Academics and NGO Practitioners in Collaborative Research: How Can We Co-Produce?

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.

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One thought on “Academics and NGO Practitioners in Collaborative Research: How Can We Co-Produce?”

  1. Academics and NGO practitioners could be representing unique institutions but s hould be seen as dependent on one another as the current partnership proves. Just like US is seen as a powerful nation militarily but will always seek partnership with UK when they fight with some country. This is because even though they may have all the weapons in the world but UK has some advanced skills say in Marine making partnership necessary for synergy and fast victory with less loss. As you have pointed out no singe theory can explain the nature of partnership as it is hard to draw lines between the theories. One may be written and others may be influencing from the background. In fact the informal ones may be the driving the partnership in the final analysis.
    I think focus should not only be on co-production only as it has always been with academia and donor funding. What is the information produced for? Of course this will depend on the MOU before anything. I was involved in a huge study in Tanzania on pastoralist education became a mere good report without infuencing policy, for example. It is for that reason I think partnership agreement should be made with focus on some resuts or it just be work as usual. Normally, academics carry out conventional research and mainly for academic reasons whereas NGOs conduct action research for the purpose of doing something after getting the data. NGOs do baseline surveys (BLS) to establish current status of the community and develop a vision of where they would like to be after project life. These studies are normally participatory. After BLS more studies may be conducted for number of reasons say change of community attitude or a certain policy that is problematic. Universities to do these kind of studies but not as NGOs. According my partnership experience, academics are rich in theory and philosophy while NGOs are good in practical issues without really carrying about what philosophy forms their foundation. Their focus is on change of situation. They know what can and cannot work. They are more practical than logical.
    Therefore the partnership of the two becomes more important in that they do not only complement each but sharpen and build one another’s capacity. Thus will the vision of realising transformational development that is sustainable likely. While academics focus on development of manpower and knowlegde NGOs can use both for changing lives of communities they serve. NGOs could use research by academics for their campaigns and lobbying for legitimacy instead of carrying their own studies if they have some shared understanding. This way NGOs can apply or experiment the work of academics whose role becomes generation of knowledge. However, it is easier siad than done. From experience both academics and NGOs are always busy people with lots on their plates before partnership. The danger is to make partnership an add on and not one of ones key result areas. As a result, less focus is given on partnership issues. This becomes even worse when focal persons in the organisations are reluctant or too busy to contribute. Likelihood of conflict occuring is high when accountablity issues come. Thus thers should be commitment by both sides and competent people who have passion for the partnership, or else very little can be realised. Setting goals and targets, M & E systems are important but not enough without eadership comitment and support. Individuals role are vitally important too for partnership.

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