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How to deal with the power dimensions in North-South research partnerships


The frameworks for collaborative research and knowledge production between the North and the South are lopsided and need to be restructured, said Kwaku Danso, Research Fellow and Deputy Faculty Dean at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre. The group of researchers gathered for Danida Fellowship Centre’s Science Engagement Days, 27 – 29 March 2023, broadly echoed his statement.

By Vibeke Quaade

“Equitable partnerships in development research projects” was the overarching theme for Danida Fellowship Centre’s first ever Science Engagement Days event that took place at MS TCDC in Tanzania 27-29 March 2023. See the programme here.

Why discuss equitable partnerships in research
The purpose of the science engagement days was to explore how to address and overcome structural power imbalances in research partnerships and better produce impactful research knowledge. Researchers from Danida-funded research projects were invited to share their experiences, knowledge and considerations.

To achieve this goal, the Danida Fellowship Centre had developed a programme that included plenary and smaller group discussions on the four sub-themes: equality in authorship, setting the research agenda, financing and the institutional set-up, and mutual learning.

Two researchers set the tone for the engagement days, namely Kwaku Danso, Research Fellow and Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, and Consolata Sulley, Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The present asymmetrical  frameworks for North South research collaboration need to be restructured. The African insititutions should lead the efforts to address the structural inequalities with more reliable sources of funding, said Kwaku Danso in his presentation “Restructuring development research partnerships in North-South relations: Funding and institutional imperatives”.

In our research, we try to deconstruct and challenge the eagle-eyed notion of who are the givers and who are the receivers of the global humanitarian practices, said Consolata Sulley, while outlining the research project “The messy practice of decolonizing a concept – Everyday humanitarianism in Tanzania”.

In addition, two non-Danida-funded presenters, keynote speaker Sarah Ssali, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Gender Studies at Makerere University, Uganda, and Charles Hunt, Associate Professor in the School of Global, Urban & Social Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, shared their respective “outsider” view of equitable partnerships in development research.

Watch below Sarah Ssali’s presentation “Building equitable partnerships in a context of hierarchical knowledge systems”, and Charles Hunt’s presentation “Equitable research partnerships: A view from the Global North”.

(Zoom recording in total: 1:03:46 hrs. Sarah Ssali starts 00.00 hrs, Charles Hunt starts 18.15 hrs, Summary and Q & A starts 41.40 hrs) 

The recommendations
The researchers recognised that achieving equitable partnerships in research is a complex process that requires the active involvement of all stakeholders, and as part of their  elaborate and constructive recommendations they emphasized that research should be informed by local knowledge systems and that researchers should be mindful of the negative consequences that their work can have on local communities. Building effective research networks across East, West, North and South partners to improve partnership development and improve South-South partnerships to facilitate collaboration between Southern partners was also among the recommendations. So was to prioritize the collaboration and create opportunities for mutual learning from each other’s perspectives and experiences, and establish clear legal agreements for publishing and other use of research findings. Reducing the Southern financing dependency on the North and promoting private sector involvement for ownership and sustainability of projects was among the researchers suggestions too. Specifically to the donors and grant holders, the researchers proposed to provide frameworks and procedures in the application phase to support equal development of research proposals.

Read the recommendations the Science Engagement days March 2023 on Equitable partnerships in development research

Knowledge for impact and action
Danida Fellowship Centre strives to provide platforms for knowledge sharing and networking amongst researchers as part of our Knowledge in Action strategy and initiatives. The Science Engagement Days meeting was a significant step towards creating equitable partnerships and producing research that engages end users and stakeholders and is relevant in both the Global North and South.

Fifty researchers from 20 universities across seven countries in Africa, six universities in Denmark, one in Myanmar, one in Australia and one in Spain, were represented at the Science Engagement Days 27 – 29 March 2023.)

Watch the one-on-one bench talks featuring key points from the discussions about equitable partnerships.

#BenchTalk 1o1
Sarah Ssali
“Beyond the knowledge being researched, there are power relations”

#BenchTalk 1o1
Myat Thet Thitsar
“We should include communities”

#BenchTalk 1o1
Charles Hunt
“Financial and Institutional constraints in equitable partnerships”

#BenchTalk 1o1
Charles Okumu
“Researchers from the North and from the South have to work together”

#BenchTalk 1o1
George Acheampong
“The importance of bringing Afroncentric theories into the equation”

#BenchTalk 1o1
Consolata Raphael Sulley
“What it means to decolonise humanitarianism”

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