H1. Research Management
Training & Coaching

Background

Africa faces some of the toughest challenges worldwide, some of which include poor disease management strategies, poor infrastructural development, food insecurity, poor hygiene and sanitation, lack of potable water, and climate change hazards (Kirigia and Barry, 2018). It is commonly agreed that scientific research is one of the cornerstones of the development of any nation. Africa contributes less than 1% of global research output (Chu. et. al., 2014).  Ngongalah et. al., (2018) claim that the barriers to conducting research in Africa are related to that the conditions under which research is done in Africa are severely flawed and do not encourage engagement in research, or continuity of research activity.  Pulford et. al. (2020) also state that in many Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, research management and support (RMS) capacity is poorly developed contributing towards low research production from SSA universities/research institutions relative to their counterparts elsewhere.

Ngongalah et. al., (2018) performed a cross-sectional survey aimed to identify the key challenges affecting research practice and output in Africa; and to highlight priority areas for improvement. The study was administered through an online questionnaire and included participants from six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Participants included research professionals, research students, research groups, and academics. A total of 424 participants responded to this survey. The ability to conduct and produce high-quality research was seen to be influenced by multiple factors, most of which were related to the research environment in African countries. Barriers to conducting research in Africa included a shortage of training facilities, a loss of interest or motivation to continue research, and only little collaboration between researchers in Africa.  Ngongalah et. al., (2018) also found that unpaid research is the norm for scientists in sub-Saharan Africa, according to their online survey of 412 academics that spanned 6 countries. Eighty-five percent of respondents reported having had research positions with no pay. Of those, 33% had spent between 1 and 5 years doing research for free, and 4% had spent more than 5 years doing so.

Pulford et. al. (2020) performed twenty-eight research management and support (RMS) capacity assessments in 25 universities/research institutions from across 15 SSA countries between 2014 and 2018 following a standardised methodology consisting of semi-structured interviews. The survey was conducted with research and research support staff at the respective institution as well as document reviews and observation of onsite facilities. The results indicated 13 distinct capacity gap categories as presented below.

1. Physical Infrastructure. Unreliable power supply; insufficient laboratory-, office-, study-, meeting or physical storage-space.
2. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Infrastructure. Insufficient ICT hardware; nil/limited access to specialist software; limited internet access or bandwidth capacity.
3. Operating Equipment. Absence or critical shortage of essential laboratory-, field- and office equipment; vehicle shortage.
4. Laboratory Services and Support. Poorly maintained laboratory equipment; limited funding to support laboratory maintenance; limited/nil laboratory quality control systems or accreditation; insufficient biosecurity/laboratory safety protocols and resources; nil/sub-optimal revenue generation from the provision of laboratory services.
5. Research Funding. Limited/nil availability of national and/or institutional research funding; limited funding to support post-graduate research required for the attainment of the award.
6. Workforce. Excessive workloads for research and research support staff; prolonged staffing vacancies due to hiring freezes and/or absence of suitably qualified candidates; aging workforce; under-qualified and/or unexperienced workforce; insufficient laboratory technicians and/or research support staff.
7. Remuneration. Uncompetitive and/or insufficient salary relative to living costs; inequitable salary ‘top-up’ system applied to externally funded research grants (e.g. academics cost in, but support staff not).
8. Professional Development. Limited/nil access to training/professional development activities for research and research support staff (technicians and support staff having lowest levels of access); limited/nil institutional structures/services to support professional development; limited/nil staff mentorship schemes; limited/nil staff appraisal and performance mechanisms.
9. Career Progression. Limited promotion opportunities (especially for technicians and research support staff); job-insecurity; poor staff retention (primarily support staff); limited opportunities for junior academics to enter faculty positions (exacerbated by aging workforce remaining in the post).
10. Institutional Support Services. Inefficient/inadequate financial management-, procurement-, data management-, human resource support services; limited access to research literature/e-resources; limited/nil functionality of institutional review boards.
11. Research Support and Project Management. Limited/nil pre- and post-award support services, quality assurance, and monitoring; limited research cost recovery policies/expertise; limited/nil institutional research strategy.
12. Internal Communication and Collaboration. Limited internal (inter-departmental) communication and collaboration mechanisms; limited access to and/or awareness of institutional polices and/or available support services.
13. External Communication and Networking. Limited/nil institutional communications strategy; limited/nil institutional funds and/or staff incentives to support knowledge translation activities; limited/nil research output repository; limited support or oversight of institutional website (content and maintenance).

 

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend, on average, just 0.5% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on funding research and development, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (Makoni, M. 2018). The African Union has set a target of 1% of GDP on research and development, and leaders of African countries have committed to meeting that target by 2025.

 

References

Ngongalah, L., Emerson, W., Rawlings, N. N. & Musisi, J. M. (2018) Research challenges in Africa – an exploratory study on the experiences and opinions of African researchers. Preprint at bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/446328.
 

, J., Research Note.

Research management coaching & workshops

Scientific research, innovation and enterprising, are key to development in any country. Although researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs in “lower-income countries” present amazing ideas, their solutions are often unrecognized and unsupported. Consequently, locally developed and locally adapted solutions are not implemented. The purpose of these workshops is thus the transformation from aid dependency to autonomous research, innovation, and social enterprising for development that benefits from the international equal partnership. When addressing change, it must be clear which components of a transformation programme are important for achieving an expected outcome and an expected impact. If we target change then we need a strategy addressing; i) why the status quo would change and ii) who would bring the desired evolution.

The purpose with the Research Management Support programme is to support scentific Institutions with  generating and implement scientific findings.

HR&S compiles and addresses the necessary conditions required to bring about a given impact, including truth, trust, state-of-the-art knowledge, sustainable economy, institutional capacity, transparency, accountability, cross-cultural understanding, evaluation planning, and testing the strength of evidence for social impact.

Target partners

The programme addresses five categories of Target partners (TPs):
TP1 Research: TP1A. Researchers: PhD students, Post-doc researchers, Professors. TP 1B. Research Students: MSc students. TP 1C. Supervisors, TP 1D. Entrepreneurs from the university. TP2 Education: TP 2A. Lecturers. TP3 Research services: TP 3A. Laboratory Technicians, TP 3B. IT technicians, TP 3C. Librarians. TP4 Research management: TP 4A. Department management, TP 4B. University Top management; VC, DVC research, innovation and enterprising, DVC administration, DVC academic, Finance manager, Bursary, TP 4C. Top management Administration; Accountant, Procurement officer, Public relations and communication. TP5 External Research services: TP 5A. Agreed Suppliers.

Method

The HR&S tool Strategy for Change (SfC) is essentially a comprehensive description and illustration of how, why, and by who the desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. The Strategy for Change offers an opportunity to reflect whether the expected impact is likely to happen because of the programme and it ensures that the programme design does not suffer from obvious gaps. Thus, the SfC aims at defining all of the necessary conditions required to bring about impact, and it also points out which conditions that are sufficient.

The Strategy for Change describes the connections between Impact, Outcome, Output, Milestones, and Input, together with, Outcome challenges, Progress markers, Activities, the Strength of Evidence and Baseline, as well as Stakeholder analysis, Personal benefits, Motivation, and Power of influence; all parameters compiled per Ambition. Progress is measured through the measurable entities Output, Outcome, and Impact Equally important are Lessons Learned and Informed Decisions. It can be noted that the SfC is a narrative of the more ambitious HR&S tool, the “Real-time Outcome Planning & Evaluation” (ROPE). 

 
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