Irish Aid on the interconnectedness of innovative research, government funding and global citizenship



Posted: 20 November, 2018

We have asked Ruairi De Burca, Director General of Irish Aid, to contribute a piece about the interconnectedness of innovative research, government funding, and global citizenship in 2018. Irish Aid aims to reduce poverty, hunger, and humanitarian need in developing countries around the world. For further information on Irish Aid: https://www.irishaid.ie/.

 

Ireland’s development cooperation programme has a very strong reputation internationally – indeed, the well-known Brookings Institution said a number of years ago that Irish Aid was ‘the outstanding aid donor.’

That reputation has been built on a solid foundation of hard work over many years. Good people working to do good things. Hard work within a tradition of delivery to the furthest behind, begun by missionaries and volunteers, often with education at its heart.

That good reputation also flows from a culture of learning, which we have worked hard to develop and maintain.

Robust evaluation helps us to learn from what we have done well and, perhaps even more importantly, from what we have not done well. Sharing that learning with other donors, formally and informally, helps create communities of good practice, as does continuous and effective dialogue with the many stakeholders with whom Ireland works in the service of international development.

These stakeholders include citizens and governments in the countries where we work, civil society at home and abroad, the EU, UN and other multi-lateral organisations, as well as the donor countries which come together to set standards in the context of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, known as the DAC.

A complication in this work is the intrinsic messiness of development. Change, particularly positive change, is rarely linear. It does not follow a classic narrative structure, with a beginning, middle and end. Change has many actors, creating problems of attribution and contribution. All of this in places where systems and institutions are frequently weak. Countries in development are also dynamic, with operating environments that are often fluid, further complicated by a revolving cast of third parties with different interests and attention spans.

This makes the establishment of strategic approaches to development a challenge for a donor like Ireland, particularly when we aspire to continue to meet the Brookings Institution accolade of ‘outstanding.’ Right now, as we put the finishing touches to a new White Paper on international development, addressing this challenge is at the forefront of our thinking. We are giving particular consideration to how best to amplify Ireland’s voice in development fora, and how we can enlist others in the delivery of our priorities.

Critical to this will be how we engage with and harness Ireland’s research capacity as a resource for what the Government has stated will be an expanding international development programme. We are asking ourselves some questions on this, which it is timely to share.

How can we help catalyse Irish researchers to work even more effectively on development issues, in particular those areas which we prioritise – those around people, around protection, around food?

How can we work better with the research community to help potentiate strategic relationships, the better to access Horizon Europe funding?

Given the role of DfID in funding research on development, how can we help Irish academics in a Brexit context to maintain their engagement with UK research institutions on development themes of resonance to Irish Aid?

How can we work better with the Irish Research Council?

How can we work better with Science Foundation Ireland?

How can we encourage the most effective possible collaboration between Irish researchers, acknowledging that academia is a competitive space? And how can we encourage thinking outside the confines of a particular field, discipline or institution, and broaden our range of overseas collaborations? In particular, what role can we play in building partnerships between Irish research institutions and their colleagues in our development partner countries?

How can we help with the widest possible dissemination of the best of Irish research, so that it has the positive effects on policy making at home and internationally that it deserves?

Some of the answers to these questions have come through the recently completed public consultation process on the new White Paper on international development. We received many excellent contributions from the Irish research sector.

We want to build on the existing Irish Aid research strategy, published in 2015. The central objective of that strategy holds, namely improving the capacity to plan, conduct and apply development research both in Ireland and partner countries, building the evidence base which underpins progress on our key priorities. An area which perhaps needs greater emphasis into the future will be the strengthening of communication around research, so that we can really push policy makers to implement good practice. Smart presentation of rigorous research, couched in accessible language which also meets peer review standards, is challenging – but well worth the investment.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.