Building scientific capacity for development - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Making a commitment to scientific capacity building

1.  We welcome the many scientific capacity building activities that the Department for International Development (DFID) and its partners are involved in. It is our view that scientific capacity building is tremendously important in international development. We are therefore disappointed by the lack of explicit reference to both science and capacity building in DFID's report, UK Aid: Changing Lives and Delivering Results, which publicly sets out the Government's "new direction" for UK aid. We consider 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. (Paragraph 13)

2.  We have heard from a number of organisations concerned that DFID's focus on the Millennium Development Goals may be to the detriment of capacity building. We accept the Minister's assurance that he has seen no evidence of this, but believe that a more explicit commitment to capacity building, as described above, may go some way to dispelling the current perception. (Paragraph 14)

Getting clarity about funding

3.  We welcome the various ways in which DFID directly and indirectly provides financial support for scientific capacity building. However, it is clear to us that there is a need for greater clarity about the different funding streams available. We are specifically concerned about clarity over the provision of funding at the hundred thousand pound level and recommend that DFID's Chief Scientific Adviser meet representatives of the learned societies, national academies, and other interested bodies, to alleviate their concerns. We recommend that DFID publish a breakdown of the various direct and indirect funding streams available for scientific capacity building activities. (Paragraph 20)

4.  We also encourage DFID to promote a sustainable approach to funding, which aims to ensure that capacity building initiatives become self-sustaining over time. (Paragraph 21)

5.  We welcome joint funding initiatives between DFID and Research Councils UK which we hope will ensure that high-quality science in the UK helps to alleviate poverty in developing countries. We invite DFID, in its response to us, to set out how it is addressing the difficulties presented by the extension to DFID's research funding of the requirement that the UK's aid funding must not be tied. (Paragraph 23)

Science careers in developing nations

6.  There is a widely acknowledged problem in providing effective support to early career researchers in developing countries. We acknowledge that this is a complex issue with multiple causes. However, we have identified one possible solution that would go some way to improving the current situation. We recommend that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) introduce a new early-career award. This would be particularly welcome in countries that do not have the indigenous capacity to provide their own funding to support early career researchers. The new award would complement the CSC's existing portfolio of seven awards at various stages in the research career pipeline, and ideally it would not be at the expense of the support provided by the other awards. DFID should work with the CSC to identify and overcome any barriers to introducing the new award. The CSC should also review the manner in which its other scholarships are awarded to assess whether there is scope to provide some post-qualification funding. (Paragraph 36)

7.  We believe that strengthening local institutions leads to more sustainable scientific capacity building by, for example, providing a strong foundation based on the development and retention of high-quality skills in country. The UK Government, through DFID, should continue to boost existing research expertise in developing countries through support for specific national research institutes and through broader support for regional organisations. However, DFID must not be complacent, the evidence we have received suggests that there is room for improvement. DFID should play a more active role in working with institutions in developing countries to identify and overcome barriers to sustainable capacity building. (Paragraph 40)

8.  There is much to be gained, both by UK researchers and their partners in developing countries, through scientific research collaboration; it should therefore be actively encouraged by funders of research in the UK. While there may be disincentives working against UK researchers who are working in partnership with scientists in developing countries, we recognise that many of these are common problems across many parts of the UK research community. Specific concerns include short-term research contracts, the availability of Research Council funding, a lack of career development and the way in which research and researchers are assessed. Although these issues are beyond the scope of this inquiry, they are nonetheless of great interest to us and as such we may return to them in more detail in the future. (Paragraph 43)

9.  In the context of some of the more specific problems we have identified for those working on development issues, we recommend that the Research Councils consider how they can best assess the work of researchers working on development issues. Funders should ensure that researchers are recognised for the impact they are having on the ground in addition to other traditional measures of success, such as publication record. (Paragraph 44)

The value of scientific advice and challenge

10.  Building capacity for innovation and economic growth is crucial to sustainable development. We welcome DFID's recent interest in innovation. We encourage DFID to work actively with the Technology Strategy Board in order to learn lessons from the UK's own experience in fostering innovation. (Paragraph 49)

11.  We recommend that the UK Government actively promote to developing countries the advantages of having Chief Scientific Advisers in Government. While we acknowledge that a system designed for the UK may not directly transpose into other countries—it is our view that the adoption of a system that allows independent scientific advisers to challenge the decision-making process should be considered. 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. (Paragraph 54)

Communicating needs

12.  We welcome DFID's commitment to increasing awareness and dissemination of research findings. DFID should support activities to expand the evidence base for the potential added value of investing in research communication to help justify future investment decisions in dissemination activities. (Paragraph 57)

13.  We welcome the improvements in communication and coordination between research funders in the UK with an interest in development since the formation of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS). We reiterate the views expressed in a recent UKCDS evaluation report and recommend that its members, which include Government Departments and the Research Councils, should publicly commit to the continuation of the Collaborative beyond 2013 for at least another five years, at which point another evaluation should take place. (Paragraph 60)

14.  There is a need for greater clarity about the way in which the UKCDS relates to other cross-Government networks—for example the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF) and the Science and Innovation Network (SIN)—that are involved in the international coordination of science. 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, which may go some way to help address the acknowledged "disconnect" between DFID in London and its country offices. 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. (Paragraph 65)

15.  We welcome DFID's attempts to develop a mechanism by which it can meet groups of universities, where the discussion can be open and no university is privileged. In addition to this, we recommend that DFID also consider how it can best open regular dialogue with UK expert agencies that have an interest in capacity building and broader development work. (Paragraph 67)

16.  We welcome DFID's support for and involvement in national and international forums that facilitate the exchange of best practice in evaluating and monitoring scientific capacity building programmes. We are confident that DFID understands the difficulties of evaluation and the need for robust evaluation tools, evident by the Minister's commitment to build the evaluation capability of DFID's staff, which we welcome. We encourage DFID to continue to work on developing robust evaluation tools, particularly those that are able to capture the longer-term benefits of capacity building in the years after a programme ends. DFID's approach to monitoring and evaluation should be both clear and publicly visible. We also consider that it is important for DFID to engage with those that it funds throughout the lifespan of a programme to ensure that problems are being continuously detected and corrected. DFID should have in place processes by which relevant stakeholders can formally make known their concerns about the effectiveness of its evaluation procedures. (Paragraph 74)

Progress of DFID since 2004

17.  We consider that the introduction of a Chief Scientific Adviser, following our predecessor Committee's 2004 Report, The Use of Science in UK International Development Policy, has improved the scientific culture in DFID. We were impressed by DFID's commitment to using a robust evidence base. However, we remain concerned about the level of DFID's in-house scientific and technical expertise and we reiterate the Government Office for Science's recent recommendation that "DFID needs to have mechanisms in place to keep under review its current and future needs for professional staff". DFID should also continue to draw on external scientific expertise, where appropriate, by strengthening its links with the UK academic community. This is particularly important in providing technical support to generalist staff in country offices, where we acknowledge it is difficult to have a full range of subject specialists. DFID should ensure that its generalist staff in country offices are appropriately trained to get the most out of the technical experts that they draw on for advice. (Paragraph 80)

18.  Scientific capacity building is a crucial process that enables developing countries to shape and sustain their own long-term development. We have been impressed by the improved scientific culture in DFID since our predecessor Committee's 2004 Report, The Use of Science in UK International Development Policy. While this has led to some improvements to the way in which DFID supports scientific capacity building, there is no room for complacency. The evidence we have received suggests that there is still potential for much improvement. (Paragraph 81)

19.  Many of the challenges faced by developing countries trying to build scientific capacity mirror those faced by the UK, such as, effectively supporting the in-country research base and improving the use of scientific evidence and advice by the Government. DFID should work actively with groups that are addressing these common challenges in the UK—for example, supporting early career researchers—in order to determine whether solutions here might be applicable in the developing world. (Paragraph 82)

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Prepared 26 October 2012