Social science research in developing countries

​There is a vicious circle of under-investment in research in developing countries, especially in the social sciences. There are fewer researchers in these countries even adjusting for population.

researchers per million inhabitants 2014 unesco

Expenditure on social science research is generally less than 20% of gross expenditure on R&D, according to the 2013 World Social Science Report (UNESCO).

GERD per capita 2014 unesco

Instead of the highly interactive and collaborative experience that research is increasingly becoming in the North, in many developing countries it is still a lonely endeavour, and not a very prestigious career choice.

But why does research in the social sciences matter?

1. The very essence of a democracy with a vibrant civic culture rests on the assumption that citizens and decision-makers have access to reliable information; evidence on which to base policy and programmes; free and open debate; and a plurality of views. Social science research, by its nature, plays a critical role in this regard.

2. The current priorities on the global development agenda, captured by the SDGs, need local research to be translated into national priorities and research agendas to be implemented and pursued. And for that, a more conducive and enabling local research environment is critical.

3. The current model of having development paths based on research primarily carried out in the top universities and research centres in the world or by external short-term consultants (in the absence of local capacity) is not sustainable or equitable. The way to mitigate this is to improve conditions for research in developing countries. Even research agendas are not derived and owned locally.

4. Without understanding the nature of the problem in depth – i.e. knowing what are the barriers to doing good and useful research in developing countries – we do not know how to fix it, even where there is good will, a reform agenda, or funding available, from local or external sources.

5. And, finally, because changing the incentive and institutional structure for research is difficult even where there is good will, but there is ample scope for competition, learning and sharing. Benchmarking helps highlight an issue, by virtue of introducing comparisons to neighbours, competitors and even allies, which often prompts some debate and action.

Source: Assessing Research Systems in Developing Countries – 5 reasons why it matters and a teaser on how to get started by Ramona Angelescu Naqvi 14 November 2016, Research To Action (R2A).

The article is part of GDN’s (Global Development Network) blog series in it’s Doing Research project that aims to identify barriers to good, policy-relevant research being produced and used in developing countries. 


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