Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Collaboration for Development: Interdisciplinary Research in Practice PhD workshop

The Collaboration for Development PhD workshop was held on 24 May 2011 at the University of Leeds.

The Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (ESSL) Graduate School, University of Leeds, funded the event.

The aim of the workshop was to facilitate and support collaboration among postgraduate development researchers, development academics and practitioners. About twenty-five to thirty PhD researchers working in the area of international development attended.  The workshop was organized around two main themes: interdisciplinary collaboration and researcher-practitioner collaboration.

Seminar speakers

  • Dr Jelke Boesten, Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.
  • Professor Andy Challinor, School of Earth and Environment, Research Director for the Africa College Partnership, University of Leeds.
  • Dr Essam Yassin Mohammed, International Institute for Environment and Development, London.
  • Professor John Walley, Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, University of Leeds.

Participatory session facilitators

  • Dr. Ruth Garbutt, Researcher Training and Development Officer, SDDU, University of Leeds
  • Evanne Nowak, MA Theatre and Global Development student, Faculty of Arts, University of Leeds

Summary of Seminars

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Professor Andy Challinor, School of Earth and Environment and Research Director for the Africa College Partnership, University of Leeds.

  • Interdisciplinary collaboration is the only way to address grand challenges, especially related to, or involving, society.
  • Conducing interdisciplinary collaboration, you learn a lot; you learn something new.
  • It is important to be aware of the real world implications of your work; interdisciplinary collaboration allows you to see the bigger picture.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration takes time: take time at the start to learn from each other and develop ideas in detail.
  • “Won’t I get more done if I keep my head down?” Be clear about your goals.
  • You need to maintain your disciplinary excellence and strengths! Be clear about what you are doing and the benefits of it.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration creates good career prospects and it’s fun!
  • Always challenge yourself to look at the gaps between the pieces of the puzzle you’d like to address.

Dr Jelke Boesten, Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.

  • Discussed “what am I in disciplinary terms?”
  • We’re inherently interdisciplinary because we study different areas even within the same discipline.
  • Good development work takes place if our minds are open to what happens in the broader development area.
    • Different perspectives form different disciplines to answer a problem
  • What does interdisciplinarity do?
    • It’s complementary (e.g. violence against women combines sociology with psychology and policy)
    • It expands and bridges knowledge
      • Other people are doing it so no need to reinvent the wheel
    • Informs and enhances knowledge production ‘within’ the discipline

Researcher-Practitioner Collaboration

Professor John Walley, Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, University of Leeds

  • Research-Practitioner collaboration: linking research with development presentation
  • The typical approach to research is to discover a solution and then try to market it.
  • COMDIS–Health Service Delivery (a DFID-funded research consortium led by the Nuffield Centre) takes a different approach, collaborating with policymakers from the start and developing long-term relationships.
  • The COMDIS-HSD model of ‘embedded research and development’ develops guidelines and tests these within realistic service delivery contexts.
  • This approach improves resource use, enables effective implementation at scale, and builds programme capacity.
  • Important to think about the implications of your PhD research for policy makers.

Dr. Essam Mohammed, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London

  • Researcher-Practitioner Collaboration presentation
  • IIED collaborates with partners in the South for its research.
  • Benefits of collaboration with practitioners:
    • Findings need to be practical – collaboration bridges academic rigour and practicality.
    • Practitioners bring knowledge – two-way knowledge sharing between researchers and practitioners.
    • Reduces costs – partners can provide information, reducing fieldwork.
    • If governments provide input to the research they take note of the findings.
  • Challenges of collaboration
    • Different objectives.
    • Administration costs.
  • Lessons:
    • Be willing to listen and to make concessions.
    • Involve policy makers as well as practitioners.

Summary of Participatory Sessions

Workshop on interdisciplinary collaboration

Dr Ruth Garbutt, Researcher Training and Development Officer, SDDU

The aim of this workshop was to explore interdisciplinary collaboration as a concept, evaluate its merits and challenges, and finally to use our imagination to come up with our own collaborative ideas.

First, we identified the benefits of collaborative work. Collaboration was deemed to be necessary for addressing the grand challenges facing science and development, it was thought to be an excellent way of learning new skills and methodologies, allowing people to think about problems from different perspectives, increasing public engagement, and finally that interdisciplinary projects were very much more attractive to funders.

In order to overcome difficulties inherent with working with people from different academic backgrounds and with different ways of communicating, we agreed that it was essential to approach interdisciplinary collaboration with a great deal of flexibility, being open to other partners’ viewpoints and expectations.

Small groups were used to design a collaborative project that involved all our fields of knowledge and then think about the steps that would be needed to realise the project. Ideas ranged from writing a collaborative paper bringing together and comparing experiences in civil society participation in policy making from the health sciences and the study of water management, to creating a funding application to investigate the use of IT in diversifying livelihoods affected by climate change in rural Mexico. Whilst designing the projects, we identified the need to be flexible throughout, allowing the project to change if necessary and also to bring experts from different fields on board where possible.

Workshop on researcher-practitioner collaboration

Evanne Nowak, MA Theatre and Global Development student

The aim of this workshop was to try and understand the perspectives of researchers and practitioners and how their interactions may be improved to deliver greater impact from research projects.

In the first exercise, we identified within ourselves which perspective we identified with most. Then we went on to think about what the stereotypes of researchers and practitioners may be, coming up with qualities and pitfalls associated with each.At the end of this task, we had a motley array of characters lined up in front of the room, each absorbed by his own researcher or practitioner world, and with little hope of any real communication between any of them!

The next step was to work out how their relations could be improved. A range of case studies was handed out around the class, each representing an example of conflict between different parties involved in a project. One described the case of local land-owners in an arid area of Tunisia who were so jaded by endless participation in international research projects into water management without any actual improvement on the ground, that they didn’t want to take part in a new water harvesting technology project.

In almost all the case studies, it became clear that in order to handle the conflict better it was essential to involve all stakeholders in all stages of planning, troubleshooting and implementing, and to have appropriate expectations of what each party is able to contribute. Following this exercise, many around the room expressed the realisation that they would need to think differently about their own PhD projects in order to implement what they’d learnt, and to involve all stakeholders from the start.