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[BERLIN] The German research and international development ministries have signed an agreement to coordinate their activities and streamline their approach to research for development.

The state secretaries for the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) finalised the agreement last month (25 January).

The move will harmonise the efforts of the two departments — primarily in Africa, Brazil, China, India and Mexico — to avoid duplicating efforts.

The agreement also involves designing research projects that can inform development policy, particularly on climate, health, energy and water issues.

"There's a tendency for each ministry to do their own thing and not to take into account what others are doing," says Heiko Warnken, a deputy head of department at the BMZ who helped create the agreement. "We need a more coherent approach."

"Imagine that the development ministry sends a delegation to negotiate a project with a developing country government, and then weeks later a different ministry sends another delegation to the same government," explains Warnken.

"We want to avoid the worst case scenario where the two ministries inadvertently give conflicting messages to the partner government."

Any cooperation is "a step forward," says Jürgen Wiemann, deputy director for the German Institute for Development Policy, an independent think tank. "Streamlining missions will also reduce the burden [on developing country governments]."

Another potential benefit of coordination is that research projects funded by the BMBF can be designed to produce data specifically to improve BMZ development policy, notes Klaus Matthes, a head of division at the BMBF, who was involved in creating the agreement.

Scientific research sometimes generates results that the development community cannot use, says Matthes. "It's better to start projects from scratch together."

According to the agreement, bureaucrats in both the BMZ and BMBF will have to report back to their respective state secretaries every year about how activities between the two ministries have been coordinated, says Warnken, which "will put some fruitful pressure on us to show some results".

The agreement is the first to coordinate activities between the BMZ and other German ministries — though less formal, practical arrangements with other ministries that operate abroad are in the pipeline.