There is a shortage of senior African social scientists available to lead or manage research in Africa, undermining the continent's ability to interpret and solve its socio-economic and public health problems. This is despite decades of investment to strengthen research capacity. This study investigated the role of individually commissioned consultancy research in this lack of capacity.
In 2006 structured interviews (N = 95) and two group discussions (N = 16 total) were conducted with a fairly representative sample of Ugandan academic social scientists from four universities. Twenty-four senior members of 22 Ugandan and international commissioning organizations were interviewed. Eight key actors were interviewed in greater depth.
Much of Ugandan social science research appears to take the form of small, individually contracted consultancy projects. Researchers perceived this to constrain their professional development and, more broadly, social science research capacity across Uganda. Conversely, most research commissioners seemed broadly satisfied with the research expertise available and felt no responsibility to contribute to strengthening research capacity. Most consultancy research does not involve institutional overheads and there seems little awareness of, or interest in, such overheads.
Although inequalities in the global knowledge economy are probably perpetuated primarily by macro-level factors, in line with Dependency Theory, meso-level factors are also important. The current research market and institutional structures in Uganda appear to create career paths that seriously impede the development of high quality social science research capacity, undermining donor investments and professional effort to strengthen this capacity. These problems are probably generic to much of sub-Saharan Africa. However, both commissioning and research organizations seem ready, in principle, to establish national guidelines for institutional research consultancies. These could develop both institutional and individual research capacity, improve output and accountability, and facilitate academic research funding and indigenous research agendas.
Wight, D.; Ahikire, J.; Kwesiga, J.C. Consultancy research as a barrier to strengthening social science research capacity in Uganda. Social Science and Medicine (2014) 116: 32-40. [DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.06.002]