There is no hierarchy but a recognition that we all have something to learn from each other.
Diana Bagarukayo, ACCESS Researcher
Challenging Research-Practice Partnerships
Written by Diana Bagarukayo (ACCESS researcher, Uganda) and Martha Hewison (Chair of the Accelerated Education Working Group)
Research partnerships in the humanitarian and development communities have long been susceptible to implicit (and explicit) power structures which affect how the research is designed and carried out, as well as a dissonance between who collects the data, and then makes sense of it all. In ACCESS we have made a commitment to challenge these dynamics. It begins with the way we’ve structured the partnership from design to implementation. At the design stage the research was co-created by academics in the University along with members of the AEWG who bring a strong combination of technical expertise, thought leadership and solid field experience of implementing AEPs in a wide variety of contexts.
The implementation of the research involves country-based researchers in each of the countries where the research is taking place. The researchers and AEWG meet quarterly to exchange and learn from one another. Our exchanges are based around the seven key principles of co-production which guide our interactions.
This engagement between the AEWG, the University, and the country researchers is very rich. Each group of stakeholders brings a different perspective to the research and a different lens through which they view the research and findings based on where they sit.
Following our first quarterly meeting, we came together to reflect on our experiences of engaging with each other and highlight how collaboration on equal footing has helped us grow.
The long-lasting impacts of colonialism, racism, and embedded power-structures have long been discussed within international development practices more widely. It is only recently, however, that these discussions have come to the fore within the Education in Emergencies community.
Our first meeting was in mid-September and as a country researcher it was difficult to know what to expect. I thought the AEWG must want to know how the research is going and the integrity of the research approach. Although we had started the research, we had not yet interacted. I was initially anxious about having a meeting so early in the research process when I felt I didn’t yet have final findings to share. However, the initial meeting provided great opportunities to learn from each other. The AEWG did not focus so much on the methodology but were keen to hear our findings. Hearing from other country research leads provided many lessons for me, for example comparing the decentralized systems in Pakistan and Nigeria to a very centralized system that we have here in Uganda. Each of the local researchers had an opportunity to share initial findings based on the 4As approach and during these presentations the AEWG provided feedback on things which they felt were missing, which needed to be elaborated on more or where they immediately saw country disparities and, hence learning opportunities. In my case, I saw a strong interest by the AEWG to know how education for OOSCY particularly girls and children with learning needs, are being addressed.
As the chair of the AEWG, and having worked in both Pakistan and Uganda, I have noted these differences in centralized versus decentralized systems, but I have not taken the time to really consider our approach and if it should be different when engaging and advocating in these very different structures. Asking these questions in these exchanges gave me the opportunity to consider how the AEWG might approach and tailor our advocacy and engagement in these different systems. It was refreshing to have the time and space to discuss in more detail with people on the ground and exchange ideas and views.
As a country researcher I have in depth knowledge of my country’s implementation of AEP, with a strong in depth understanding of the why and what? Why is it implemented in this way, what’s the motivation of the stakeholders, what are the perspectives of the government and what is the future direction that the country intends to take on AEPs? Through ACCESS, I’ve learned how in Uganda, AEPs have come about as a short-term response to specific crises or the needs of specific marginalised groups (i.e. former child combatants or refugees). Yet, my country has large numbers of out of school children and youth across the country who could benefit from AEPs, but currently don’t have such opportunities because of who is funding these programmes and who they target. One of the challenges at present is identifying how to change the mindset of government from these programmes being a short-term response, to one which should be available and accessible to all learners who want a chance to re-engage with formal schooling.
As the AEWG, we are giving increasing attention to our advocacy and engagement role in countries with large numbers of OOSCY. How we engage, who we engage with, and how we communicate messages about the importance and function of AEPs with national Ministries of Education, donors, and implementing partners is critical to understand. This research is important to helping us understand that better.
One of the things I enjoy about the research partnership is the ability to learn across the board, from the research team leads, from the university researchers and from the AEWG. There is no hierarchy but a recognition that we all have something to learn from each other!
I am excited to be part of this research; these exchanges give me a rare opportunity to have a lot of these global challenges that I grapple with, but don’t do very well in documenting, a structured, safe space to exchange views and, hopefully, come up with some potential solutions!