Demand driven etc. (part 2)

If we want “demand driven” not to be just another a buzz word to increase fundability of our projects, we have to (as I write below) ask a different set of questions to our stakeholders. Instead of asking: “What kind of research do you need to solve this problem?”, we need to ask: “What is the problem and who needs to do what to solve it?”

However, if we are a bunch of researchers asking this question, eventually the stakeholders will empathize with us, just as they did in Bolgatanga last week and say: “Well, you are researchers, what can you do, in the end you have to do research, that’s your job…” and help us to identify and justify research questions, even in a situation, where they don’t see lack of knowledge as the crucial bottleneck.

But imagine we could create situations where we would assemble everyone (around an issue) as equal partners and ask the question in a really open manner. We would sit with representatives of government agencies, private sector, traditional authorities, churches, NGOs, donors, farmers, researchers and who ever else is interested and instead of asking: “What can we do to help you?”, the question would be: “Who can do what to solve this?” Do you hear the change of attitude and power balance?

Some of us would go home after the meeting, having realized: In this case, there is not much I can do at the moment. And thus wouldn’t waste their energy on it. Others would understand: If I don’t take my own first steps first, it doesn’t make sense to hope for change to come from somewhere else. And some would see: There a specific things that others need from me to be able to tackle this issue successfully.

But apart from dividing the tasks and responsibilities to the individual actors involved in a more realistic way, this approach would also allow us to develop non-traditional collaborations and design solutions that don’t necessarily follow an organizational blue-print but cater to the actual needs on the ground.

I know that this sounds simple and rather straightforward in theory and rather unrealistic in practice: Someone would have to be brave enough to fund a truly open-ended process (or at least the initiation of it), where it is not even clear who would do what work in the end. Organizations and individuals would have to set aside their own interest (“I’m a researcher and I need to do research”), take a step back and allow for a bigger-picture vision. And everyone involved would have to be truly excited about solving a problem instead of wanting to do business as usual.

But… if we can start thinking these things, we might be able, step-by-step, to make them happen.

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