The International Humanitarian Studies Association has initiated a number of webinars in different regions to discuss international research partnerships. The objective of the webinars was to create a platform for local researchers to share their perspectives of North-South research collaborations and/or their lived experiences in conducting research locally. The webinars have been organised in a number of contexts, including Colombia (Universidad de los Andes), DRC (ISDR/CREGED) and Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University).
Issues discussed included:
The roundtable aims to report on the webinars, take stock of the outcomes, and consider action required towards more equitable research collaborations.
The last few decades have seen a growth in North–South research partnerships, mainly in the context of research programs funded by Northern governments and global research institutions. The nature of these partnerships varies. There are many occasions of partnerships that have evolved through time and are based on mutual respect, including institutional development and long term partnerships. However, there are also many occasions where partnerships are introduced because they are compulsory as a condition for funding, or because of instrumental reasons, such as ensuring technical assistance and cheap data collection.
A commitment drafted by scholars of the World Humanitarian Summit stated: “We commit to localize humanitarian research and education within the regions and communities affected by emergencies by recognizing, establishing, supporting and collaborating with research and educational institutions in crisis-affected areas. Member states should work to remove political, regulatory, and financial barriers that impede research and prevent the development of research institutions in crisis-affected areas.”
Research partnerships have been marred by inequalities. Often research institutions feel they are sub-contractors, with researchers relegated to roles of research assistants. The discussion gained additional meaning during COVID-19, when the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Health in a press conference said that the Kenyan people will not be guinea pigs with regard to the new Covid-19 vaccines. This further emphasized the importance of research partnerships as an essential tool for addressing global development concerns and inequalities. They can also ease the ethical concerns, frustrations on the side of researchers in crisis-affected settings and create ownership. Partnership brings together multiple stakeholders with different expertise and contextual understanding based on common goals and shared intentions to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects.
While many researchers acknowledge the importance and potential benefits of international research partnerships, they have also pointed out its practical challenges and limitations. These challenges include power inequities, unequal sharing of resources, exclusion in research decision making processes, communication barriers, diverging research priorities, as well as a lack of capacity-development for Southern partners.
Prof. Dr. Dorothea Hilhorst & Dr. Rodrigo Mena
Can be found in the Conference Programme.