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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1743- i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Committee
SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Wednesday 1 february 2012
professor graham furniss, professor peter guthrie obe freng, PROFESSOR ROBERT SOUHAMI CBE and DR BETH TAYLOR
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 – 23
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 1 February 2012
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Graham Furniss, Chair of the Africa Panel, British Academy, Professor Peter Guthrie OBE FREng, Fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Robert Souhami CBE, Foreign Secretary, Academy of Medical Sciences, and Dr Beth Taylor, Director of Communications and External Relations, Institute of Physics, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: I welcome the four of you to our hearing this morning, with apologies for running a little late from the previous session. As you know, the purpose of this inquiry is to investigate how DFID currently incorporates scientific capacity building into its development activities and to explore the experience and perspectives of the learned societies and national academies within this context. I would invite you first to introduce yourselves and then I will start with a very general question.
Professor Furniss: I am Graham Furniss, the pro-director for research at SOAS representing the British Academy. My only area of interest is northern Nigeria and its language and culture.
Professor Guthrie: I am Peter Guthrie. I am representing the Royal Academy of Engineering, Engineers Against Poverty and the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Professor Souhami: I am Robert Souhami, foreign secretary of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Dr Taylor: I am Beth Taylor, director of communications and external relations at the Institute of Physics, which means I have responsibility for our international activities, including our Physics for Development programme.
Q2 Chair: Obviously, it would be helpful if we can agree on definitions, starting with the phrase "scientific capacity building". DFID describes three levels of capacity building: individual, organisational and institutional. Is DFID policy on scientific capacity building spread evenly across those areas, and at which of these levels do national academies and learned societies tend to focus their efforts?
Dr Taylor: I will start by saying that I do not really know enough about DFID’s programmes to make a meaningful comment about its balance. As to what we do, I think that nothing we do is big enough to make a difference at the institutional level in those three areas. What we do is targeted at both the individual and to some extent the organisational level. Broadly speaking, we do three programmes. One, which is really important, is to build partnerships with our equivalent sister societies in the developing world, and that is targeted at the individual level in terms of their members but also at the organisational level-
Q3 Chair: Is that with or without DFID?
Dr Taylor: I should say right at the beginning that this is all without DFID; we do not get anything from DFID, but I would love to. It seems to me that partnering with the learned societies in other countries is a way to help them develop the kind of capabilities we have developed over 100 or 200 years. We then have a couple of programmes, one educational, where we have resource centres in seven different places in Africa. We help teachers with using practical equipment, because science seems to be taught almost like learning Latin. It is a theoretical subject and the kids never get a chance in great big classes to see what science is really about. We also run entrepreneurial workshops with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste where we bring scientists and engineers from the developing world and try to introduce them to basic entrepreneurial skills to bring their innovations to market. That is also individual, I think.
Professor Souhami: As far as concerns DFID’s broad spectrum, it is difficult for the academy to comment on the whole thing because we are concerned with biomedical research. DFID’s written response to you makes a distinction among the institutional, organisational and individual bases of capacity building. That is exactly how the Academy of Medical Sciences would see it, too. The Academy of Medical Sciences has its elected fellowship, like other learned academies, and among the fellowship are all the major players at the high level of science that is to do with global health and science. Our contribution is through the fellowship. We are not ourselves a grant-awarding agency.
As evidence proceeds, I imagine that you will hear quite a lot of examples of the kinds of capacity building north-south and south-south developments that are currently taking place and have taken place over many years. The academy is involved in that to the extent it is our fellows who are among the leading protagonists and players as far as the science and relationships are concerned, because the partnerships involved in capacity building require personal as well as institutional relationships.
Q4 Chair: But this is driven by themselves and their employers rather than yourselves.
Professor Souhami: Exactly, because science is driven like that. Therefore, capacity building for science has to be based on science. The starting point is that you want to do good science, and the most enduring capacity building relationships come when there is a common enduring scientific interest. In April last year the academy, the College of Physicians, the Gates Foundation, Universities UK and the Wellcome Trust held a three-day conference in London on this point of capacity building in the relationship with biomedical science. The important point about that conference is that it was not just UK people sounding off. The majority of the participants came from southern institutions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. The report on that conference contains many examples of successful capacity building issues, which include DFID’s contribution, and other examples where things do not quite work and the reasons for that. The report on that conference, which may be of help to you, is to be signed off in the next week or so. If you wish, I could arrange for an advance copy to be sent to you, because it gives you a feeling of what actually works on the ground. Therefore, our academy helps to facilitate that kind of interchange and understanding.
Q5 Chair: I am grateful for that offer, and we will certainly take you up on it; thank you.
Professor Guthrie: To come back to your question of definitions, whenever you talk to policymakers and so on, science is supposed to embrace engineering, but it is very distinct and needs to be thought of in a different way because of its application rather than exploration characteristics. The response of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Engineers Against Poverty and the Institution of Civil Engineers is focused for these purposes on our Africa-UK Partnership, which is an initiative that is institutional in its focus in trying to address the critical shortfall of institutional support for engineers generally throughout sub-Saharan Africa. There is very much a focus in our thinking at that level, in answer to your question. DFID’s focus tends to be institutional and organisational, although obviously it has programmes that have high individual focuses particularly through its response to disasters and humanitarian work. So it probably works across all of the levels. Where organisations like the Royal Academy can make a difference is more at the institutional level.
Professor Furniss: In relation to DFID’s balance and investments, we very much appreciate the fact that it supports individuals to a considerable extent by investing something in the region of £18 million in Commonwealth scholarships, which it funds. That is a very important part of DFID’s work from our point of view, and we want to see it continue. The focus from its point of view, and to some extent ours, in our discussions with African universities and African colleagues in research is that institutional problems and issues to do with buildings, salaries of staff and so on are for African Governments, African Ministries of Education and African universities. It is on the organisational side that we think DFID is devoting a lot of effort, and, similarly, we are very interested in the right sorts of framework for collaboration in research among academics and universities in the UK and universities in Africa and other parts of the world. That has been our focus, and we share its interest in that.
If you go back to 2005 with the Commission for Africa and NEPAD saying, "African solutions to African problems", what does that mean in practice in African universities generating and supporting research cultures in disciplines and subject areas of work? What is the right sort of relationship for us in the north in supporting their endeavours in the south? It is very much a matter of trying to explore south-south collaboration and how north-south-south works in the future. That is very much what we have been concerned with in developing with African colleagues the Nairobi report, focusing on governance in African universities, networks and partnerships, where we have put in our own efforts, and in early career researchers, because that is a particular problem many African universities face. It is not only Africa; we face the same issues.
Q6 Stephen Mosley: Within the written evidence we have received there was a suggestion that DFID tends to focus on the large-scale projects and the learned societies tend to go for the more flexible, smaller-scale approach. Is that a fair reflection, and do you think that is the right way we should be doing things?
Dr Taylor: It is certainly my perception of DFID, and it is absolutely true that we do small-scale things because that is all we can afford to do. We are also highly dependent on volunteers to do it, so asking them to do more and more becomes really difficult. This comment is not official; it is just from conversations with people from DFID. I feel as though there is a gap or something missing. We can do things at around the £10,000 level, which, if you include volunteers’ time, is significant but is very small beer. My impression is that DFID is interested in funding things at the £1 million level, and somewhere in between at the £100,000 level there are things for which not just the Institute of Physics but the learned society community as a whole could gear up, but that sort of level is missing. It feels as if there is a gap that we cannot access, and there is a possibility-although I would say this, wouldn’t I?-that we could add real value for still relatively small sums of money, but it would be a significant upgrade of what we do.
Professor Souhami: I share that view. I preface it by saying that the view of the academy and its fellowship is that things have greatly progressed with DFID. The efforts it is making in thinking about what capacity building is and how to develop support for it have greatly improved. Engagement with our academy, for example, is very good; we have no problem at all. The fellowship as a whole was asked how it felt about the question you pose: what is the balance? Clearly, large-scale programmes are necessary. Capacity building is not something that starts in one year and ends a couple of years later; we are talking about long-term developments, so structures have to be over a longer period. When asked about that balance, there was a regret that it had shifted largely to the exclusion of a smaller programme-funding mechanism, whereby people could apply for particular programmes that might contain capacity building with DFID, subject to the usual mechanisms of peer review. Those programmes existed up until about 2000-02 but no longer exist. The question we raised in our written submission was whether or not that should now be looked at again. Of course, it is a question of resource.
Q7 Stephen Mosley: Is that the competitive grants programme you talked about in your evidence?
Professor Souhami: That is exactly right-the reinstatement of that. There is a difficulty for DFID with that. I do not want to speak for DFID, but, in order to do that, you have to have the facilities, wherewithal and expertise to do that kind of stuff, like the MRC, Wellcome and so on have. That requires personnel and expertise. It may be that, if DFID wanted to go down that path to try to reinstate those sorts of programmes, it would need at least to outsource some of the expertise, perhaps with DFID in control but some of the expertise being provided from outside. That is available in biomedical science and, I imagine, other kinds of science too, though I cannot speak for them. The short answer to your question is that, yes, there is a kind of imbalance, which does not mean one should throw away the longer-term funding but simply that one needs to revisit whether there is a place in this for smaller shorter-term funding.
Professor Guthrie: I would echo some of those points. I just make the point that "large-scale" does not equal "long-term". There are a lot of large-scale projects that are nothing like long enough in being able to get the infusion of the learning and development from the physical project into the society in which they are being introduced. We make the point, which has been made a hundred times before, that an awful lot of engineering projects are critically damaged in their lifetime by poor maintenance, because there is a disconnect between what is provided and the ability of the society, institutions and country to which you are introducing them to understand and maintain what is being delivered.
We come from a culture where you do everything to reduce the amount of labour because it is expensive and awkward, and in many developing countries labour is abundant, able and cheap. In many cases it would require a complete redesign of the way in which you deliver engineering infrastructure. This is not new. Thirty years ago I was involved in labour-based works in Africa. The World Bank was very enthusiastic, but the management of those programmes is very management-intensive back at base, and, with DFID facing cuts in HQ, it will be driven more and more towards large amounts of money spent on fewer programmes so that it can disburse the target expenditure efficiently rather than having to micro-manage a whole lot of perhaps more appropriate programmes.
You may have been involved in the report on "DFID’s Role in Building Infrastructure in Developing Countries", which was conducted as a parliamentary exercise last year. It made the point that DFID spends nearly £1 billion a year on infrastructure, half of which it spends direct. It is interesting that the measurement is what is spent rather than what is gained from that expenditure. In terms of value for money, you can get very high returns from small-scale projects and small interventions, perhaps reproduced on a viral basis, but these take a lot of management. Certainly, over the last 15 years DFID’s in-house engineering capacity has declined; it no longer has a chief engineer. The role of the most senior engineering adviser has just been taken down a grade. So the ability of DFID regionally and centrally to assess the contribution that engineering would make to the delivery of any number of development projects is being diminished. There have been calls, which we would echo, to find ways to increase that capacity.
Q8 Chair: Can I pursue that point as to where the expertise is? If we asked the embassy in Ethiopia where co-ordination for the African Union is undertaken, are you telling us there is not a senior engineer on the staff there? Is it that bad?
Professor Guthrie: I do not know specifically about Ethiopia, but I can assure you that there is not even a universal presence of engineering expertise in the country offices of DFID. When it is devising its country programmes in partnership with the countries to which it is delivering aid, it certainly does not have in all cases an engineering expert in-house who can advise on how an engineering contribution would enhance the way delivery was made.
Q9 Chair: How does DFID get its information?
Professor Guthrie: It has 600 engineering advisers-I cannot remember what they are called-or an expert advisory panel or external advisers. Of course there are hundreds of those, but you need capability in-house to know what question to ask before you know who to go and ask. There is no shortage of engineers who can give it advice, but it may be there is a need to return to a higher level of technical awareness inside DFID, funded through some mechanism. The arrival of Chris Whitty and the way the role of the chief scientific adviser has been crafted around his arrival is very encouraging in this respect. He is devoted to the notion of evidence-based policymaking. To gather evidence in the engineering field he will need access to more engineers. I do not think we have a particular view on whether those engineers should be internal or external to DFID, but they need to be available at the time development programmes are being formulated, not just at the time at which, having been formulated, they are being designed for delivery.
Q10 Stephen Mosley: Professor Furniss, in the British Academy evidence you say that the application process for applying for schemes and grants could be simplified, and it has earned criticism for being vastly over-complex and so on. Can you outline some of the disadvantages that you see in the current system, and how you think it could be improved in future?
Professor Furniss: We in the academy have been running an international partnership and mobility scheme. One of the issues that we looked at was the degree to which our application system had disincentives: for example, rigidity of time frames; electronic access, even from countries where that was problematic and there was not the required bandwidth for all of the interchanges that have to take place if you are attempting to coordinate, say, Uganda, Nigeria, the Philippines and the UK; requirements for endorsement from institutions and other organisations in any application; and the time scale for that. We take for granted the high-speed internet access we have available here-or we have occasionally. What are the problems encountered in Nigeria and Uganda? We are looking at that to see whether we are unnecessarily providing disincentives.
I am sure that within DFID’s own monitoring and evaluation systems it will be looking at its application procedures. The suggestion we make, which is not one of major significance, is that it would be useful for DFID to look at its own two-stage mechanisms and electronic access, particularly where it is looking to ensure that there is a multiplicity of partners in a large application, to ensure there are not disincentives within that framework for emerging groups and institutions to participate in the application process. That is the point we would make.
To come back to your earlier point, from our point of view, we are aware that DFID is under pressure in terms of its administrative costs. It would be a shame if that produced a move where very large-scale applications predominated more because, in the light of what my colleagues have been saying, we think that, if you have more £200,000-type framework projects, you have a diversity of opinion available to you in terms of what development means and how it should be conducted. I think that variety of perspectives in the input to the research is important. As a general comment, we also think that, in terms of the capacity of emerging institutions in Africa and elsewhere, it is easier to put together a coherent project at the £200,000 level as against the £1 million, £2 million or £5 million level. That is a general comment that we would make.
Q11 Pamela Nash: Dr Taylor, the submission of the Institute of Physics included a reference to the western model of "big science". Can you expand a little more on what that means? Do you think this could be easily transferable to developing countries? If not, can you suggest an alternative model? I would then ask your colleagues to comment on that.
Dr Taylor: I have been involved for a few years with a group of other learned societies with an interest in development activities, just comparing notes and trying to learn a bit from one another’s experience. About two years ago we had a meeting where this floated to the top, partly because people had been reading various papers. We all felt there was a tendency for big projects, in particular, to try to pick up structures and types of facility that worked in our environment and drop them down in the country where the aid was being delivered. We felt that was not necessarily the best way of using resources and that there was an alternative approach, which could at least be run in parallel, to support networks of people in the developing country who had their own view of what would work and what was required. I suppose that at that point a little light went on in our heads and we thought that here was a network of scientists trying to work out how best to operate together, which sounded just like the learned society model. It felt to us that this was the kind of model we were all operating and that some of the things we had learned over many years, such as publishing research, organising conferences and events and providing continuous professional development for our members, would be useful to networks in the developing world.
Following that, we invited African physical societies to come to a meeting in Cape Town, which was an amazing experience. People came from countries like Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Cameroon. They were representing very small groups of people but were interested in developing what they could do for their small groups of members. It felt to me that that was a model with which we could do more. That is what we have been trying to do in a small way, but what we can do is limited. For example, we hosted someone from the Southern African Physical Society who wanted to spend a few weeks with us to learn the things we did and decide whether he wanted to import some of those into what they were doing. We would love to do more of that, but it depends on us and the African societies having the resources to do it.
Q12 Pamela Nash: You have identified some structural measures you are currently using here that are transportable to developing countries. In what way can we amend them and help to bring a local and cultural context to those measures and to the learned societies in the countries in which we are working?
Dr Taylor: The only thing we can do is keep talking to our partner societies. It would be silly of me to say that I know what they need; I certainly do not. They do; they have a very clear picture. They gave us a wish list, some of which we have managed to do and some of which we have not. I would love to be able to deliver more of that wish list.
Q13 Pamela Nash: Does anyone else on the panel have experience of working with other societies and trying to build networks in developing countries?
Professor Souhami: Yes. Your original question was about large-scale science and that kind of model. To some extent it depends on what it is you are trying to achieve in biomedicine and biomedical research. If you take the problem of malaria, for example, there is no getting away from the fact that that requires large-scale science. It will not be cracked in any meaningful way unless there is science that is not just via African networks of science but input through northern science as well. It is not possible to imagine certain problems being tackled seriously across many nations in, say, subSaharan Africa, because malaria is not confined to particular boundaries, and similarly for other problems to do with other infectious or nutritional diseases. Large-scale science of that kind is essential, but the issue then is what the relative roles are of the local science compared with northern partners. That is where partnerships, infrastructure and capacity building become incredibly important, because you cannot imagine a situation where these problems will go away in five or 10 years. New problems will emerge all the time, so you have to have a strongly developed local infrastructure based on south-south partnerships with northern input, as well as north-south partnerships. Of course, that is what southern partners want; they also want to be part of that process. But it then requires, when DFID joins in, a clear understanding of who will be the partners in funding those schemes, how they will be set up and monitored, run and evaluated, and what the training results will be that come out of it.
There is no getting away from large-scale science in some circumstances. There are other problems that are local individual interests and good scientists thinking of a problem out of their own heads that need to be encouraged and developed. That, of course, is the case. Then what you need is not interference, as it were, from outside but help to establish the climate and culture in which those kinds of scientists can progress and make success.
Q14 Pamela Nash: In that case, do you think that DFID still has a role in encouraging and supporting south-south partnerships?
Professor Souhami: Yes, and there are some very good examples of that. There is a programme which may be alluded to in our evidence; I do not know. Its full title is the "PRogramme for Improving Mental health carE". It is a research programme consortium led by the Centre of Public Mental Health in the University of Cape Town, South Africa, with other African partners. That is funded by DFID, so it is actually doing this. Mental health is a really under-researched area in many developing countries. That is an example where, if you like, DFID can join in in developing programmes that are applicable across more than one national boundary.
Professor Furniss: In relation to the humanities and social sciences, in a sense we do not operate in the mega-frameworks of hard science research, but we have seen very important developments. DFID has been funding a partnership for African social and governance research based in Nairobi, which is linking up social science training in eastern Africa, particularly in Kenyan and Ugandan universities. In a sense, one of the particular takes that we from the academy have is that we are particularly interested in supporting the development of research cultures and training in particular disciplines. In other words, if you take political science and economics, there is already a long-standing economics research consortium in east Africa that has been training people for many years. That is the kind of model that we think is very important. Departments of, say, linguistics, or, from our point of view, political science, history, sociology-whatever it is-in a variety of African countries, as they link up with one another, are able to link up with similar networks in this country.
In the UK, universities are competitive institutions fighting one another in groups and singly; they are not the most natural frameworks for collaboration at the level of the discipline or subject. The academies represent, broadly speaking, the interests of history-or, indeed, the hard sciences or engineering-across the universities in this country. From the academies’ point of view the focus is upon the development of research cultures, particularly for early career researchers in African universities, because we work from the premise that the future of the study of Africa in this country in the main has to be done in collaboration with work going on in Africa on Africa. It is that linking up that we think is of paramount importance for the next 20, 30 or 50 years.
Professor Guthrie: In the sphere of engineering the Africa-UK Partnership, which is in our evidence, is doing exactly what you are asking for. It is not looking in the scientific research area but the institutional area to support the creation of African institutions of engineers to provide standard-setting qualification of different grades of membership, the protection of society through these standards, some sort of control mechanisms and so on. We had a meeting in March last year in South Africa, and another meeting in October last year in Zimbabwe. It is extremely heartening to see that even individual engineers from some countries had made the effort, at their own expense, to come to these meetings, feeling that there was a desperate need for an institutional framework within which engineers could operate in their countries. The South African Institution of Civil Engineering is well established; SAICE has been around for a long time, and the same goes for Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria. But there are many other countries in Africa where there is no institutional framework for the qualification of engineers and national needs of engineering capability. The Africa-UK Partnership is incredibly important, and it is the sort of thing in which we would see DFID playing an important role.
Q15 Pamela Nash: While we would recognise that it is incredibly useful for developing countries often to send their graduates overseas-my experience is that it is something of which often Governments are extremely proud-we have to recognise that those countries are suffering due to a lack of qualified researchers and professionals in their own countries. What more do you think can be done to prevent a brain drain, not just preventing them leaving in the first place but to make the skills they learn when they visit and work in developed countries transferable to their home countries?
Professor Guthrie: This brain drain is very difficult territory. We have been draining our brains around the world for an awfully long time and benefiting hugely from it. To impose some sort of restrictions on people from developing countries who obtain qualifications and to confine them somehow to their own countries is probably not the way to go. You have to wait for a situation where the environment in which they would be encouraged to operate in their own country is sufficiently attractive.
Obviously, DFID has a crucial role to play in this because, with the disbursement of such a large budget in these countries, it has the opportunity to put a much higher priority on the development of skills and to make longer-term commitments to projects so that they can have some kind of influence over something other than those projects. In a three-year project you cannot develop skills; you can just do the business and get out. You have to take a 10-year view so that you can allow the training and development of individuals in those programmes to make a significant contribution to development in that country. It is only by doing more development of people in those countries that you will get to a position where there is a sufficiently buoyant and attractive environment for them to be retained. But there would be other opportunities. DFID could, for example, insist that there were certain levels of local representation in the firms delivering engineering projects in country. Therefore, it would insist on foreign firms making sure that they tapped into the maximum level of local talent.
Professor Souhami: I would like to echo those remarks. Of course, if you are a bright scientist and have been trained in a good place outside your own country, you will not want to go back and do mediocre science, or you will be frustrated by what you find when you get back there. That is a real problem. If you want to build science capacity, you have to build the kinds of structures that are attractive to intelligent, dynamic and productive people to go back to. As my colleague pointed out, we have had that problem in the UK for some time, so it is nothing new here, but it is possible to do it.
I will give you two examples. I am not sure whether you will be taking evidence from the Wellcome Foundation, but the Wellcome Trust African Institutions Initiative is exactly that; it is an investment entirely in building the infrastructure necessary to support young researchers-not to fund young researchers-across a network of African institutions in the kind of informatics they need, the ability to apply for research grants, and the financial and administrative help they need. That is all the stuff you would take for granted in a modern scientific environment. That requires money and resource, and of course DFID will want to play a part in that. Capacity building or the brain drain to which you allude is not just a question of giving people some money to go back home; it is a question of what they go back home to.
Having said that, it is useful to give people money to go back home because they need salaries and want to feel that they can have a certain standard of living when they get back, so there is a question there. In biomedical science-I do not know whether it is the same in other areas of science or in the humanities-that is a particular problem at the postdoctoral level. While there are lots of PhD programmes that work well, if you have a bright PhD student who has done a good thesis, what then? How is that postdoctoral going to go from one postdoc to two postdocs and elect the kinds of things that a scientist would want to do and a bright scientist would see applies in other countries? That does require money to be invested in individuals as well as the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Dr Taylor: We talked about this with our African colleagues in the context of whether we should try to facilitate exchanges to bring younger researchers to the UK. They were saying no because of this worry. They would prefer older researchers from the UK to spend a reasonable period of time, such as a year, in an African university and spin out their expertise in that way, but they were concerned about the risk of going in the opposite direction.
Q16 Roger Williams: In 2004 a previous Science and Technology Committee doing a report on DFID noted that there was a lack of scientific culture and in-house expertise in science and research. As a result of that report, hopefully, there was the appointment of a chief scientific officer for the Department. Do you think that has led to an improved scientific culture in DFID? Have you or your organisations had any contact with the chief scientific adviser, and how has that worked out?
Professor Guthrie: I was part of the Government Office for Science "Assurance Review of Science and Engineering" in DFID, so I have had direct contact with Chris Whitty as a result. It is true that the 2004 report led to exactly the outcome you describe, which is very welcome. Chris Whitty’s arrival and the way he has been given a research budget under his control, rather than CSAs in some Departments being budget-free and having very much an advisory role, is very welcome. It will probably take a bit of time for the science culture, which I am sure Chris Whitty is looking to introduce, to be brought into DFID.
Professor Souhami: I think he has done a good job and we have close contact with him. He came to talk at our conference, for example, and gave a very good talk about how it all works. The feeling of the fellowship was unanimous when we canvassed on this point before writing the report that this had greatly improved.
Professor Furniss: We have had extensive discussions with Chris Whitty and his colleagues about the direction of our thinking. The exchange of discussion with him has been very useful indeed.
Q17 Roger Williams: It seems that it is a good report. By one of those sublime coincidences, just as we are doing this, the Secretary of State and Ministers in DFID are preparing to answer questions in the House of Commons. I have just had a look at the Order Paper and there is nothing about building scientific capacity in developing countries on it. That leads me to the question whether you think there is sufficient acknowledgment of capacity building in DFID’s strategy.
Professor Guthrie: People like us will probably never be satisfied with the degree to which science is being taken into policy and the development of capacity, but it is pretty clear that there is not sufficient attention being paid to that. DFID is subject to the political process and its priorities change over time. When I was a young engineer, DFID was spending a high percentage of its money on physical infrastructure. Not all of those projects were a huge success because they were largely imposed and, in the main, took little account of the degree to which maintenance and operation had to be integral to the design of the project. Therefore, a move away from that kind of delivery of physical stuff to improved outcomes, budget support, aid through cash and all those new trends means that it will be quite a challenge to bring science and capacity building back into the heart of DFID delivery; it is a big task.
Dr Taylor: When we were looking at DFID literature in putting together this evidence, it seemed to us that it was not explicitly stated as an objective, and it would be very helpful, even just as a reminder, if that was the case.
Professor Furniss: As a personal view rather than perhaps the academy’s, one of the things many African colleagues have discussed with us in the whole Nairobi report and the discussion on Foundations for the Future is not related specifically to the problem with DFID, but they want the research capacity and cultures to be integrated into their own research institutes and universities. A consultancy culture-I am not talking here necessarily about DFID-basically has hunted round universities for the last 20 years to pick out good researchers and said, "We won’t give this project money to your university. We want you to found a consultancy company with your wife and best friend. You do the research for us and we will strip out research capacity." It is not simply a matter of brain drain; it is taking it out of the research cultures in institutions and into private consultancy work. That has been detrimental to the very important issue of building long-term capacity within proper educational structures in African countries.
Professor Guthrie: There is an opportunity for UKCDS, which coordinates research, to have a higher profile, and also an opportunity for EPSRC-the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-to pay more attention perhaps to the international dimension of engineering and physical sciences research.
Q18 Roger Williams: Professor Guthrie, you said there has been a move away from providing infrastructure as a means of delivering DFID policy. Have you had any discussions with DFID about that and re-establishing infrastructure as a key component of DFID policy?
Professor Guthrie: Yes. My most recent opportunity for that was through the Government Office for Science Review. I would accept the position it often takes, which is that just delivering individual infrastructure projects, like a major road or piece of water or energy infrastructure, is not necessarily delivering against the objectives of what DFID is trying to do. But the consequence is that you need to get into a more intimate relationship with what development means, even if you stick with the Millennium Development Goals.
The provision of simple infrastructure is an essential prerequisite for maternal health, dealing with communicable diseases and so on. It may be that we have more to do in understanding that water security, for example, does not depend on building large hydro power or hydro retention schemes but may result in very much more widespread small-scale projects, such as drip irrigation, small-scale water retaining structures, or village level interventions, which are much more difficult to measure and police and to demonstrate that you are getting a really good return, whereas if you have a big project you can police it very easily. But I think that the understanding of development and the delivery of DFID’s objectives is likely to be pushed increasingly in that direction. The role of science, evidence and engineering at an appropriate scale is critical to being able to deliver against those, rather than just measuring the amount of money that is being spent. We welcome the value for money impact committee-I cannot remember what it is called-that has just been set up.
Q19 Roger Williams: I am sure my colleagues agree that people do not come to our surgeries saying it is a disgrace that the Government are not building up scientific capacity in developing countries. They do come and say it is a disgrace that people are hungry, malnourished and lack clean water. It is a heck of a difficult thing for DFID when it has those kinds of pressures, is it not?
Professor Guthrie: Yes, but the point is that, if they were concerned about the fact people did not have access to clean water, it may be that the projects that have been delivered over the last 15 years, which may now have a rather poor record for enduring delivery of clean water because the wells have broken down, the technology is too sophisticated, or the maintenance was not thought about sufficiently when the project was being designed, would be very much at the top of people’s minds. Value for money is not about whether it was delivered as stated at the end of the project but whether it has had an enduring benefit, and it has reproducibility and scalability for the country itself to be able to take it on as a responsibility itself.
Dr Taylor: It is a really interesting comment that there is always pressure to deal with the big urgent issues and somehow, not just in that area but in this as well, you need to carve out that little bit of support for the continuing capacity building element and run the two in parallel. But I can totally see that in political terms it is difficult.
Professor Souhami: But in the case of biomedical sciences-I can speak only for that-there is clear evidence that DFID is actively engaged in capacity building, not just on its own but in partnership with other major funders like Wellcome. The Consortium for National Health Research in Kenya is funded entirely by Wellcome and DFID. That is an example of getting two big funders together to do something highly focused to develop infrastructure, in this case in health research. I am not in a position, I think, like the rest of us, to judge how far that goes right through the whole of DFID’s programme, but there is no doubt that Chris Whitty himself is fully aware of this in biomedicine, and programmes have been established which are rather good examples of the kinds of things he might achieve not just by DFID alone but in collaboration with others.
Q20 Stephen Mosley: Professor Guthrie, on collaboration you mentioned UKCDS. Could I ask each of you how much involvement you have with UKCDS as an institute? How much of an impact do you feel UKCDS has had, and do you see any way of improving it?
Professor Guthrie: Personally, I have had limited exposure to UKCDS, but the meetings I have attended have been very positive and to that point have been a unique combination of the people in the room talking about capacity building in science in developing countries. UKCDS is very small; it has a very limited budget. I think it is very good value for money. I am sure it could do more and it is possible to think of ways in which it could be more effective, but, as a clearing house for bringing together the different parties with a view to an international focus, it is doing a very good job.
Professor Furniss: Our experience has been that we have worked with it and very much appreciate the need to ensure that funders talk to one another all the time about what other people are thinking of doing and proposing to fund to ensure that these things are complementary rather than duplicating or competing. I think that is a very important function.
Dr Taylor: I echo those positive comments. I have talked to UKCDS in the context of our learned societies group. It has been very helpful and positive and put our stuff on its website, but my feeling is that it is more focused on Government, public sector and national academy efforts. If it was possible for it to expand the range of people it brings under its umbrella to include wider groups like ours, it would be great.
Professor Souhami: The Academy of Medical Sciences is not a member of the Collaborative on Development Science. However, in preparing for this session we asked quite a lot of our fellows who do know people who are on it-it is a small world-and they spoke about it very positively, but the academy as a whole does not have a view about UKCDS.
Q21 Stephen Metcalfe: I want to turn to how you and DFID measure success and the impact it has. Do you believe that the general research community is aware of how in particular DFID measures success and its methodology, and how you as institutions and organisations measure success?
Professor Furniss: This is a difficult question. We are not entirely clear how monitoring and evaluation works within DFID and we would very much like to know more about it. We are very familiar with outcome measuring; in other words, you fund something for two years. If you say it will produce x, you see whether it did and the degree of its success. That is short-term outcome measuring. You can look at the process of allocating the money and value for money issues. We are interested in long-term effects.
Let us say that at a certain point in time all the senior professors of a university department in this country go off to the States and so it goes into a dip. For that department to recover its reputation, research culture and rebuild a new set of directions is approximately a 20-year cycle. If your long-term aims are related to early career researchers and their trajectories into success and driving a new generation of scholars emerging into the international world of research, you cannot do it on a one-year-and-six-months or two-year cycle; you are looking at long-term investments and effects. That is a difficult issue for us.
You can do spot checks along the way, and organisations like the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission do things like that in terms of their alumni; universities do it in terms of their own alumni, obviously. But, where you have put in a particular effort and amount of money over a five to six-year period and you are expecting the results to emerge in 15 to 20 years’ time, how do you plan that as an evaluation and monitoring exercise? In a sense, we have a question that we consider and think about. It would be very interesting to know a little more about how DFID runs its evaluation and monitoring-not simply in the short term but for these long-term considerations, if it is doing so.
Professor Guthrie: I feel as though I have done nothing but whinge about DFID. I should say that DFID probably leads the international community in its monitoring and evaluation and attitude to international development. An awful lot of international development agencies see DFID as a thought leader in the area and have done so for a decade. Against that background, you can probably say that of course its monitoring and evaluation could be better, as you could say about the World Bank. It has recently undertaken some reviews such as the Relief and Reconstruction Review, and the HERR report was an outstanding piece of work and highlighted where policy could be amended to become more effective. There are some shining examples where DFID has got its M and E really well sorted out. Maybe on individual projects it could be more critical and could take a longer-term perspective-I have been doing some research recently-looking at not just the long-term durability and endurance of its development assistance but also its physical diffusion outside a project area. There is more it could look at in that area.
Professor Souhami: I echo much of what has been said. It is not an easy issue. It is easy to say "monitoring and evaluation", but, as you can hear, it is not an easy issue because of the different time scales for different kinds of outcomes. We know DFID is well aware of the importance of monitoring and evaluation. The problem is that it is quite a specialised area of investigation to do it properly. There is a considerable shortage both in this country and elsewhere of people who really know how to do this stuff and not get a lot of biases, false information and wrong conclusions. It is something that needs to be developed, and DFID could certainly take a major part in helping universities and other funding agencies-MRC, Wellcome and so on-in developing further the criteria for evaluation.
The more that funding goes into complex networks of science and infrastructure development between multiple nations both in the north and the south-south-south networks with northern input, and north-south networks-the more evaluation and monitoring will mean different things to different people, with different priorities for what kinds of outcomes people want. One of the points to emerge strongly from the conference to which I alluded was that everybody felt that at the start of any major programme like this there ought to be, at least in principle, some agreement among the partners on what outcome measurements would be valuable for them. When you start off, before you spend the money, you try to agree how that will work. It will not be perfect-of course it will not be perfect-but you cannot suddenly bolt on monitoring and evaluation afterwards. The criteria by which things are evaluated have political, social and economic dimensions, which need to be agreed, at least in broad principle, before the money is spent.
Dr Taylor: I cannot add anything on what DFID does. I will just say what we do for small projects, which is very simple. We check numbers and feedback from the participants. Anything we do will be a drop in the ocean many years down the road if you try to measure the impact, say, in national terms. I think it is beyond what we can do.
Q22 Stephen Metcalfe: From the answers you have given, I get the sense that there is not a great deal of interaction with DFID on this. It is not feeding back to you what it has learned from its monitoring and evaluation, and you do not get an opportunity to feed back to DFID what you have learned from projects you have undertaken. Is that right?
Professor Guthrie: I think that is a bit unfair. The Royal Academy per se does not undertake projects that would be relevant directly to DFID, although Engineers Against Poverty does. DFID is busy. If DFID makes that stuff publicly available, it is a duty on us to find it rather than for it to come and find us and tell us how it is doing.
Professor Souhami: You also come back to the question of capacity here within DFID for this stuff and the question I raised right at the very beginning about the importance of collaborating with people who have expertise and can help you with this. But I am quite sure that Chris Whitty is aware of that, at least in so far as I can speak for biomedicine. It is something that is only just beginning. In the networks as they are beginning, which is a rather recent development, the question of evaluation and monitoring and what form and structure that should have has to be considered. Everyone will be starting to learn how to do this stuff and to make it appropriate. But, if you want to know the academy’s position on whether you should do it, the answer is yes, of course you should do it, but to do it properly requires quite a lot of thought, time and effort.
Dr Taylor: We as a group of learned societies organised a training day to look at launching an evaluation to help us with what was appropriate for our projects. It would be really nice if maybe DFID or UKCDS-I am not necessarily saying they should pay for it-could organise that kind of training on a wider basis.
Q23 Stephen Metcalfe: Dr Taylor, I think you expressed some views about the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and feeding into it input from the scientific community. How do you imagine that could be best achieved?
Dr Taylor: This is one of those things that I came across only in putting together this evidence, but it is obviously an influential body and looks wider, as I understand it, but primarily at DFID and also across aid from other Government Departments. It is a great idea. There is a chief commissioner and currently a small board of three supporting commissioners. They all come from accounting, legal or economics backgrounds. It seems to me that, if we believe science and engineering is an important part of DFID’s development work, which I am sure we all do, it would be nice if one of those commissioners came from a science or engineering background.
Chair: It has been a fascinating start to our inquiry. Thank you very much for your evidence.