Research Matters To Development

December 22, 2021


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Dr. Tulasi Acharya

The word “research” is derived from the Middle French “recherche,” which means “to go about seeking” and the earliest recorded use of the term was in 1577. Its role is attached to the development of nation states. Research is important not only for the lives of people hailing from all racial, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds, but also for the economic and social development of countries across the globe. It contributes to the development of nationhood in the field of science and technology, arts and humanities, and many other implicit and explicit areas that we might have hardly imagined. We have seen how developed countries progressed because they make high investments in research.

A few days ago, Policy Research Institute (PRI), a Nepal government think tank, that was established in 2018 with the purpose of studying and analysing existing policies and possible future policies in various fields, invited different research institutions working in the field of research and development to share with, suggest to, and support PRI in their specialised ways. A further goal of PRI is to recommend and suggest policies to the government and make her responsible, accountable, and transparent in the process of forming policies to implementing them at many levels of the bureaucracy, which is inextricably tied to economic, social, and cultural development of the country.

Around 20 of the participants, each representing their institutions, attended the programme. I also, representing Nexus Institute for Research and Innovation (NIRI), joined the conversation around the table in the presence of national and international researchers including Pro. Dr. Bishnu Raj Upreti, an acting chairperson of PRI and Surendra Labh, a former PRI board member and current National Planning Commission member who even oversees research.

Idea of research
All the conversation and the topic of discussion revolved around the idea of research and development and how research is one and only route to reach where we find the development of nation. “However, these days research seems to be a synonym of development, and, therefore, the research does not appear to be as effective as it supposed to be,” Uttam Babu Shrestha, the founding director of the Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (GIIS) argued: “I, at times, feel like a research consultant.” Shrestha has been doing much research in the field. He also emphasised the idea that there is no development without quality research.

Many of the participants brought up the topic of funding and the risk of being influenced by foreign donors who might have vested interests in research if one is not careful, and such research with vested interests could do harm for the development of the nation. PRI also opined to discourage such funding for the betterment of society and the country. Many of them suggested that PRI should follow certain guidelines and make the policies inclusive in terms of participating researchers, making the research environment encouraging, preparing for a long-term strategic plan for research (for example what the research would be like after ten years from now), recognising traditional, local, and community knowledge, forming policies and identifying their importance, running trainings and workshops, and thinking about the sector of public health.

Finally, the discussion emphasised two things: the “mapping of research” and the “quality of research” to ensure the development of the nation. Dr. Upreti highlighted PRI’s role as a guiding body in policy research and emphasised the integration of three kinds of knowledge in research — indigenous, bureaucratic, and intellectual — while in policy making.

Some of participants even brought up the idea of public-private partnership in research and its effectiveness, while others talked about establishing an encouraging environment for researchers who are willing to come back to Nepal, the effective atmosphere could be established by forming a policy that allows bringing in equipment for labs from abroad tax free and fund researchers for at least three to five years along with salaries and benefits.

Although many in the discussion talked about funding and all kinds of research, none spoke about the difficulty in finding funders for social science research, especially in the field of arts and humanities and literature and creative writing that basically aim to explore the soft side of humanity. I broached the topic and tried to explain the significance of literature to understand society, politics, and even economics and the existing reality is the scarcity of funding compared to the hard sciences.

Policy mismatch
Reflecting on the works of literature, we could better understand society, people, and economics from people who lived their lives and policymakers could formulate such policies that could address the conditions of those people. I even gave them an example of my Ph.D. research that analysed the creative works by women with disabilities in Nepal, such as Jhamak Ghimire and Bishnu Kumari Waiwa and reflected on the existing policies, and I finally found a policy gap along with some policy mismatches. Should there be enough funding for such research, we could explore the tacit knowledge and implicit aspects of people and society.

The policies that have been formulated should be brought into practice, then we must observe its impact and review —most of the participants in the discussion emphasised this key necessity. Overall, research matters to any nation wishing to make strides toward greater development. All the research institutions in the nation should cooperate and be geared towards research and development. Thus, research matters.

(The author is a founding member and director of Social Science Department of Nexus Institute for Research and Innovation).