Featured in International Development Planning Review 44.2: The value of development researchers: structural racism, universities and UK Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)

The editors of International Development Planning Review (IDPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in IDPR 44.2.

This paper will be free to access for a limited time:

‘The value of development researchers: structural racism, universities and UK Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)’ by Kamna Patel and Ala’a Shehabi

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:

Almost exactly one year ago, researchers employed on contracts financed by UK Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) found themselves swiftly exposed to unemployment, drastically reduced working hours and days, and uncertainty. This was a direct result of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) cutting £120 million already committed to development research following what amounts to a £4 billion cut to UK ODA as the UK government rolled back on an ODA commitment of 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of UK GDP. In a wider context of the treatment of racialised minoritised friends, colleagues and ourselves in UK academia, we could not help but notice that for those on the sharpest end of the effect of these cuts, an extension to their precarity and racialised mistreatment.  Given that development research is almost exclusively focused on countries in the so-called global South and on Southern issues of inequity as lived by bodies racialised as Black and Brown, the treatment of people who we call ‘southern researchers’ is particularly noteworthy and egregious.

In the paper we unpack the value of southern researchers to development research – including research institutions in the south and individual racialised and minoritised researchers in the north and south – noting their contributions to epistemic plurality and formulations of new types of research questions and methodologies grounded in their training, access, networks, language and cultural navigation and interpretation skills, and lived experience. This is alongside such researchers’ treatment on short term precarious contracts, their silencing, self-policing, expected flexibility and hospitality to accommodate the needs and wishes of mainly northern white Principal Investigators (PI) who top the apex of research funding. This leads us to query the performativity of southern researchers in development research and the legitimacy their very presence is seen to confer, and thus expose the racialised political economy of aid and development research in northern academic institutions.

Our paper concludes with five solid asks. We repeat them here for prosperity and continued open access.

  1. End the model of one/central/singular PI for large projects since this has largely put white PIs at the apex of all funded research;
  2. Have more accountability and actual decentralised decision-making and governance of large-scale projects of the type mostly funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund with something like an annual general meeting for each project in the countries where it operates as an open space to review goals and future plans;
  3. Have a range of transparent communication channels from the project to the research funder to reduce overreliance on PI reporting, to help guard against personal marketing and branding of ‘academic success’ for an individual over actual outcomes (including project failures) on the ground;
  4. Benchmark and report researcher representation within projects against the country of interest, including posts in the UK; and
  5. Introduce an independent evaluation of impact over the use of curated ‘impact statements’ to support summative improvements, methods and outcomes in projects.

These asks speak to a need to realign power in development research projects and to create conditions that reaffirm the value of Southern researchers’ voices, expertise, analysis and research findings.


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