Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners

SPECIAL SECTION: Science for Global Development

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

High-wealth countries, including the United States, often provide funding to ESPs in the form of development assistance. There are opportunities to expand the leadership position of the United States as science and innovation increasingly drive development as outlined in the discussion with donors below.

Science and innovation have played critical roles in bolstering economic development. Advancements in agricultural sciences, such as plant breeding and bioengineering resilient crops, have been and will continue to be instrumental in preventing famine and providing food security. Discoveries in medicine and global health have improved the economic status and quality of life for millions of people. Technological innovations, initially created for scientific research purposes, have had enormous impacts on today’s world.

The United Nations, through its seventeen  sustainable development goals (SDGs), is the leading global organization coordinating international efforts to promote and guide science-driven sustainable development.137 The SDGs are used by many countries to identify basic and applied science needs that will help to meet a series of sustainable development benchmarks by 2030.138 For example, the African Union’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 outlines strategic investments that African governments can make to reach science development goals by 2024, including by liaising with various branches of the United Nations.139

In addition to cooperating with UN initiatives, many wealthy countries support individual science capacity-building programs through their own development agencies. Programs such as those developed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, other countries of the European Union, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Australia acknowledge the role of S&T in fostering development and work with partner governments or funding agencies in ESPs to provide specific project funding for scientific research and capacity building. China is also a major funder of capacity building through various agencies and initiatives, including through its BRI, which includes expansion of scientific infrastructure and training programs, with a significant focus on Africa.140

Many wealthy countries, the United States included, support global development as an important goal through official development assistance (ODA).141 As of 2020, ODA from member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee was equal to $161.2 billion, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2019, with the United States making the greatest contribution at $35.5 billion.142

In January 2020, the CISP project held a roundtable discussion with representatives from several bilateral and international funding agencies whose programs support science-related development initiatives in ESPs. Despite sharing similar priorities, the approach and execution of such programs vary significantly across funding agencies and countries. Over two days of discussion, two major concerns arose: building sustainable and resilient programs and incorporating ethical codes of research.

Building Sustainable and Resilient Programs for the Local Context

During the roundtable, strengthening research capacity was defined as: enhancing the ability and resources of individuals, institutions, and systems to undertake, communicate, and use high-quality research efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. Many governmental ODA science-funding programs, including USAID’s PEER Program, the UK Research and Innovation Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund, and Japan’s Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development, have the goal of increasing scientific capacity in their ESP partners, with the programs serving as a foundation for launching a sustainable research enterprise.143

For programs to be successful in the long term and to continue past the initial collaboration, funders should work with ESP partners to build capacity and embed research and scientific programming in the local infrastructure. For example, programs need to have realistic designs and genuinely engage with ESP institutions and not rely solely on institutions or structures in place in funder nations. For expertise that is not available locally, such as administrative capacity or specialized legal knowledge, funders should seek to build local capacity. The scope of programs will vary greatly, but efforts need to be made to look more broadly at the overall ecosystem of scientific research, which includes not only the focal individual researchers and organizations but those less central to the research itself; for example, those who communicate about or use the resulting science.

The Ethics of Collaborative Programs in ESP Contexts

Considerations regarding ethics and transparency must be central to U.S. research partnerships with ESPs and cannot be viewed simplistically. Ethics must encompass what is being researched and why, the generation of knowledge in and of itself, and how research is being conducted in an evolving context. What are the risks? Who benefits, and how?

Ethics must be an ever-evolving conversation because societal dynamics shift and technologies and innovations advance.144 Addressing ethical considerations and concerns directly and transparently is important. Cultural differences and communication challenges can play a role in misunderstanding, and efforts need to be made to avoid such problems. Funding agencies, research institutions, and researchers partnering with ESPs should codevelop principles and guidelines for conduct that honor the fundamental values of ethical research: honesty, fairness, objectivity, reliability, skepticism, accountability, accessibility, and openness.

Conversations about the conduct of research, the behaviors of researchers, and the allocation of credit should begin at the outset of any collaboration and then continue. Open conversation can establish a strong foundation of trust and understanding between partners and set the stage for promising long-term programs.145