Cooperation in economics research: combining capacities for successful
International agencies concerned with economic development often commission
economic studies on specific topics in developing countries. Such studies
typically use national statistics or surveys, supplemented with specific
local information. In many cases, local institutions engaged in economics
research possess relevant knowledge but lack the capacity to perform such
a study without outside assistance. They need help with methodology or
project management, for example. International research institutes, on
the other hand, may be better equipped to perform a study, but they lack
access to indigenous knowledge. Cooperation between international and local
institutes can combine the capacities of each in order to achieve successful
projects that make use of indigenous knowledge. Agriculture and institutional
development are prime examples of research fields where the integration
of indigenous knowledge at all stages of project implementation can significantly
improve project results.
In practice, the results of such cooperation vary. Best practices are
characterized by a cooperative spirit, a common purpose, and clear procedures
from the start. Financial incentives encourage the local institutes to
play an active part and to contribute indigenous knowledge that will ensure
successful implementation of the study, and discourage them from coming
back on their commitments.
The best practice for such collaboration has the following features:
For a better understanding of this general practice, we refer to a specific
project in which it has been applied: "Rural Poverty Study of the Caucasus
Countries". The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
had contracted the Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam (SOW-VU) to conduct a study on the consequences of agricultural
reform in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, with special attention for the
new, private farms. The aim of the study was to collect information on
the current status of private farming activities, and to identify target
groups that IFAD can support in order to alleviate poverty and improve
food security in the region.
It has focused, realistic and relevant objectives. Its terms of reference
are well-defined, state a clear primary goal which is also the main criterion
for project evaluation, and include a realistic timetable and budget.
It offers financial incentives oriented towards results. Except for the
first allocation to start off the project, payments are made only after
successful completion of project phases.
It offers its participants an intellectual challenge and increased respect.
The project may include training or be related to PhD work, and it establishes
a long-term relationship between the institutes involved.
DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, INTEGRATED APPROACH, RESEARCH
METHODS, PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH
COUNTRY: Example project: GEORGIA
Furthermore: ARMENIA; AZERBAIJAN
Indigenous knowledge pertaining to the local situation can be used in
each phase of a study. In the project described here, local knowledge of
private farming was used to put together an appropriate survey sample and
to adapt the questionnaire to local circumstances. Local knowledge of language,
customs and institutions was used to increase the response to the survey
and to improve the quality of the respondentsí answers. The survey itself
collected indigenous knowledge on private farming. In the reporting phase,
the presentation and analysis of data benefited from detailed knowledge
of the local situation and its history.
Particular use was made of indigenous knowledge on:
natural conditions: geography, climate, soils;
farming: cropping patterns, livestock management, agricultural technology
and assets, irrigation and drainage systems;
market institutions and informal arrangements for supplying the main agricultural
inputs and for selling farm produce;
legal and institutional structures related to land reform, land tenure
and land transactions;
social conditions, social services and social security;
Issues of environmental sustainability were addressed through
the concern for ecological aspects of land management practices: soil erosion
and salinity, the use of agro-chemicals, and the use of firewood for energy,
Other aspects: increasing the capacity of local institutes for
conducting survey research sustains their ability to preserve indigenous
knowledge that can be put to use for development purposes.
STAKEHOLDERS AND BENEFICIARIES
The Rural Poverty Study of the Caucasus Countries was intitiated by
an international agency concerned with rural development: the International
Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which will use the results for
its own lending programme. The study was carried out by an international
academic research institute: the Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije
Universiteit Amsterdam (SOW-VU). Local institutes engaged in economic research
were contracted for the local project activities: the Ministry of Agriculture
in Armenia, AZSPETSPROMINVEST Consulting Company in Azerbaijan, and the
International Centre for Development and Reformation of Georgian Economy
There are beneficiaries at several levels:
All cooperating institutes benefit during project implementation from the
studyís clear objectives and from the fact that their contribution will
be evaluated only in terms of their own results.
the international agency, which gains knowledge that is useful for policy
the international research institute, which learns about the local context
of the study;
the local institutes, which are trained in research methodology and project
the recipient countries, which benefit from the eventual support of the
The relationships among the stakeholders and beneficiaries were as follows:
The project team at the international institute consisted of four people,
while the local teams each consisted of between four and seven people.
The international agency initiated the project and financed it.
The international research institute carried out the project, supplied
the project methodology, and did the final reporting. A major element in
the study was a survey among private farm households, for which a questionnaire
was designed and computer software for data entry, correction and tabulation
The local research institutes possess knowledge of the local situation
which was used in the joint effort to select the sample and adapt the questionnaire
to local circumstances. More specifically, the local institutes supplied
information on the agro-ecological zones (geography, climate, soils), on
local farming systems (cropping patterns, livestock management, agricultural
technology and assets, irrigation and drainage systems), on market institutions
and informal arrangements for acquiring inputs and selling farm produce,
on legal and institutional aspects (economic transition, agricultural reform,
legal issues, customs, land reform process, land tenure, and land transactions),
as well as on social conditions (education, health, housing), social services,
social security (pensions), and gender issues. The local research institutes
also translated the questionnaire to the local language, conducted the
survey using their own contacts in the rural areas and their knowledge
of local customs and institutions, and performed the data entry and correction.
They collected additional information to supplement the survey data, and
commented on the reports that were written.
All project contracts stated clear objectives. With the exception of the
first payment, all payments were made only after successful completion
of well-defined project activities, such as the survey itself, entry of
the survey data in the computer, and submission of the reports.
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
Focused, realistic and relevant project objectives make it possible to
conduct a project efficiently, on schedule, and within the budget, since
all participants know what results are expected and how their contribution
to those results will be evaluated.
Objectives that are relevant to the international agency allow the project
to be financed in the first place, while their relevancy to the global
research agenda challenges the participants intellectually and fosters
good-quality results. Relevant objectives also serve to focus the activities
of all participants during project implementation.
Financial incentives oriented towards results will increase the effectiveness
and efficiency of the project. Because the institutes involved are rewarded
only following assessment of their contribution to the project results,
they have a clear incentive to make sure that their contribution is on
time and of acceptable quality. They also have some autonomy in their own
activities during project implementation, which they can use to increase
the efficiency of their work.
The intellectual challenge and respectability promised by the project encourages
the selection of appropriate participants, and enhances their motivation
during project implementation. In particular, training or possibilities
for PhD work will satisfy their interest in learning, enhance their opportunity
for gaining respect, and improve the quality of the project results.
IT IS CONSIDERED SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE:
When the international institute responsible for the project subcontracts
work to local institutes, it loses some control over project implementation.
Short-term cooperation between institutes does not allow them enough time
to get to know each otherís weaknesses and strengths. There is then a danger
that the main contractor will interfere in details of local project implementation,
thus risking a reduction in the quality of the project results.
Contracted institutes may try to use their political influence to force
payments to them. This should be prevented, since it reduces their incentive
to make a valuable contribution to the project results.
The physical distance between project workers at the different institutes
can result in misunderstandings about the work to be done. If these persist,
they can endanger the quality of the results or even the results themselves.
Exclusive, long-term research cooperation between the same institutes can
lead to complacency among the participating staff. This can be avoided
by encouraging contacts with other institutes, for instance by submitting
intermediate project results to external referees, or by creating opportunities
for job mobility.
POTENTIAL FOR REPLICATION
In general, the success of a research project is measured by the response
of the client or funding agency, and by whether or not it decides to sponsor
a follow-up. The current project has been completed successfully, albeit
with some delay. The reports have been positively evaluated by the international
agency. During project implementation all participating institutes geared
their activities towards making the project a success by delivering the
contribution expected of them.
Indigenous knowledge that was contributed by the local institutes improved
project implementation and results, while the research capacity of the
local institutes was increased.
This practice could be replicated on one main condition: that an appropriate
local institute is present which has thorough knowledge of the local situation
as regards the subject of the study. That institute must also be equipped
with the necessary means of communication (telephone, fax, electronic mail,
mail or messenger service).
The Centre for World Food Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
(SOW-VU) tries to replicate this best practice in all of the research projects
in which it is involved. Its most recent endeavour along these lines is
a research programme entitled "Sustainable Food Security in Central West
Africa", which is being conducted in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana,
Mali, and Togo.
Example project: from 1997 to 1998
For the example project in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: in total
USD 200,000.00(=109,281.44 p/year)
SOURCES OF FUNDING FOR EXAMPLE PROJECT:
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
(Address: see below)
Organization that provided this information:
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Faculty of Economic Sciences and Econometrics
Centre for World Food Studies
1081 HV Amsterdam
Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Armenia,
48 Nalbandian Street
AZSPETSPROMINVEST Consulting Company
54 Bul-Bul Avenue
International Center for Reformation and Development of Georgian Economy
#2, 26 May Square