The truth about birthday cake
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INASP 20th Anniversary cake

In June I was lucky enough to try a piece of the largest birthday cake I’ve personally ever seen. Not only was it a magnificent cake but it was delicious as well. But why the cake?

Well it was INASP’s 20th Anniversary and to celebrate, we organised a 20th Anniversary Symposium that was held in Oxford a few weeks ago – 20 June to be precise. The purpose of the event was to bring together INASP partners from around the world to explore various aspects of research communication and research uptake for development as they exist today, how the field might develop in the future and to eat some cake! Ignoring the last bit for the moment, we structured the day around inviting a wide range of speakers to examine various “truths” associated with the broad area that can be considered the research information and research uptake for development environment.

We had 13 speakers from 11 different countries and 120 participants from over 35 countries, so it was certainly a mixed crowd. I won’t summarise the event here, as the next issue of the INASP newsletter will focus on doing that, but I did want to draw attention to a couple of things that really stood out to me as a participant on the day.

Firstly, from the session looking at ‘Technical Solutions to Information Access: Build it and they will come?” there was common consensus on a couple of issues:

  • Internet connectivity in many parts of the developing world has massively improved in the last 5 years and is set to continue improving with significant connectivity initiatives in the coming few years. BUT there are still big challenges to bring that improved connectivity to the individual researcher, student or user in the research and education sector. Last mile or even last few metres connectivity is a significant challenge at institutional level where skills and personnel shortfalls are an on-going challenge
  • Improving human networking is an important part of improving Internet connectivity. Bringing together individuals and institutions involved in connectivity improvement initiatives and providing opportunities for peer support relationships to develop is an important element of building sustainable and effective physical networks. Don’t forget to focus on people, even when it’s all about cables and connectivity.

The first of these issues was particularly interesting for me, as over the years I’ve worked extensively in the field of bandwidth management and optimisation and it’s good to see that connectivity progress is being made. The human element to improved networking also re-confirms the experiences I had in this area — that the human relationships and networking side of capacity development activities is often as important as the actual content.

Secondly, another common element that came out of many of the sessions was that availability of information per se was not so much of an issue today, at least in the African countries referenced in Growing knowledge: Access to research in east and southern African universities. Rather it was the skills, infrastructure, incentives or support systems that were the real barriers to effective information use in many developing country contexts.

Finally, something that was clear from all of the speakers in the session ‘Doing the Right Thing: Trust me, I’m a policy maker?’ was remarkable consensus. Whilst it was not quite “don’t trust me, I’m a policy maker”, it wasn’t that far removed. The speakers gave different perspectives but all outlined how policy makers have a range of incentives and drivers and that some of those incentives were to NOT use evidence.

A massive slice of INASP cake

Of course there was much more of interest but I will leave it short for this post. If you’re interested in seeing what was covered on the day then all of the speakers presentations are now available online. We are also in the process of editing a video of highlights from those presentations and will be placing that online in the near future.

Happy birthday INASP!

And the truth about birthday cake? Well, being too ambitious on the portion sizing is unwise. Starting with a slice and going back for a second is a better tactic than going for a wedge that can’t be finished. Live and learn…

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About Martin Belcher

Martin Belcher is the former Director of Impact and Learning at INASP.

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