There is almost consensus on the importance of science and research to solve global challenges, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Despite this, there are major shortcomings in the collaboration between decision-makers and researchers, write the Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University and the President of Karolinska Institutet together with the Chair, Co-Chair and Director of the Swedish Development Research Network (SweDev), in an op-ed published by Dagens Nyheter.
Today, the world is facing several crises and the work with sustainable development has never been more relevant. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw increases in both inequality and poverty in the world. The effects of global warming are visible globally, for example, through prolonged drought and heavy monsoon rains. Science and research are crucial to solving these challenges.
Research is needed to be able to understand complex processes, the expressions and solutions to poverty, but also to achieve results in Sweden’s development policy. Studies conducted by SweDev show that despite that both decision-makers and researchers say that integrating research-based knowledge is important, interaction between them is poor. Decision-makers say that they do not have time to read and use research and researchers say that they do not have knowledge on what is current in policy-making.
“Changes are needed to increase the use of research in Sweden’s development policy”
Four concrete proposals for measures on how to increase collaboration between researchers and decision-makers in development policymaking are presented in the op-ed written by Anders Hagfeldt, Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University; Ole Petter Ottersen, President of Karolinska Institutet; Jesper Sundewall, Vice Chair of SweDev and Docent in global health systems at Lund University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Fredrik Söderbaum, Chair of SweDev and Professor in peace and development research at Gothenburg University and Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev at Stockholm Environment Institute.
Government and government agencies must:
- Give research-based knowledge greater weight in decision-making. It is a failure that decision-makers state that they do not have time to use research in their work. That development policy must be based on research and evidence should be given. The new government needs to emphasize the importance of research-based policymaking in both policy documents and appropriation letters to the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency Sida, and other relevant government agencies. The Government Office and government agencies should prioritize research-based decision-making in their work. The authorities need to develop processes for the integration of research-based knowledge in decision-making and give employees time and resources for this. Special programmes are needed to connect researchers and research to the implementation of aid projects and for researchers to be able to serve in international organizations.
- Stop the dismantling of the Swedish academic resource base. The Swedish Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, has recently announced the discontinuation of programs for competence development within the academy such as Minor Field Studies, the Linnaeus-Palme program and the global school. Programmes for knowledge development and partnerships with Swedish researchers (for example through SweDev) have also been denied funding. The decisions go against the needs for increased competence in sustainable development. Without broad Swedish expertise on development issues, the quality of development cooperation will be undermined. The government must therefore stop the dismantling of the Swedish resource base and instead make it clear that continued investment in Swedish research competence with relevance to the 2030 Agenda is needed.
- Institutionalize long-term collaboration platforms for development and sustainability issues. Knowledge-sharing, co-creation of knowledge and exploring new research areas are fundamental to increasing innovation in development issues and for the 2030 Agenda. Programmes such as the Swedish Institute for Global Health Transformation (SIGHT) and SweDev have both contributed to building broad systematic platforms where decision makers can collaborate with researchers, including actors in business and civil society. The government needs to ensure that these types of arenas are given the conditions to be institutionalized and developed.
- Researchers and the research community must place greater emphasis on how research findings can be used in decision-making. Researchers’ collaboration with society is one of the main tasks of academia but needs to be given higher priority. Researchers need to be given opportunities to increase their knowledge of decision-making conditions and how research findings can be used by decision-makers.
Sweden has a strong tradition of conducting research and building knowledge relevant to development and sustainability issues. Therefore, Sweden should also take responsibility for the research findings being used to solve challenges such as the global sustainability goals.
A great responsibility lies on the researchers. At the same time, politics must create opportunities for better collaboration between decision-makers and researchers. This requires strategic investments to integrate research into decision-making, and to maintain and renew the Swedish resource base.
DN Debatt Repliker: “Both academia and politics bear the responsibility for better collaboration”
In a letter to the editor, the authors of the op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, states that a combination and a deeper joint development of knowledge is needed for improved collaboration, where both parties have a responsibility. They write that “collaboration is something long-term and means strengthening relationships between people with knowledge from different directions.”
“Decision makers need to be clear about the issues they are grappling with. They also need to use the available research as a map to navigate to achieve their goals.”
Transcript written by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer for SweDev at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Edited by Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and Team Lead for Development and Aid Policy at SEI.