discussion.
Research funding is an important aspect of research collaborations (for initiating new collaborations but also for financing existing projects) and is therefore part of the debate on decolonizing research collaborations. In recent years, a certain change in research funding has been initiated thanks to "research on research” or the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). This change has a certain relevance for the debate on decolonizing research funding. In this workshop, some elements of research funding will be presented briefly (e.g. DORA, new SNSF CV, panel composition). The discussion will then focus on the following two guiding questions:
- What are the general challenges for/within research funding (submission, evaluation, reporting, etc.)?
- What are elements that could help to decolonize research funding?
The basis of knowledge creation, pedagogies, curriculum development, teaching methods, research methodologies and research environments have all been plagued with relics of colonial hegemonies, power dynamics, and institutional racial hierarchies. This workshop will examine attempts at decolonizing academic and research institutions based on reflections of the aforementioned. It chronicles the decolonization journeys of two institutions who are threading different paths to decolonization: one through an academic study of its theoretical and physical space, the other through poignant changes to core elements of its teaching methods, admission processes, and overall institutional framework. A fundamental part of the workshop will focus on lessons learnt and lessons sharing, with a planned interactive session for experiential comparative analysis. The main goal of this workshop is to bring to fore conversations on plausible and pragmatic decolonization approaches that take into cognizance essential elements that are devoid of racism, white-gaze, and funding-related power ownerships.
Every step in a research project – from agenda setting and finances, empirical research, to knowledge transfer and capacity building – should be subject to decolonization. At the same time, decolonizing research projects poses multiple challenges in various dimensions. The workshop addresses three of these dimensions and discusses challenges and ways forward for each project step. The first dimension touches on the set-up of partnerships, where striving for fairness is pivotal. The second deals with contexts, cultures, and conflicts, where degrees of awareness and sensitivity are closely linked to the quest of decolonization. Finally, risk preparedness of institutions and projects also poses decolonization challenges as unequal treatment is often accentuated in times of crisis or incidents. By discussing the project steps against the background of the three dimensions, the workshop also tries to highlight the interconnectedness of these three dimensions and thereby point to the complexity of decolonization challenges.
Dr Lara Lundsgaard Hansen
- Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
Decolonising North-South research collaboration has been a longstanding quest, with ongoing asymmetries and obstacles. This study thus aims to annotate and develop practice tools for decolonising North-South collaborative research. The approach will be participatory, engaging academics and non-academics to elicit perspectives on motivations to decolonise, relevant processes, and plausible success opportunities. Using mixed analysis methods, the study will examine past and ongoing partnerships to generate practice tools and reports.
Following a presentation of our research project, we will spilt up into three groups for discussion:
- "Effectiveness of Decolonising North-South Research Collaborations: A Practice Trail to Plausible Success"
- "Dynamics, challenges and opportunities – what measures and practice should be instated"
- "Decolonisation practice tools and implementation, plausible level of current success considering past attempts and experiences"
If well managed and supported, Research−implementation Organizations (RIOs) can accelerate sustainable development (SD) by contributing to evidence-based and high-quality project implementation. Moreover, they serve as comprehensive teaching and training centres for an SD workforce and act as national program memory. The presented research series describes the RIO operational model and its strengths and weaknesses.
Dr Gete Zeleke
- Director General Water and Land Resource Center (WLRC), Addis Ababa University
- Head Section Analysis and Research, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)