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A glimpse behind the scenes

Published: 2012-03-30

Some of the debate behind the new IFS strategy

Graham Haylor, DirectorGraham Haylor, IFS Director

‘Science for Science and/or for Social Relevance?’ is a booklet published by IFS and Norad, drawing on the deliberations of a seminar hosted by Norad in Oslo, October 2010, as part of the envisioning of the future direction of IFS. The seminar brought together a wealth of Nordic, as well as other northern and southern academic and practice-oriented contributors to debate contemporary research and development issues, especially related to science and its societal relevance, and to recommend future directions for IFS itself.
Many of the participants, who shared their own experiences, belong to the growing IFS alumni, whilst others attended primarily in order to engage with the topic of the seminar. The keynote speaker, Stephen Biggs, began proceedings by relaying specifics and learning from a recent multilateral effort in the realm of global agriculture and food issues called the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology – IAASTD.

Important messages emerged from the Oslo discussions.

On objectivity and independence

  • Science cannot always be considered to be neutral and objective, and social relevance is not without political interpretation. However, IFS can claim to be eclectic in the sourcing of its perspectives on science and development issues in the developing world – not least from its grantees and alumni.
  • Science must be allowed to be critical and independent and not become subsidiary to the fashions and fads of the development discourses.
  • Critical views should be debated in open public arenas, rather than being marginalized, to avoid overly technological preoccupations, or inequitable or unsustainable outcomes.
  • When scientists take on collaborative research they need to be aware that interpretations and findings will always depend on the scientific paradigms and development discourse in which they are embedded.
  • IFS should continue to ensure that young scientists have the freedom to research and report the science that they identify as relevant to development and policy. IFS should not just build capability in research, as in the past, but also to aspire to increase the individual agency of early career scientists in the developing world to put their research into use.

On natural resources, food and poverty

  •  “Business as usual” will be insufficient to address global agriculture and food issues, including how they are framed in global policy discourse.
  • Where it can, IFS should promote a greater focus on the situation of the most vulnerable, and encourage active participation of indigenous researchers and those affected by agricultural policies in the design and implementation of those policies.
  • Africa (and other developing regions) should aim to be strategic, beginning now to support futuristic types of research that will place its agricultural sector well in the global economy.

Combining objectivity and independence and research on natural resources, food and poverty

  • The graduates (MSc and PhD) produced within the developing world and supported by IFS should continue to contribute solutions for the short to medium term in the form of skilled human resources, enhanced capabilities of universities to engage in innovation, and technologies that address contemporary and future development challenges for the sake of science and for the benefit of society.

IFS warmly acknowledges the valuable contributions from the seminar organizers and participants, and the generous hosting of the event by Norad.



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