Academic-NGO practitioner research collaboration can drive us into different paths. Emerging from our recently held workshop organised by INTRAC , World Vision and JEFCAS is the need for academic and NGO collaboration in research as co-producers from formative stage to dissemination stage. Such approach should represent learning and sharing of theoretical and practical experiences.
However, it is important to look at which collaboration approach offers a better explanation to academic-NGO collaborative research. Sullivan and Skelcher (2002), highlighted three theories on collaboration: the optimists, pessimists and realists. Optimists thinking on collaborative takes an altruistic view and argued that collaboration emerge from shared vision and the desire to solve problems and ensure sustainable service to the society. Power and resources are effectively shared for the good of the society. This differs from the pessimists thinking that attacks collaboration from resource and power angle. According to this view, collaboration serves the interest of organisations exploring opportunities to increase their power and resources without any interest on future outcomes. A different and third perspective is the realists thinking, which sees change as the overriding factor in collaboration. This view argues that collaboration is evolutionary in nature and responds to changing trends and emergences of new ideas and technologies. Realists are very pragmatic and accept that change is the only permanent feature in the world.
It appears that academic-NGO research collaboration can be located in more than one theory. Firstly, in order to work together, academics and NGOs need the optimists’ idea of common vision, common goal and sustainable plan and also the realists’ adaptation to changing trends and pragmatism. In academic-NGO collaborative research co-production, it is important that the origin and shaping of idea come from both worlds. The cultural, philosophical and intellectual divide between the academic and NGO have to be merged into a unitary research identity. Practitioners can share their practical experiences that will then shape the academics research thinking. Merging of the practitioner field experience and academic research skill and knowledge can then culminate in a research question.
Academics are known to be better equipped with critical enquiry while NGOs are more practically focused on results. NGOs still carry out researches for advocacy, campaign and projects implementation. They are constantly involved in field projects and interact with communities and beneficiaries of research output. Invariably, they can complement the academic research skills and co-produce research by supporting the academics in arriving at research that is relevant to the need of the society and assessing the relevance of certain research to target audience. The academic can also support the NGO in training and sharing of research tips. Additionally, most NGOs reports might already have answers to academic research questions. Such existing data bank could serve in the co-production of research.
In terms of sharing research, academics and NGOs can work together by using research output for advocacy, search for further research funds, production of peer reviewed papers and articles. Collaborating with academics will help the practitioners to get strong grip on different uses of research output, while at the same time encourage them to think creatively on how they can continually use their network to disseminate results. Much of this is covered in our forth coming think piece on Cracking Collaboration.
SULLIVAN, H. & SKELCHER, C. (2002) Working Across Boundaries: Collaboration in Public Services. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.