New EADI Policy Paper: Roles processes and risks within the research-practice nexus: Perspecives from academia

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10 May 2021

by Sonja Keller und Katja Bender (Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, University of Applied Sciences)

This explorative study was commissioned by EADI and conducted between October 2019 and July 2020. It aimed to assess from the perspective of academia facets of cooperation between development research and practice. This included identifying main groups of non-academic actors involved, analyzing motivations as well as enabling or disabling factors, and exploring ethical challenges of research-practice collaboration in development research. See all EADI Policy papers

The study was conducted in the context of the rising attention paid to cooperation between research and practice in the context of sustainable development.

A broad definition of research-practice collaboration was applied to capture all collaborative activities between researchers and practitioners. ‘Practitioner’ refers to any non-academic actor from any sector (public administration, policy-making, CSO / NPO, private sector, public service provision). The study comprises descriptive quantitative data analysis of data generated through an online survey, which was distributed among heads of EADI member institutions, as well as qualitative content analysis of expert interviews. The sample consists of 52 survey respondents predominantly with PhD level education and experience in collaborations, as well as 11 senior-level researchers with experience in collaboration with practitioners as interview partners.

Results show that researchers in a majority of cases have additional roles in joint projects, such as project leadership and coordination, and generally feel a strong responsibility for ensuring project success and impact. Practitioners get involved in the research process most often at the beginning (problem definition) and end (dissemination), and slightly less often during data collection. Involvement is lowest during theoretical reasoning and hypothesis formulation as well as development of research design and data analysis. Patterns in collaboration of different types of practitioners could be identified, with CSO/non-profit organizations being more often involved as partners and utilizing results more often than other types of practitioners.

Factors potentially undermining project success appear to be a lack of understanding of scientific methods and processes on the side of practitioners, and lack of partner motivation as well as organizational differences. Furthermore, collaborative projects are perceived to be more resource intense regarding time, management effort and communication. Funding appears to be a critical issue shaping collaboration, with up to over half of survey respondents viewing different aspects of funding conditions as inappropriate. Furthermore, funding conditions and its associated challenges vary greatly nationally. Qualitative data shows how funding and governance of collaboration impact on all dimensions of collaborative research: its credibility, legitimacy and salience.

While the public discourse tends to champion research-practice collaborations as a way to address complex challenges of our time, views on how collaboration impacts on research quality in its given dimensions credibility, legitimacy and salience vary greatly between researchers. Read the paper

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