"What does 'Research for Development' need to look like in the 21st Century?"
That was the question posed by Professor Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and UKRI lead for UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, at his guest lecture on 29 October 2019.
He argued that the global challenges of our time require a radical new approach in order to fully harness the power of new knowledge and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Professor Thompson praised the SDGs as the most far-reaching and fundamental attempt to rethink the international development agenda since the decades of decolonisation and the ideological battles waged over development discourse during the end of empire, and arguably the first truly global agenda for tackling world poverty since the Second World War.
By examining the changing face of poverty in the 21st Century, through the holistic lens of the SDGs and their common, universal language for understanding and responding to global challenges, he explained how this would impact the overall framing of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and future UKRI GCRF funding calls.
At the heart of this were four key areas that the new approach should consider being different:
- Different in the way such research addresses ongoing scepticism regarding the effectiveness of overseas aid.
- Different in how research reaches more imaginatively and ambitiously across disciplines to wrestle with the complexity of the global challenges of today.
- Different in the ways in which researchers in the Global North seek to collaborate with their colleagues in the Global South.
- Different in the way new technology drives development — but in a more culturally aware and societally sensitive fashion.
GCRF projects at the University of Birmingham and its Institute of Global Innovation were singled out for praise. The Creative Drought project led by Dr Ann Van Loon and Dr Rosie Day was highlighted as an example of how systematic community engagement can shed light on the complexity and severity of drought events. Similarly, research led by Dr Heather Flowe, in collaboration with the UNDP and Wangu Kanja Foundation, that uses mobile phone app technology to support the reporting of sexual and gender-based violence, was heralded as a great example of technology as a catalyst for positive change.
Professor Thompson concluded by saying, “The 2030 Agenda represents a paradigm shift. One that is just as profound for higher education institutions as it is for research funding agencies themselves. How we work, and what we work upon, are key questions for the next decade of progress in sustainable development.”