Five Trends Driving Change in Research for Development

Editor’s Note: Here, our Executive Director Jennie Dodson explains some of the recent work she has been doing for The UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), focussing on how five trends driving change in research for development relates to early-career scientists and NESSE.

Last year was a pivotal moment for global development. With several agreements relevant to sustainable development signed and a changing funding landscape, I wanted to understand how these may affect the sector. So over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to speak to thought-leaders around the world to explore what changes will affect research for development over the coming decade.globe-1348777_1280

These fascinating discussions have enabled me to write and launch the UKCDS briefing ’Five trends driving change in research for development’, exploring the key drivers of change and challenges that lie ahead:

  1. A new global development landscape with a commitment to science and technology at its heart but a need for a clear global research agenda to deliver on the ambition.
  2. Uneven, but rising global investment to research and innovation leading to changing geographies of partnership and driving calls for southern-led agendas and research management.
  3. A fragmented and rapidly changing development landscape with rapid economic development, rising inequality or increasing fragility occurring in different countries that could lead to tensions in the focus of development research agendas.
  4. The potential for transformative innovation through social and technological ideas may drive funding, butavoiding hype and scaling successful ideas are imperatives.
  5. ‘Wicked’ problems and interdisciplinary research driving the need for new cultures but also challenging incentives around excellence and impact.

In the UK, new funding sources such as the Global Challenges Research Fund, Ross Fund and expansion of the Newton Fund demonstrate a desire to invest in ‘global public goods’ and support excellent research that has impact with partners around the world. It is an opportunity to conduct transformative research around difficult to untangle ‘nexus’ topics. But, it will require careful effort to respond to these drivers.

What have we learned?

We need better analysis and join-up of existing research funding in low- and middle-income countries. We need a deeper understanding of different models and pathways to ‘healthy’ research & innovation systems for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development to support the best investments by low-, middle- and high-income countries. We need to look at the incentives in funding, publishing and career progression to enable different types of impactful research to flourish. We need to identify the key areas where research can add value around ‘wicked problems’ or nexus topics. We need to improve practice in the scaling, translation and implementation of research & innovation in different contexts.

What does this mean for early-career scientists and NESSE?

Here are four areas that I think our community needs to work on to utilise the opportunities and tackle the challenges highlighted in these trends.

  1. Support new career paths in sustainable science and technology. These trends demonstrate that there will be increasing numbers of careers and funding in sustainable science and innovation. Sustainable Science careers are the jobs of the future in academic, industry and government and we need to support people to forge these new career paths.
  2. All scientists need to be trained in sustainability. We all need a broader vision and understanding of the economic, social and environmental impacts of the research we are developing. We can no longer view science as an activity separate from social, environmental and ethical implications and this needs to be integrated into our training.
  3. We have solutions. We need to demonstrate and communicate to the world that we have solutions that can create a positive, prosperous and sustainable future for us all. To make these reality we need to call for the long-term funding and policies to develop and scale these solutions to rapidly make them a reality.
  4. We need a culture change. Early-career scientists need to be at the table in science and research organisations to focus efforts on the transition to a science culture that supports open science, interdisciplinarity and tackling ‘wicked problems’.

What do you think NESSE could be doing to help move the momentum forwards more rapidly? Please, let us know!