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Published on 18/12/2015

What’s new in terms of “development research”?

In 2015, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (Maedi) and the Ministry of Education, Third level teaching and Research (MENESR) coordinated the writing of a prospective document on scientific policy for cooperation. This document established principles for action and best practices in “development through research”, recalling the necessary partnerships with developing countries, between teaching and research bodies and with development players. This text is a key step in a long process of pooling institutional know-how. GRET participated in drawing up this reference document.

The historic and contextual roots of “development through research”

This joint initiative of the two ministries facilitating “development through research” is part of the specific history and context of the French situation.

After its colonies became independent, France kept its research organisations for developing countries, whereas other former colonial powers gradually closed their equivalent institutions, which were replaced by international research organisations or universities. This is the historic background of Gerdat, now Cirad, and Orstom, now the IRD. In the 1980, France stimulated scientific activity: creation of a ministry for Research, reform of institutes, creation of researcher positions, interest in “development research” etc. The French politico-administrative speciality created interministerial coordination links: “research for development” is dealt with by Foreign Affairs, as part of international cooperation, but it is also dealt with by Research, which has the budgets. The 1998/2004 reforms, in which the Ministry for International Cooperation merged with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, also had consequences on the exercise of ministerial authority.

The situation then became more complicated. On the one hand “emerging countries” changed the distinction between “developed” and “developing” countries and, consequently, the concept of “research for development”. On the other hand, international competition in terms of scientific excellence tended to consider “research for development” as a lesser science, especially as the situation for research in Africa was deteriorating. To finish, the French Development Agency (AFD) – a powerful “central operator” of French cooperation – decided to initiate significant intellectual production activity, putting into question traditional research that did not meet its operational requirements.

A new Law on development (Lop-dev) and reinforcement of partnerships

The International solidarity and development meetings (held from end of 2012 to mid 2013), were an opportunity to discuss the “research for development” dossier – but only superficially. In January 2013, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Directorate General of Global Affairs, development and partnerships – DGM) produced a document setting out the axes of “scientific diplomacy for France”, including a section devoted to research for development, qualified as an area of priority for French cooperation. The inconsistency of the system had been underlined by the CICID (interministerial coordination) in July 2013, requesting the production of a Research for development charter. Lastly, a Senate report in October 2013 had suggested focusing research fully on development by making action more coherent, by improving relationships with partners and by highlighting its role in the future Framework act. In the end, the framework and programming act on French international solidarity and development (Lop-Dev July 2014) only deals with the issue succinctly in an annexe.

When the time came to appoint a President and CEO of the IRD in 2013, the two coordinating ministries (Foreign Affairs and Research) appointed a “scientist” as President and a “diplomat” as Executive director, reproducing the historical duality. This is the context in which the two ministries decided to openly pursue reflections on the future of “research for development”. Which is good news because the challenges are considerable.

GRET joined the process of reflection on the evolution of the national system of teaching and research for development upstream . GRET’s representatives, with Groupe Initiatives (GI), spoke at the Development meetings in 2013 to highlight the role of NGOs in this system and underline the importance of support for research for development. In 2015, representing NGOs at the National council for development and international solidarity (CNDSI), GRET is part of the interministerial working group. The work focuses on revising the Research for development partnership charter and producing a prospective document on scientific policy in terms of cooperation. GRET underlined the importance of strengthening and diversifying the partnership links between NGOs, research players and teaching.
GRET’s suggestions to highlight the importance of “action-research” as a specific mode of operation combining NGOs and research institutions were not retained: the broader issues featured in this document involve establishing an outline to build institutional partnerships for research for development.
Read GRET’s position statements

A prospective document on scientific policy for cooperation

The reference document recalls the main issues of scientific diplomacy dedicated to development through research and teaching. It sets out three central principles:

  • The scientific and technical aspect of French cooperation is an effective development factor in its own right,
  • Partnerships between scientists, as well as between scientists and development players are an objective of scientific production in their own right,
  • The necessary mobilisation of human and financial resources for research involved in the development of systems for innovation and setting up businesses,

This document presents and illustrates the characteristic elements of such a system: a broad spectrum of players dedicated to partnership, formal partnership structures in France and abroad, resources to support training and mobility, making it possible to implement a training-research-expertise-innovation-development continuum, programmes and networks, made up of veritable platforms for interdisciplinary pooling of research results, complementary funding.

In conclusion, we can say that what is new in terms of ‘research for development’ lies mainly in this strong emphasis on multiple institutional partnerships that are better coordinated and give greater visibility to NGOs and civil society players to contribute actively to this system.
In this document, several of GRET’s experiences in terms of partnership and innovation make it possible to illustrate changes in the system, such as the partnership with the IRD for the Nutridev nutritional action-research programme, participation in the “Property and Development” technical Committee’s platform and the Find endowment fund.

Read the document (in French)