There is great potential for beneficial research partnerships between academics and NGOs.

Putting theory into practice

6 July 2015
Author: Angela Crack

Bond's recent report, Fast-Forward: The Changing Role of UK-based INGOs, was the subject of a workshop held by the British International Studies Association (BISA) NGO Working Group in June. The workshop brought together representatives of Bond and the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) with academics and NGO practitioners to discuss the findings of this thought-provoking report.

Fast-Forward charts the risky and complex terrain that NGOs will have to navigate in the coming decades. In this highly uncertain environment, the need for evidence-based policies has never been so pressing. Academics can help NGOs address important gaps in knowledge, but need better awareness of how they can assist. Workshops such as these provide crucial opportunities to foster mutual understanding, and forge networks and collaborative relationships.

The workshop included discussion on the ways in which academics could usefully collaborate with NGOs to help them address the challenges they face in the context of a rapidly shifting global order.

There is great potential for mutually beneficial research partnerships as long as both parties are sensitive to the demands of one another's working environments. Academics should endeavour to design research with policy-relevance. They should avoid taking an 'extractive approach' to research, by ensuring that they relay the results to their NGO partner so that both parties can benefit from the findings.

Academics primarily publish in peer-reviewed journals that are only available via an expensive subscription, which typically means that practitioners cannot read and learn from the research outputs. It is therefore important for academics to maintain good lines of communication with NGOs after they have collected their data, but also to ensure that findings are published in freely-accessible outlets; for example, through blog posts, or policy briefings on personal websites.

At the same time, NGOs should be sympathetic to the pressure on academics to meet publication targets to secure tenure and receive favourable assessments in research audit exercises. This will sometimes mean that it can be difficult for academics to share findings until a paper has been formally accepted for publication in a journal.

NGO practitioners should also be appreciative of the professional constraints that prevent academics publishing results in a short timeframe. Understandably, NGOs would like findings produced as soon as possible, particularly if the research project relates to a topical and fast-moving policy debate. However, academics have to abide by formal processes of ethical approval and peer-review to ensure the credibility and quality of their work. This can considerably slow down the research process - often to the frustration of academics and practitioners alike!

The day concluded with a consensus that clear expectations need to be established at the beginning of any research project to ensure that the partnership evolves in ways that are fruitful and satisfactory for both parties.

Presenters included: Bond's Anders Hylander and Rose Longhurst, Hugh Salmon from Family for Every Child, Amnesty International's Clare Doube, Dr Tom Davies of City University London, Dr Vincent Keating of the University of Southern Denmark, Dr Maryam Z. Deloffre of Arcadia University, and Babatunde Olawoore from the University of Portsmouth.

More information can be found on the BISA NGO Working Group website

About the author

Angela Crack
University of Portsmouth

Angela is a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth.