Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Getting a Return on the FARA Investment: Bringing Back Impacts from the GA

David Howlett of the Africa College at Leeds University offered a departing challenge in the form of a question to his colleagues as work was wrapping up on this FARA General Assembly.

“What,” he asked, “will you do differently next week when you return to your offices? Because if we do not have new impacts to report at the next meeting, and only continue to talk about strategies and plans, then we will have collectively failed.”

He said that “writing papers for high level journals” is an excellent idea, but will not necessarily produce results in terms of training of tomorrow’s researchers and others, influencing policy, increasing public understanding, taking millions out of poverty, and reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment.

“We need to identify those who may benefit from or make use of our research, how they will benefit, and we need to devote time and money to communications,” he said.

The danger, he said, is that in an effort to achieve greater impact researchers will look for easy endeavors that produce minor results.

“We need to take some risks to continue to invest in blue skies research that may take time to produce results but has the potential to impact on a large-scale,” he said. “And importantly, we need to learn from our mistakes as well as from our successes; we are very bad at sharing our failures.”

In a similar vein, Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (known by its Dutch acronym CTA), warned of weak links between research and policy and skepticism among policy makers about the value of research.

“We have to be smart in the research community and feed into the policy process,” he said.

Hailu said scientists are very good at communicating amongst themselves but lack training in communicating to others. He said dealing with this weakness will be challenging.

“You must never underestimate the time and resources required to communicate effectively,” he said.

Image source: Ideas Project

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