50. The Surr Report commented that the pronounced
trend towards outsourcing of research management in DFID had led,
amongst other things, to concerns over the "de-skilling of
staff within DFID", and a reduction of "DFID's capacity
to act as an intelligent customer (and partner)".
The Royal Society was one of many organisations who told us of
its alarm "over the level of in-house experts available within
DFID to assimilate, disseminate and co-ordinate scientific research".
Dr Cotton, Director of WELL, also remarked that DFID probably
had "an internal capacity issue" that prevented "the
potential contribution of technological improvements" from
feeding "through into programmes and strategies in a structured
51. We heard considerable criticism of the low numbers
of DFID staff with a background in, and understanding of, research.
Dr Adrian Newton from Bournemouth School of Conservation Sciences
told us that DFID needed to "reiterate its commitment to
research, and strive to increase understanding among its own staff
about the value of research" and "should also seek to
appoint staff with professional research experience to increase
the capacity of the organisation to both understand what research
can offer, and to apply the results that it generates".
Moreover, Dr Newton felt the need to clarify, for the benefit
of DFID, the fact that "research is not a commodity that
we can choose to have or not; it is a process of solving problems.
In fact it is the only tool that we have that actually generates
knowledge. The only alternative method for solving a problem is
trial and error".
Professor Bradley from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine also stated that "the idea that DFID can simply
'buy in' research as needed is naïve and fails to understand
the nature of the linkage between research, expertise, and sound
questioned on the issue of outsourcing, Mr Spray, Head, DFID's
Central Research Department, conceded that benchmarking exercises
against other Government departments indicated that DFID did "need
more in-house staff, not in order to substitute for the external
but precisely to engage better with them".
As a result, Mr Spray told us that the Central Research Department
was expanding from approximately seven to 17 over the next 18
52. We encountered a widespread perception that the
levels of expertise in natural science had fallen within DFID,
in contrast to the growing numbers of social scientists. Dr Steven
Belmain from the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) said that "Most
staff at DFID have been trained in the social sciences, and it
is widely felt that their knowledge of the natural sciences and
technology is lacking", whilst Professor Rothschild, Chair
of the Renewable Natural Resources Research Strategy (RNRRS) Independent
Programme Advisory Committees, told us that "the number of
technical people has been greatly reduced".,
The Geological Society of London also asserted that "DFID's
loss of interest in geoscience" was in part due to "DFID
policy being largely driven by social scientists, environmentalists
and economists with little sympathy for scientific research, however
applied and practical it might be".
Mr Spray, Head of the Central Research Department in DFID, confirmed
that DFID had "increased the number of social scientists
faster than the number of natural scientists recently" but
insisted that "the absolute number of professionally qualified
staff has been going up".,
DFID was nonetheless unable to provide us with any data on the
current or historical numbers of natural scientists in its employment.
This is in part due to the fact that DFID categorises its advisory
staff using terms such as Health and Population, Social Development,
Rural Livelihoods etc, rather than by their professional qualification
or discipline (see Table 2). Furthermore, DFID does not monitor
whether its staff, irrespective of their professional discipline,
have a background in research.
53. It should be noted that criticism of DFID's scientific
expertise was focussed on the proportion of staff with backgrounds
in science and research rather than the quality of those staff.
Indeed, Dr Cotton, Director of WELL, whilst critical of the low
numbers of engineering advisers in DFID, said of the engineering
advisers that he had encountered: "I believe them to be highly
competent and very good [
] they have a very good understanding
2: Advisory Staff in DFID