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Transitioning into and Reflecting on the New IFS Strategy

Published: 2020-01-31

Our new IFS strategy for 2021-2030 has the theme of Investing in Future Scientists. This year of 2020 will be one of transition, where we are continuing with elements of the “old” strategy as we begin incorporating parts of the “new”. To learn from this process, we are reflecting on it in several ways, for example, through these monthly blog posts. I will be highlighting our experiences as the IFS Secretariat and I also invite others in the IFS family to share any reflections they may have.

Nighisty Ghezae, DirectorNighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

A forward-looking exercise to develop the 2021-2030 strategy began in May 2018, including consultations with grantees, alumni, Scientific Advisory Committees (SACs), Board of Trustees, strategic partners, staff and donors. These covered both program (approaches, clusters, activities, and country and grantee eligibility) and organizational (governance, management, partnerships) issues. Also, in 2018, our main donor Sida conducted an external evaluation of its support to IFS (from 2014-2018) to assess our achievements and challenges, and to outline a proposal for possible continuation of its support into the future. We captured the essence of the many contributions in a cohesive vision for the strategic direction of the organization through 2030. In 2019, a consultative workshop was held to finalize the draft of the new strategy, which the IFS Board approved later that year, on the provision that parts of it would be implemented in this transition year.

A clear outcome of the planning process was that what IFS’s strategic direction needs is evolution and not revolution. In reality, IFS cannot plausibly claim that the modest number and level of grants it is able to disperse to early career scientists have a major impact on the global issues of our time, as elaborated in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Instead, IFS should stake its territory by helping to enhance the capacity of early career scientists to identify researchable constraints of local significance and to develop the skills to address these.

For the next ten years, IFS will provide tailored research capacity-enhancing support to promising early career scientists centered around the provision of individual Basic Grants and Advanced Grants. Eligibility is education-based, with applicants either enrolled in a PhD program or having completed one in the previous five years. Applications are submitted online in response to annual calls, screened by the IFS Secretariat, and circulated for evaluation to our global network of 1400 scientific peers. Using the reviews, the thematically-organized SACs make the final recommendations. To secure IFS support, applicants must submit a sound research project application (in English) on a self-selected topic that is innovative and/or relevant to her or his local or national development needs. The proposal must demonstrate knowledge of the subject area, identify knowledge gaps, elaborate testable hypotheses and research objectives, and develop a convincing, doable and appropriately costed research plan and research dissemination plans.

Our first opportunity for reflection came early, after we opened the call in October 2019 using only the new Basic Grant since several elements of the ongoing strategy still continued. We were not sure whether we would get enough applicants, nor whether we would get as many women applicants as before, since we had changed the eligibility criteria. However, we received record high applications of 2110. As in previous years, 30% of applications came from women. This told us that our challenge with the new strategy will be to find enough funding to support all qualified applications, and that we need to seek additional funding by enlarging our base of strategic partners willing to support early career scientists. For the IFS Secretariat, the application response means more work for us, including a need to increase the number of reviewers and scientific advisors to assist us in assessing the projects.

With thanks 

Nighisty Ghezae



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