Making science work for development

Implementing an intervention for fairness, trust and equity in research collaborations

Lauranne Botti
28 February 2017

Partnerships are vital to achieve sustainable development and as a result, it is Goal 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Critically, it is recognised globally that scientific collaboration is key to both high-level competitiveness and global development of research and innovation capacity in low-income countries.

In response, we collaborated with institutions around the world to develop the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI). The RFI is a reporting mechanism for institutions, large research programmes and countries that stimulates the use of and compliance with existing guidelines and best practices. It constitutes a systematic global learning platform that will build the evidence-base for fair, sustainable research systems development.

Why was the RFI created?

The greater the researcher accessibility and mobility, the greater the opportunities to create and maintain quality research collaborations.(From Elsevier International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base – 2013). Bearing these associations in mind, the creation and maintenance of fair, trustworthy and equitable research partnerships are crucial to maintaining the high quality of UK research and institutional practices and continued global research collaboration.

What does it do?

The Initiative raises awareness on existing best practice standards – such as the Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries’ (KFPE) Guide for Transboundary Research Partnerships and many other documents, guides and publications– and implements these standards through 15 reporting guidelines that balance fairness, competition, efficiency, collaboration and impact for sustainable development. The tool also provides best practice guidelines to address capacity building, ethics, transparent financial systems and fair sharing of benefits, costs and outcomes between partners. The RFI is a global learning platform for research collaboration that will stimulate the development of new and improved guides.

Who is using the RFI?

The RFI is now ready to engage with institutions for international implementation. Institutions from Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Kenya, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, and Spain have already expressed interest in implementing the RFI throughout 2017. These institutions include government departments, universities, national research bodies and centres, funders, businesses and international organisations.

In addition, a European Union-funded project has largely backed the RFI by providing technical and financial support for its development and implementation process. This EU project is CAAST-Net Plus, a network of 26 organisations that enhances research and innovation collaborations between the European Union and Sub-Saharan Africa. The adoption of the RFI as a grant-assessing tool is currently under discussion between COHRED, CAAST-Net Plus and the EU in the sustainable agriculture sector, expanding the reach of the Initiative to other fields than health.

So the RFI’s implementation throughout 2017 is timely and will provide guidance as a compliance tool for existing best standards of practice – especially at a time when shared values and goals between governments, institutions and civil society should be encouraged and fortified.

Prof Carel IJsselmuiden, Executive Director of COHRED group 

Resources – the case for partnerships by Prof Carel IJsselmuiden, Executive Director of COHRED group and Lauranne Botti RFI Manager

  •   Would Pfizer problem have occurred if both Pfizer and the Nigerian Institutions concerned had been RFI Reporting Organisations (RRO's)? The RFI would have asked explicitly about research ethics review policies.
  • Global business (not just health or just research) is firmly behind the SDG goals (International Business Forum 2006, Rio Tinto: Tackling cross-sector partnerships challenge). The RFI can therefore make a meaningful contribution to this goal - in the field of research and science collaboration.
  • Collaboration is the case study of a three-year flagship Vodafone UK Foundation partnership between three UK charities: Samaritans, Shelter and YouthNet. The case study, produced by The Partnering Initiative, tracks the partnering journey of the three organisations as well as the catalysing and innovative role that the Foundation played in fostering collaboration between them. The outcomes and lessons learned from this partnership have influenced the Foundation’s decision in the way they have structured their new flagship project, Reach.

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  • Lauranne Botti