1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Producing a New Generation of Practising Development Economists (Draft)



This note addresses a secondary question posed in Thandika Mkandawire’s scene setting paper -Thandika Mkandawire (2001) “The Need to Rethink Development Economics”, Geneva, UNRISD) - for this conference: How to produce a new generation of development economists. I choose this topic (rather than the primary one of the essentials for a new development economics per se ) because it is of particular concern to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The IDRC’s mandate is to support the growth of expertise in development by supporting research and the generation of evidence based knowledge for development policy across many fields, including economic development. In this paper, I will present some ideas on the kind of economic development research that is needed for successful capacity building in research, making special reference to IDRC’s programme experience in international economic relations.

The IDRC has a remit to nurture the growth of expertise in economic development primarily among citizens of the developing world itself, working in the south. There are two main reasons for this mandate, which does not of course signify any inherent prejudice against the scholarship and insights of those based in the north. Channelling our resources in this way does something (on however small a scale) to redress biases in resource availabilities for research efforts as between the north and the south. More importantly perhaps, in a world governance perspective, it is intended to contribute toward the authenticity and autonomy of southern voices in development policy making. Just as local priorities should be determining in aid allocations, so the policy positions espoused by developing countries in international fora should be locally generated and informed by local research. When policy formulation is driven by outside forces and outside knowledge, the credibility of policy positions is always questionable and international agreements entered into may not be fully respected down the line.

The presumption that support for research translates into a better informed - and therefore more credible and effective - southern voice in international policy fora is of course questionable and certainly not something IDRC takes for granted. In recent years IDRC has tried to develop a better understanding of the relationship between research and policy, fuelled by consideration of, among other things, events and processes related to the international economic system. We are confident that, despite many complicating factors and the presence of other determinants, there often is positive relationship between research activity and policy, and that, moreover, there are practical ways of enhancing this relationship.


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