Building scientific capacity for development - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Scientific capacity building—a process that enables countries to shape and sustain their own long-term development—is important in international development. However, eight years ago our predecessors identified it as a particular area of weakness within the UK's approach to international development policy.

The scientific culture in the Department for International Development (DFID) has improved in the intervening period. Not least because of the introduction of a Chief Scientific Adviser post within DFID. While this has led to some improvements, such as DFID's commitment to using a robust evidence base and its understanding of the need for robust evaluation tools, there is no room for complacency. We remain concerned about the level of DFID's in-house scientific and technical expertise and echo the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's recommendation that DFID have mechanisms in place to keep under review its current and future needs for professional staff. DFID must also continue to draw on external scientific expertise. This is particularly important in providing technical support to generalist staff in DFID country offices.

Following the formation of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), there have also been improvements in communication and coordination between research funders in the UK with an interest in development. We recommend that UKCDS's members, which include Government Departments and the Research Councils, publicly commit to the continuation of the Collaborative beyond 2013 for at least another five years.

While UKCDS works well in providing a forum for research funders, there remains a need for greater clarity about the way in which it relates to other cross-Government networks that are involved in the international coordination of science, for example, the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF) and the Science and Innovation Network (SIN). We support a more joined up approach between DFID and other arms of the UK Government that function abroad. As such, we welcome DFID's initiative to co-locate its overseas staff in "research hubs" with SIN officers in India and China, and we recommend that DFID and SIN make rapid progress on the development of proposals for further such research hubs, including at least one in Africa.

While we welcome the various ways in which DFID directly and indirectly provides financial support for scientific capacity building, we consider that there is a need for greater clarity about the different funding streams available. DFID acknowledge the widely agreed view that it is necessary to take a long-term approach to capacity building. To engender a more sustainable approach over the long-term, we consider that DFID should promote capacity building initiatives that become self-sustaining over time. The strengthening of local institutions in developing countries is part of the answer and we encourage DFID to play a more active role in working with such institutions to identify and overcome barriers to sustainable capacity building.

Strong local institutions provide a good base from which researchers can build their careers. However, there is a widely acknowledged problem in providing effective support to early career researchers in developing countries. We understand that this is a complex issue with multiple causes. To help address it we recommend is that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) review the manner in which its much-valued scholarships are awarded to assess whether there is scope to provide some post-qualification funding. We also recommend that the CSC introduce a new early-career scholarship.

Scientific research collaboration between UK researchers and their partners in developing countries are valuable to both parties and should be actively encouraged by funders of research in the UK. We note that there are a number of disincentives working against UK researchers involved in such collaborations, for example, the way in which research and researchers are assessed. We recommend that funders 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.

Beyond providing support for research and researchers, building capacity for innovation and economic growth is also crucial to sustainable development. We welcome DFID's recent interest in innovation and encourage the Department to work actively with the Technology Strategy Board in order to learn lessons from the UK's own experience in fostering innovation.

Achieving the full potential of innovative solutions to development issues provided by businesses will often require a helping hand from Governments. We recommend that the UK Government actively promote to developing countries the advantages of having Chief Scientific Advisers in Government. Furthermore, we recommend that 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 provide a more joined-up approach to supporting robust decision-making processes in relation to development issues.

Finally, we recommend that in the future DFID should be much more explicit about both the importance of and its commitment to capacity building and the role of science and engineering in development. This may help to dispel the current perception that DFID's focus on the Millennium Development Goals may be to the detriment of capacity building.

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Prepared 26 October 2012