There is a serious shortage of senior African social scientists to lead health-related research in Africa. This is despite the existence of many African social science graduates, and decades of Northern funded research programmes intended to develop local capacity. To investigate the barriers to developing health social science research capacity in East Africa, 29 in-depth interviews, informal conversations and a group discussion were conducted with professionals in this field. Respondents' explanations for inadequate social science research capacity primarily related to under-development and global economic inequalities. However, a recurrent theme was the predominance of individually contracted research consultancies. These seem to divert university staff from academic research, supporting colleagues and training the next generation of researchers, stunt the institutional capacity of university departments, restrict the sharing of research findings and perpetuate donors' control of the research agenda. Although primarily due to macro-economic factors, limited research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa might be ameliorated by modifying the process by which much research is conducted. This exploratory study suggests that institutional research capacity might be strengthened if consultancy research were commissioned through institutions, rather than individuals, with the payment of substantial overheads.
Social Science & Medicine (2008) 66 (1) pp. 110-116 [doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.07.019]