Sunday, 6 December 2009

OPENING UP RESEARCH FUNDING AT ATPS

By Adrian Ely

The African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) network is made up of academics, policy-makers private sector and civil society. On the third day of their annual conference on “Africa’s response to global challenges through science, technology and innovation” I witnessed the network’s innovative approach to opening up the decision-making process for the allocation of their research resources.

Applications from ATPS members had already been peer-reviewed and shortlisted prior to being presented by the potential lead investigators themselves at the conference. The delegates were all then given scoring sheets to fill in, the results of these feeding into the process to select which research projects the network would be funding over the coming years.

The criteria against which each was rated were:
- science quality – relevance of the stated problems, objectives and methodologies to the state of the art in the scientific field of enquiry
- added value/ innovation quality – the potential of the proposed activity to contribute significantly to responsible innovations for African development
- societal and policy relevance – overall relevance to the STI capacity building activities of the ATPS strategic plan and national and continental policy priorities.

Although only taking on board limited inputs from the ATPS members present, I saw this as an interesting innovation in resource allocation that served not only to strengthen the process but also to strengthen the network itself. The process included a conflict of interest declaration in order to minimise bias, and a forms for feedback so that presenters themselves could learn from the members present. Although there were administrative challenges with the more complicated procedures involved, the extra effort will be useful to the ATPS science, technology and innovation committee as it decides on the list of funded projects. This was a step towards opening up and democratising the process of research funding and I wondered about how similar models could be extended to include inputs from users and society more broadly. Whether or not these possibilities are explored, lessons were certainly learned from the process at this year’s conference, and it will be interesting to see how it is further improved and developed over forthcoming funding cycles.

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