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DFID research: Strengthening scientific capacity building: writing the agenda

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Recent report highlights potential benefits of developing strong network of home grown scientists and institutions in developing countries.

In a recent report by the Science and technology committee, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust (and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor designate), stated that building science capacity within developing countries was “one of the most important activities to which DFID can contribute”. The report has highlighted the potential benefits of developing a strong network of home grown scientists and institutions within developing countries.

The fourth report, Building Scientific Capacity for Development, is compiled from oral and written evidence submitted to the select committee following the launch of an inquiry in November 2011. The initial inquiry posed the following questions:

  1. How does the UK Government support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?
  2. What are the most effective models and mechanisms for supporting research capacity in developing countries?
  3. How does the Government monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the scientific capacity building activities it supports? Is further assessment or oversight required?
  4. What role does DFID’s Chief Scientific Adviser play in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building policies?
  5. How are government activities co-ordinated with the private and voluntary sectors?

Incorporating responses from international scholars working in the UK as well as scientists actively involved in building capacity on the ground in Uganda and Tanzania, the subsequent report draws into focus the need to further develop home-grown science bases in the developing world.

Pointing out the benefits which arise from having chief scientific advisors to assist government, the report suggests more work is needed to effectively encourage the establishment of similar systems in other countries and research institutions. It acknowledges DFID’s commitment to using a robust evidence base and its understanding of the need for robust evaluation tools but recommends the continued use of external reviews and scientific advice to further inform capacity building measures within DFID.

Emphasising the importance of science capacity building in encouraging effective long-term development, the committee suggest that DFID should take a more active role in strengthening local institutions.  The report recommends dedicating more energy to ensuring that scientists, particularly those trained through UK support, are given support to develop their careers within their native country. The committee state that this is the only route to sustainable scientific capacity.

The report summary presents several key concerns raised by the select committee. It outlines a number of recommendations:

  1. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) should assess the possibilities for post-qualification funding and look at devising a new early-career scholarship.
  2. DFID’s commitment to capacity building and science and engineering in development should be more explicitly recognised.
  3. Referring to the improved communication between research funders in the UK following its formation, it suggests that the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences’ members publicly commit to the continuation of the Collaborative beyond 2013 for at least another five years.
  4. The committee welcome the “research hubs” set up by DFID with the Science and Innovation Network in India and China and encourage the further development of such hubs particularly in Africa.
  5. Funders should ensure that researchers working on development issues are recognised for the impact they are having on the ground in addition to other traditional measures of success, such as publication record.
  6. DFID’s recent interest in innovation is welcomed and active collaboration with the Technology Strategy Board is encouraged, in order to learn lessons from the UK’s own experience in fostering innovation.
  7. The UK Government should actively promote to developing countries the advantages of having Chief Scientific Advisers in Government. The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser should play a leading role in building a strong international network in which scientific advisers from around the globe can share knowledge and harmonise approaches to development issues.

While DFID currently supports programmes, such as the ****Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative** and **Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa** (DRUSSA), this report further highlights the pressing global demand to place science, and the capacity for home-grown research and researchers, firmly on the agenda.**

To read the full report click here.