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Australia’s overseas aid programme (AusAID) plans to increase research funding by 20 per cent next year, to US$124.5 million. It also aims to encourage more user-driven studies, and greater uptake of research findings in development activities and policy.
The ‘AusAID Research Strategy 2012–2016’ was published last month and it took into account findings from an independent review of the agency’s activities conducted by a panel of academics and government and business leaders.
Users of AusAID’s research will both drive research priorities and participate in research programmes, an AusAID spokesman explained. To encourage participation and policy uptake of findings, the aid agency will launch an open database of research reports, and require aid-funded researchers to publish in open access journals.
It will also direct researchers to consider communication and engagement strategies at the design stage of projects, and for subsequent reports to be written in plain — rather than scientific — language, with summaries containing actionable recommendations.
AusAID will maintain its focus on agricultural and medical research and education. However, it also aims to build capacity in carrying out research and using research findings in developing countries, with the majority of research investment going to East Asia and the Pacific.
The agency is looking at "stronger governance on where to do the research, how to develop ways to make sure the right research is done, and how to make sure research gets into the hands of people doing the development", Rod Lefroy, regional coordinator of the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Asia, in Laos, told SciDev.Net.
For an example of actionable aid research, Lefroy pointed to the CIAT cassava programme, which has worked with farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America to produce new cassava strains that are internationally marketable and resistant to pests and disease. In East Timor, for example, the cassava programme funded by AusAID was designed to revive the country’s agricultural policy expertise and develop "applied on farm" research.
The shift towards user-driven agricultural research funding was very positive, Lefroy said, and the focus on how to link funding to impact had become a "common theme" among development organisations.
Arnaldo Pellini, a research associate at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), in United Kingdom, told SciDev.Net: "The emphasis on policy impact has emerged in the last eighteen months, and shows changes within AusAID: they [want to see] changes in attitude, perception and knowledge".
Lefroy told SciDev.Net that over the past three years, aid organisations from other countries had also increased their focus on research with high policy impact.
"The entire development community is focusing more on targeting where and what research to do, and, at the same time, looking at where you get the outcome of research as direct impacts," he said.
AusAID is a sponsor of SciDev.Net.