New research 2023: DANIDA funded development research in waiting

The 2021 Call for applications Window 1 and 2 for DANIDA funded development research was published by Danida Fellowship Centre (DFC)* in late November 2020.

Early in 2020, a Swedish consultancy team had published their findings from an evaluation of DANIDA funded development research during a ten-year period 2008-2018. In May, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its response to the findings and recommendations of the external evaluators. However, the Call for 2021 applications remains largely identical with the previous call. Thus, only by early 2023, new research granted under the 2022 Call may possibly be launched as based upon a reformed framework. The delay unfortunately ties into an extended period of neglect. In 2015, the 2014-2018 development research strategy was rendered in-operational and no updated version has been issued. The latest annual report on research covers the year 2014. Since the cancellation of the Call for applications for the year 2016, no further annual reports have been published.

Also, the current call 2021 encourages prospective applicants to remain patient. The assessment is stretched over a period of about eleven months, divided into two steps, as the submission of a concept note is to be followed by the completion of a full application by shortlisted applicants. Probably, no other research funding agency in Denmark is so slow in awarding new research grants.

The only major change from the 2020 Call is the scrapping of South-driven projects. Only universities and research institutions in Denmark are eligible as the main applicant. This means that the National Screening Committees in Ghana (which also no longer is a DANIDA priority country) and in Tanzania, which participated in the assessment, are gone. This change has not been announced and no explanation given. Although the 2021 Call mentions that ‘partners should be able to contribute to actively in preparing both Phase 1 and Phase 2 applications’, this sentence in the 2020 Call ‘research applications which have been prepared without the active involvement of all partners will not be approved’ is left out.

While the current call adopts a ‘same procedure as last year’ approach, the Swedish evaluation team identified a total of 80 findings from an extensive review of documents and numerous interviews in Global South countries and in Denmark. On that basis, the team suggested four options for a reformed framework. This first article will touch upon how the concept of development research is discussed in the evaluation report.

The report estimates an alarmingly low ‘research legitimacy’ dimension following the methodology of RQ+process, which evaluates the legitimacy of research in four dimen­sions, all geared towards establishing the extent to which the research process has taken into account the concerns and insights of relevant stakeholders and has been deemed procedurally fair and respectful of their values, concerns and perspectives. Research legitimacy is key for development research, which often features significant power distances and asymmetries, and differences in beliefs, values, and practices between researchers and other stakeholders (p.71). This result leads the team to conclude that the results suggest that instead of funding ‘research for development’, Danida might be funding ‘research in developing countries (p.77). But what defines research for development really? The team warns against ‘applied research done in developing countries’, the effort has to go beyond that. If left without a clear niche or strategy, this research area might move in directions that discourage the relatively small Danish development research community (p.97).

One might take a clue from the fact, that in summer 2022, the last batch of students will defend their Master theses at International Development Studies, Roskilde University. This long running and much sought-after flagship study program is closing. The Dean, Peter Kragelund, explains that twenty years back candidates from International Development Studies were recruited for jobs with DANIDA. Today, competing study programs at other universities have emerged, and the development sector requires more specialized staff, as development problems needs to be explored beyond traditional, geographical divides.

The evaluation team recommends engaging better with the core concepts in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular the indivisibility of the SDGs, the need for transformation or large-scale change, the focus on inequality and ‘leaving no-one behind’, and a systems approach that emphasises the relation­ship between society and nature as well as the sustainability of ecosystems (p.147).

Thus, a truly multidisciplinary and system-oriented approach needs to be adopted, combining natural and health sciences with societal and environmental sciences to reflect an emphasis on sustainable development. In redefining a concept of research for development, the evaluation team stresses that ‘Business as usual’ is not an option in an era defined by the Anthropocene, problems without borders, common global interests yet differentiated responsibilities at national level, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, geopolitical power shifts, and competition for resources (p.144).

*DFC is a public self-governing institution, which by agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handles the training of fellowship holders and the administration of research grants within the Danish development aid program