Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre
for Ecology and Hydrology (Int Dev 07)

I would like you to consider the evidence below in relation to the above mentioned inquiry. The evidence is submitted on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) is a research centre of the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) reporting to government through BIS. CEH undertakes fundamental, strategic and applied research through the UK Science Budget, under commissions from UK government departments and agencies, the EU, international organizations (UN agencies), foreign governments, development banks and the private sector. CEH employs approximately 450 research and support staff, and have worked in over eighty overseas countries, many of these being developing countries with acute water stress and environmental problems. As part of these activities, CEH has been involved in programmes that have delivered sustainable research capacity building in developing countries. CEH is now leading on behalf of NERC, the UK’s input to the Joint Programming Initiative on "Water Challenges for a Changing World". This Water JPI will support improved coordination of Member State actions to build research capacity for international development.

Our views are submitted under the specific questions requested in the call for evidence.

How does the UK Government support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?

1. UK research institutions have a long and successful track record working with research organisations in developing countries. UK research is of high quality and UK researchers have much to offer in terms of capacity building. However, DfIDs recent research strategy has meant there are fewer opportunities for research partnerships between UK research organisations and those in developing countries, reducing the opportunity to share expertise and build capacity.

What are the most effective models and mechanisms for supporting research capacity in developing countries?

2. Long term partnering between UK research establishments and those in developing countries is, in our experience, the most effective mechanism for capacity building. Many researchers and research organisations wish to be part of world leading, basic research. This is the key driver for many researchers who undertake research in developing countries, as well as knowing that the knowledge derived can help shape policy and solve problems for wider society.

3. CEH has experience of supporting research capacity within developing countries that has allowed lessons to be learnt and provides models for best practice. CEH worked with DfID from 2000 to establish the capacity for water resources research and management in Southern Africa.  The challenge for sustained economic growth and poverty alleviation to meet the Millennium Development Goals in the Southern African region is closely associated with sustainable use of natural resources and better management of the environment.  Developing a research capacity within the region is central to ensuring efficient water use under future environmental change.  The experience from the effort to establish a data network and research capacity as part of the Southern Africa FRIEND Programme (Flow Regimes In Experimental and Network Data) serves as a case study of the issues involved.

4. The SA FRIEND Programme was driven by funding from DfID and was successful in achieving its objectives until the funding stopped.  Considerable effort was made in research capacity building but perhaps this relied too heavily on key individuals trained in regional workshops who did not necessarily pass on their knowledge to their colleagues, with the result that when some of these staff left, the capacity was lost.  The lesson learned is that capacity building must place greater emphasis on training and mentoring to ensure maximum potential impact in terms of numbers of regional scientists reached. It is also a challenge to get local researchers and institutional managers to see initiatives not as projects with fixed start and end dates, but rather as ‘seed funding’ for a bigger and longer-term initiatives.  Perhaps projects would benefit from ‘tail-off’ funding for c. 2-5 years after the end of the initial project period with the aim of helping to maintain training, continuing development of systems that have been established as part of the project, and for seeking other future funding.  This would help to establish the research capacity building as a ‘way of life’ rather than time-limited by resources over a given project period.

5. As an example of this approach, between 1990 and 2000, CEH supported the building of world class research capacities in Brazil under a ten-year long series of NERC, DfID and then EU funding contracts. The Brazilians involved in that research now hold ministerial level positions within the Brazilian government, and are lead authors on inter-governmental scientific reports released under the IPCC and UNFCCC. The institutions that have been established in Brazil are now regarded world class. Because of CEH’s role in supporting that capacity building, these Brazilians now consider the UK as a preferred research partner. The long-term nature of the research partnership was undoubtedly responsible for the maintenance and sharing of capacity amongst Brazilian researchers, and provided a platform for future collaborative work.

How does the Government monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the scientific capacity building activities it supports? Is further assessment or oversight required?

6. DfID rely heavily on outsourcing of monitoring and evaluation to external consultants who may have expertise in development delivery, rather than research. Research Councils UK (RCUK) have a number of research programmes co-funded by DfID and they should be well-placed to ensure good on-going monitoring and evaluation of these programmes using DfID’s log frame approach. External evaluation of these programmes should be carried out by independent peer organisations with research and capacity building experience. Evaluation could also be done a period of time after a project has been completed to assess the longer term benefits of the research in terms of capacity building and the career paths of the developing country partners.

What role does DfID’s Chief Scientific Adviser play in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building policies?

7. No comment

How are government activities co-ordinated with the private and voluntary sectors?

8. No comment

Professor Alan Jenkins

Deputy Director and Water Science Director

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

15 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011