Research ‘IN’ development: serving several masters
Carrying out research through multi-stakeholder partnerships, such as in the Global Challenges Programme (GCP) and Applied Research Fund (ARF) research projects, is relatively new, both in the Netherlands and its partner countries in the Global South. Knowledge co-creation is defined as joint learning and knowledge exchange processes through which actors create and negotiate new knowledge. It corresponds with the idea that not only scientific knowledge is relevant to finding solutions to persistent and ‘wicked’ problems such as food security, but that knowledge from other actors, such as farmers, the private sector and policymakers, is also important. Furthermore, bringing together different perspectives allows for knowledge that is not only scientifically reliable, but is also accepted and applicable in different social contexts. This introduction was given by the facilitators of the conference session on knowledge co-creation.
However, knowledge co-creation in multi-stakeholder platforms does not occur automatically, they stated. Deeply-rooted work practices and the way in which various stakeholders are rewarded and held accountable in their work can pose barriers to effective and efficient knowledge co-creation. The thematic discussion in this session centred on the different opinions and dilemmas regarding knowledge co-creation, which is an essential element of all GCP and ARF research projects.
A survey among ARF and GCP project leaders revealed that respondents are generally positive about the engagement of various stakeholders and access to different knowledge types through platforms. Examples of changes already occurring included farmer empowerment, changed perceptions among community members, and changes in policies. More key lessons can be found in this concept note, which was developed by ARF and GCP researchers in collaboration with Dutch policy representatives.
Donald Houessou from ACED and project partner in the GCP project on urban gardens in Benin, described how the project set up a platform with representatives of government and municipalities to regularly share preliminary findings for improved co-creation. In the beginning it was difficult to manage the different expectations of the stakeholders, but this improved over time. Edward Obiaw, from the Resource Management Support Centre and part of the ARF project on deforestation in Ghana, explained that at first it was very frustrating for him as a policymaker to reserve time and wait for research results, as he has a timeline and targets to meet. However, he has now experienced that knowledge co-creation leads to more concrete and relevant policies. These experiences from the research projects illustrate some of the dilemmas discussed by the representatives from policy, the private sector, NGOs and knowledge institutes in the World Café setting.
Marcel Vernooij from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (read his blog here) acknowledged the importance of supporting this kind of research for poverty alleviation and food security and its relevance ‘on the ground’: “The Dutch government can play an important role in facilitating multi-stakeholder processes, though we need to be clear on the different roles of the government and expectations regarding the project stakeholders”. Valerie Fumey Nassah from the Resource Management Support Centre pointed out that co-created knowledge serves several ‘masters’ by providing quick solutions for policymakers with scientific excellence as well as societal impact: “Co-created knowledge is societally more relevant, but requires academia to accommodate different kinds of researchers so that societal impact is rewarded”.
According to Cees Leeuwis from Wageningen University, knowledge or ‘innovation co-creation’ is important when there are policy/practice driven questions, while at the same time space needs to be reserved for critical research, otherwise some questions will not be addressed. In addition, the co-creation of innovation does not depend only on new research, it also requires the synthesizing of existing knowledge. This implies that there is a need to engage with existing knowledge in new ways, as well as a need for more research for impact.
The importance of private sector integration in research was stressed by Irene Visser from the Netherlands Africa Business Council (NABC). According to Visser, small-scale producers are often integrated into research projects, but the larger corporates are not, despite the fact that they can provide solutions for food security. Cees Leeuwis from WUR warned of the risk involved in greater integration between smaller and bigger companies, such as in the case of seed companies where there can be competition. Therefore, according to Floor Jacobs of SNV, the politics of knowledge should be taken into account, as there are always different stakeholders, interests and powers involved and this might influence the research. However, as discussed in the plenary session, all those stakeholders are needed at the table and could bring different perspectives to the research as well as the process.
The discussions highlighted that knowledge co-creation can be time consuming and complex, but the participants acknowledged that working together is important to create synergies between research, policy and practice. This corresponds with the notion of Research ‘IN’ Development, as keynote speaker Cees Leeuwis from Wageningen UR mentioned in the plenary session. Intermediary stakeholders, such as knowledge brokers and brokering platforms, could help in overcoming the barriers described above, as well as in weighing transdisciplinary knowledge to come to common interests.
- Download the concept note (PDF).
- Download the session sheets (PPT in PDF).
- Read the blog “Co-creating with research for sustainable development, a policy perspective” by Marcel Vernooij.
- Read the blog “Reflection on Research & policy: two peas in a pod? A dialogue for food security impact” by Edith van Ewijk, Mirjam Ros-Tonen, Nicky Pouw en Joeri Scholtens (Governance and Inclusive Development group).
Watch the interview with Mirjam Ros-Tonen (Video by The Broker)