On October 2nd, Director Jesper Simonsen of the Norwegian Research Council presented the following table to the audience of “On Whose Terms?” the NFU’s conference of 2014. With this table he presented a question: What is the worst research?
Surely, many thought, the worst research must be that of low quality and low relevance to the issue at hand. But no, Simonsen stated, for that research can easily be dismissed and disposed of. Rather, the worst research is that of low quality, but of high relevance, for it is in danger of being used. But who decides what research is of quality, and what is relevant? “On Whose Terms?” tackled these questions head on.
In his presentation, part of a keynote plenary on policymakers’ challenges and goals, Jesper Simonsen addressed the question of “On Whose Terms?” but admitted that answering this question usually involved asking a series of other questions: Whose perspectives are most useful? Who should be involved? What are the rights of those involved?
Who decides what research needs to be done?
Norwegian citizens, at least, could claim to have some authority in determining the priorities of the Research Council, as it is funded by the tax-payers. However, it is not only Norwegians who are impacted by Norwegian-funded research. One of the biggest growing funders of research in Norway is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, as Simonsen illustrated, much of Norwegian research today is funded and conducted for the purposes of development both in Norway and abroad. Those who are most affected by development and those who are frequently the subjects of research, especially those located in the global South, are not always involved in the research process. In order to address these imbalances, the Research Council has been actively trying to involve those who have been, up until recently, affected by research and development without being a part of that research, whether they reside in or outside of Norway. Building capacity, Simonsen argues, requires that it is not always the ‘best projects’ which the Research Council seeks to fund, but rather those that will fulfill a certain need. Developing research infrastructure, such as research centres and institutes, is one of the main roles of the Norwegian Research Council, and something that they hope to focus on in the coming years. In addition to addressing the imbalance of power, the development of research infrastructure also facilitates the implementation of research, as “capacity building in the south,” Simonsen stated, “is a tool in the toolkit of development assistance.” In building infrastructure, the Research Council also tries to encourage the building of relationships between those who undertake research, and those who will take action and make change. To help to bridge the gaps between research and application, Research Council strives to serve as a meeting place between researchers and society at large, so that the research process can be both more inclusive, and more useful and informative for those outside of the research community. Innovative research projects, which include both research and action, will be another focus of the Research Council in the future.
Introducing NORGLOBAL II
While the future of the Norwegian Research Council seeks to be a collaborative one, it is from fragmentation that such a focus on ‘working together’ has derived. In the past, the fragmentation of research groups has caused research to be scattered and without focus in certain fields. Moving forward, Simonsen and the Research Council have been focusing on the need for umbrella research groups in order to more efficiently use research bodies. NORGLOBAL II, one example of such an umbrella project, was presented at the NFU conference. The original NORGLOBAL was established in 2009 in order to ‘strengthen Norwegian research on and with the South’ and consolidate 10 research projects that were being undertaken abroad, such as the Poverty and Peace Program, and AIDEFFECT. As NORGLOBAL is coming to a close in 2014, its successes have informed the development of NORGLOBAL II, which seeks to continue the global focus of NORGLOBAL. Currently, NORGLOBAL II is in the consultation stage, which will involve other research groups such as NORAD, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. A program plan for NORGLOBAL II is scheduled to be presented in April 2015, while its research projects should begin in September of 2015.
As NORGLOBAL II goes forth, one hopes that the Research Council will continue to ask itself the difficult questions: not only what research is of quality and relevance, but rather, who decides what is of quality and what is relevant. As the Council moves towards further including those who have been left out of research, one expects that the answers to this question might change, and continue to change, as we continue to ask “On Whose Terms?”
By Chelsea Mackay, student at the Master’s degree program in indigenous studies, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.