Research partnerships: Establishing Fairness and Trust

11 October, 2016

Dr Julie Calkins

Dr Julie Calkins explains what we mean by research partnerships and shares what she learned about the Research Fairness Initiative tool.

Research partnership – what does it mean? I think of it as a marriage of sorts because they come in many shapes and guises. Fairness and the degree to which intellectual and financial leadership is shared, lies across a spectrum and includes issues of capacity to negotiate contracts, protect intellectual property (IP), controlling biological samples in clinical situations and co-authorship/acknowledgement in journal publications.

Considering the plethora of ODA research funding opportunities, it’s reasonable to assume a significant number of new North-South research partnerships will be formed. And with £1.5 billion earmarked for the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) alone, it’s important to get this right from the off. If we also take the view that fair and high quality research collaborations lead to Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) capacity building in LMICs, then fair research partnerships are absolutely vital to achieve SDG Goal 17. Moreover, as a global leader in international development, the UK research community has the opportunity and privilege to set a high standard for North-South research partnerships on an unprecedented scale.

Research partnerships Establishing fairnesstrust – pexels

At their Brussels Conference last week, I learned about the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI) tool, being developed by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) with backing from the CAAST-Net Plus Africa-Europe project, and the Wellcome Trust. The RFI is presented as a partnership quality assessment and reporting tool, and eventually as a learning resource for exchange of user experience. The initiative will soon reach pilot stage in a selection of Philippines Universities but already Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria have informed the development of the tool’s reporting requirements and building on previous work to establish criteria for fairness and mutual trust.

RFI encourages funders and institutions to report how they ensure fairness in international research collaborations and whether they follow existing guidelines or good practice. It’s clear that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I spoke on a panel which included funders from Germany, Austria, Portugal, and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) who described their own efforts to embed equitable partnerships and capacity building processes into development research funding programmes and calls.

So what does this mean for UK funders, bidders and awardees relatively new to ODA and development research? It seems that ethical guidance, some level of accountability and transparency in partnership would help to highlight gaps in thinking, reduce reputational risk of ‘doing’ development, increase partnering competitiveness, allow for benchmarking if shared, and act as a culture change instrument for the scientific community. Furthermore, partner LMIC institutions would have greater protection and transparent expectations of intellectual and financial share in partnership agreements.

So watch this space as UKCDS works to develop this agenda. Please get in touch if you’d like more information.

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