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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 174 3 -i i i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Committee
SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Wednesday 22 FEBRUARY 2012
DR JO BEALL, DR ANDRÉE CARTER, SIR MARK WALPORT and john young
Evidence heard in Public Questions 56 - 84
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 22 February 2012
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society, British Council, Dr Andrée Carter, Director, UK Collaborative on Development Sciences, Sir Mark Walport, Director, Wellcome Trust, and John Young, Director of Impact Assessment, Partnerships and Head of the RAPID Programme, Overseas Development Institute, gave evidence.
Q56 Chair: Good morning. I welcome the panel of witnesses this morning. In a moment I will ask you formally to introduce yourselves. There are a number of visitors in the gallery who are here as part of a civil service course. They will be walking out shortly, so when they all have to get up to go do not feel it is anything any one of you has said. Perhaps the four of you would introduce yourselves.
Dr Carter: I am Dr Andrée Carter, Director of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences, which comprises seven Government Departments, five UK research councils and the Wellcome Trust.
John Young: My name is John Young. I am Director of Impact Assessment, Partnerships and the Research and Policy and Development programme in ODI.
Sir Mark Walport: I am Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.
Dr Beall: I am Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society for the British Council.
Q57 Chair: Thank you very much. Sir Mark, I understand that you have a flight to catch. If you get twitchy, I will understand.
Sir Mark Walport: Thank you. It is a bit of capacity development in India.
Q58 Chair: We have certain powers here, but stopping flights for your convenience we cannot do. In the evidence of the British Council to us they said DFID work with the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences. Has the coordination of UK research funding for international development improved since the formation of that body? You would say yes, Dr Carter.
Dr Carter: I can say yes but in a very qualified way. I am in the lucky position that we have just carried out an evaluation that was required five years after establishment. It has not been published yet, but it is reporting to our board in March. In a web survey, which looked at the opinion of 71 people, 90% said there had been increased communication on science for development, and 75% to 80%, depending on the stakeholder base, thought that coordination and the number of collaborative activities had increased. Overall, more than 90% wished the activity to continue. I can make this report available to the Committee.
Chair: That would be very helpful.
John Young: I cannot comment on this.
Sir Mark Walport: I can comment. I was involved in the formation of the UKCDS. I think it has improved both coordination and collaboration. It provides a forum for people to meet. From the perspective of the Wellcome Trust, we were already able to make collaborations with the Medical Research Council and DFID, but it has been good in bringing together interdisciplinary information.
Dr Beall: The British Council thinks that the co-ordination effort is important, and the Research Capacity Strengthening Group on which we sit has played an important role in information sharing both within Britain and internationally.
Q59 Chair: How effective is the Research Capacity Strengthening Group? Is there perhaps a need for a better and more formal channel between it and DFID?
Dr Beall: We find the network basis quite useful. I am not sure that greater formality would help. More could be done in relation to raising awareness in UK universities about work in low and middle income countries and to connect to those institutions. To that extent, if DFID can play a more formalised role there, it would be useful.
Sir Mark Walport: I would make a general comment about capacity development because it is one of the most important activities to which DFID can contribute. Ultimately, everyone talks about sustainability, and sustainability comes through capacity. The question then is what the definition of "capacity" is. It is everything from people to the infrastructure that enables people to operate, so it is an immensely important activity. DFID is on a very positive trajectory, though there is no limit to what can and indeed should be done.
John Young: If I may make another general comment, strengthening research capacity is just part of what needs to be done if you are looking for more evidence-based policy making in developing countries. You also need to strengthen the capacity of developing country policy makers and programme managers to make use of research-based evidence. You also need to strengthen the capacity of all the intermediary groups responsible for getting the research-based evidence into the policy process. To focus on just one dimension will not achieve very much.
Dr Carter: To comment on the group itself, my colleague Kate O’Shea runs this group very successfully. Its strength is that it is informal, in that people have built up trust and can say things to one another in that group almost in a Chatham House environment. There is a big focus on success, and, if failure is apparent and people are able to discuss and learn from it, that is an important environment for them to work in.
Q60 Chair: There are other cross-Whitehall groups, such as the Global Science and Innovation Forum, in science capacity building. How does that body and UKCDS work together?
Dr Carter: The Research Capacity Strengthening Group originated because a GSIF Africa group came out of Gleneagles. That had largely stopped meeting, and UKCDS with its new remit decided that it would pick up the agenda. The group has been meeting since 2008, but there has not been a formal process for reporting into GSIF. UKCDS is not a member of GSIF, but in the last three to four months we have had greater engagement, initially through John Beddington’s interest, and we are to present a paper at the next GSIF meeting. A number of the UKCDS members sit on the GSIF group and are able to report in. I do not think they have looked at development and science for development as a priority in the past.
Dr Beall: Our experience is that having a strong DFID involvement in GSIF is important, because DFID’s focus on development brings to the table an understanding of the institutional and environmental conditions that condition the development of science in developing countries.
Q61 Stephen Metcalfe: Obviously, capacity building is vital to this, but should that focus on any particular area-perhaps innovation in developing countries? Do you think that should be a priority?
Sir Mark Walport: I agree with John Young that, if you are to have effective capacity building, you have to look at the whole ecosystem. From the perspective of the Wellcome Trust, capacity building is one of the major activities we undertake, and we support scientists through fellowships. But you achieve the full value of that only if there are institutions that can support well-trained investigators and, equally in the policy environment if, say, in the case of health you have a Ministry of Health that is capable of taking up and using evidence.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to highlight that we have some important partnerships with DFID. We have something that goes under the acronym HRCS-the Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative. That is a £20 million partnership, with £10 million from us and £10 million from DFID. In a sense, it is an experiment; it is an attempt to set up local funding agencies in Kenya and Malawi. If you look at capacity development there, part of it is training and developing the capacity in those countries for grant-awarding to be done by their own institutions. One has to be very careful to look broadly at capacity building.
We have another institutional capacity building initiative on our own in Africa, because we recognise that the training of scientists from, say, Malawi, who end up working in the United States, Europe, India or China is clearly a success for those individuals. There is nothing wrong with that, but, equally, if the home country is to benefit, they need institutions in which they can work. That is a £30 million initiative that supports seven networks of approximately 50 institutions in Africa with northern partners. It is very much led from the south where we are trying to build the university capacity, which is still a major issue in many African countries. You must not look at it at too fine-grained a level; it is about building capacity very broadly.
John Young: Perhaps I can tell you about a fantastic AusAID programme that is just about to go forward in Indonesia. It is called the Indonesia Knowledge Strengthening programme, which is designed to strengthen the whole knowledge sector in Indonesia around the aid programmes and themes that AusAID is funding. It is 600 million Australian dollars over 15 years, so it has scale and duration. It plans to work with all the different dimensions. It will support research producers, which it calls the supply side, and work with policy makers and others using the research, which it calls the demand side, and then all the intermediary groups. It is an integrated programme working within the whole context in an integrated way. It is also working on what it calls the enabling environment, which are the policy issues that make it quite difficult for policy makers in Indonesia to make good use of science. For example, it is currently illegal in Indonesia for Government Departments to commission non-Government Departments to do research for them. Until that is solved, the supply side cannot do more of the necessary supply. That is a very good example of a holistic approach; it is the best example I have seen.
Dr Carter: There is an opportunity within the UK to apply our own structures more effectively in this area, particularly in innovation. We have very strong advocates through TSB, the Research into Use programme, KTNs and Knowledge Exchange programmes, but their focus is very much on UK benefit. We are beginning to see a move towards looking at opportunities overseas, particularly in low and middle income countries, but we could do more.
Dr Beall: With respect to innovation, the important thing is that all good things do not go together. Sometimes the research focus is one that promotes innovation; at other times innovation will not be an outcome of capacity building. For example, in the Delphi programme, which we administer on behalf of DFID, the focus is on research that will contribute to meeting the MDGs. A lot of capacity building, both individual and institution to institution, is part of that programme, but I am not sure that innovation will come out of it, whereas other areas of activity, such as our Knowledge Economy Partnerships, very much have linking innovative researchers across international boundaries.
Q62 Stephen Metcalfe: I gather that generally a broad approach is better than a sharp focus and getting involved at too detailed a level, but what should drive the research programmes? Should the research be based on a supply or demand model?
Sir Mark Walport: The answer to that is both. The classic debate in science and research funding is: who asks the question? Is it asked from the top down or the bottom up? It is a slightly false dichotomy. It is a matter of identifying the important questions. There is rarely substantial conflict. If you look at the questions-obviously, the Wellcome Trust is involved in medical research-the issues on the ground in a country like Kenya, Malawi or South Africa are fairly obvious; the problems pose themselves. In South Africa there is a major HIV epidemic; in much of sub-Saharan Africa malaria remains a major problem. These questions pose themselves fairly obviously and one can get into an unnecessary state of anxiety about it.
It is inevitable that the source of the funding will have an influence on the type of questions asked. If it is the Wellcome Trust, we fund medical research. This is a really important issue about partnership. We have been pleased by our partnerships with DFID. Another example of a partnership with DFID is one that brings together the Wellcome Trust, the MRC and DFID for clinical research trials. Who poses the question? Ultimately, it is the investigators who pose the question, but they are asking about diseases where clinical trials need to be done in that part of the world.
Another more general comment is that it is also useful for there to be some skin in the game locally, as it were. There are two examples of partnerships in India where the Wellcome Trust is an equal funder with the Department of Biotechnology. We have a research fellowship scheme in India where we and the Indian Government, through the Department of Biotechnology, each put in £8 million a year. That is very good because it has set up a joint venture in Hyderabad. Fellowships are awarded, and it is absolutely clear that the Indian Government also have a stake in the process. Some countries are better able to afford it than others, but, if you want real ownership, having some local financial involvement is important in partnerships.
John Young: There is another very good example of a programme that is trying to work on both the supply and demand side questions. It is a DFID and NERC-funded programme called Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards. It has two parts-one on volcanoes and one on earthquakes. The one I know about is the latter. In that programme the principle is to try to do innovative scientific research but also work very closely with local organisations and understand the local context so that the questions being researched come up with answers that are immediately and practically useful. There is a lot of engagement with national level policy research and intermediary organisations, and there is a kind of iterative process of identifying the questions in collaboration with those organisations. It will be working in three different countries and the questions will be different in each.
The real problem with programmes like that is, first, the duration. It is a five-year programme. If you are trying to see a direct linkage between any research that that programme does and any outcomes in terms of policy or real changes in that time scale, five years is a very short period. The second matter is value. It is not very much money to do all of those things in all those countries. There is also lack of clarity about the ultimate indicator of success of the programme. Is it in terms of contribution to science and peer review publication, increased resilience on the ground or policy change on the ground? With that kind of uncertainty it is quite difficult to manage a programme like that effectively. A challenge for all programmes that try to bring together supply and demand side drivers is which is the most important, and how that programme is going to be assessed against which outcomes.
Dr Carter: If I may comment on the funders themselves, our experience has been that all of the funders with whom we work are very good at consultation and working with people from the south in terms of opinions, and also across the spectrum in involving NGOs and academics. One particularly useful response of DFID is in terms of research outreach. Their placement of someone in Delhi with the research council’s office has been extremely helpful in feeding local opinion back to London. We have also found the views of the Foreign Office, UKTI and the British Council in country extremely helpful in informing agendas.
Q63 Stephen Metcalfe: You talked about collaboration between Government and research and between the Wellcome Trust and other such organisations. Do you believe that local business and entrepreneurs also have a role in this? If so, who should coordinate their involvement? Should it be DFID or external organisations that are perhaps a little closer on the ground?
Sir Mark Walport: I do not think there is a single right answer to who should coordinate. The issue is that it needs to be well managed. I will give you an example of another partnership in India that involves business. We have an affordable health care initiative that is another partnership worth £45 million: £22.5 million from the Wellcome Trust and £22.5 million, again, from the Department of Biotechnology. That is aimed at supporting technology transfer and development. It is conducting in India an activity similar to that which TSB or the Wellcome Trust technology transfer division would fund in the UK. Therefore, it is taking research and translating it into products for health devices. As to drugs, for example, we are funding a trial of a polypill that is intended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. It is clear that the full range of grant-making activities is important.
You commented earlier on it being unfocused. Each programme needs to have a laser focus, if I may put it that way, but it is just as important that one looks at capacity development across this extremely broad canvas if one is to achieve sustainability. There is no question but that building economic capacity is absolutely vital to development. Ultimately, it is economic activity that will keep a country in a developed state.
Dr Carter: You asked whether it was DFID’s role. Through their Research into Use programme that is the direction in which they are now looking. We have been talking to them specifically about some particularly bright ideas for which business plans might be developed, and that is harvesting from across a spectrum of UK activities. As a pilot, they are now looking at where those profitable enterprises might be developed and provide capacity building, but it is with the local people because we must have sustainability following on.
Q64 Stephen Metcalfe: My final question is about the role of the Technology Strategy Board in developing the Knowledge Transfer Partnership. Dr Beall, were they involved in developing that particular programme?
Dr Beall: Not to my knowledge.
Q65 Stephen Mosley: One of the challenges Mr Young referred to involved the use of science and research in policy making. What more do you think can be done both from the donor side-DFID, Wellcome Trust and so on-and in these countries to increase the use of scientific evidence in policy making?
Sir Mark Walport: One of the challenges is that the UK could be more effectively joined up in its international activities. There are a large number of different bodies. It is clear that, ultimately, if research is to have impact, it needs to be incorporated into industry, health and policy. That does require joined-up working by the British Government as well-for example, the roles of the FCO in terms of the functions of ambassadors and high commissioners, UKTI overseas, DFID and the British Council. There are lots of bodies that operate internationally. Our perspective from operating in India is that that could be more effectively joined up.
Q66 Chair: Is that joining up better in countries where there is an effective science counsellor in post?
Sir Mark Walport: I am not sure that I know the answer to that question, but joining up is all about people working together effectively, and there will be some places where that works better than others. I do not know whether there is any magic formula. Clearly the science network is important. I would highlight the role of the chief scientific advisers. Chris Whitty is doing a splendid job at DFID, and it is very good news that David Clary has been appointed as the first chief scientific adviser in the FCO. Having scientific advisers is good news; it is even better news if the scientific advisers have a high profile within the Departments and are taken seriously. The danger of Government, always, is fragmentation, and we would have more impact if we were less fragmented.
John Young: Even just within DFID, it would be helpful if the often UK-funded research was better joined up with the country programmes. We were involved in a review a few years ago of DFID-funded research in India that was funding a lot of research groups around the country on a whole range of different issues. They were very frustrated because they were coming up with very good ideas and needed help to engage with a policy debate in India with the results of the research. They were frustrated because DFID India were not interested or able to provide the resources to help them do that. They felt they would be able to do that. There is a lack of connectedness within DFID itself, which means that good research-based evidence does not achieve the impact it could achieve.
Dr Carter: It is important to increase demand from policy makers, but it is probably more important to have the information in a form they are able to digest. That is probably where we lack capacity both in the UK and internationally. It is the translation of that highly complex knowledge into instructive advice that is quite difficult.
There is an interesting approach by the Climate Development Knowledge Network, which again is funded by DFID. Funding can be made available to low and middle income countries, but the need has to be articulated by that country’s Government, so it has been led by the policy makers themselves. Inevitably, they are directly involved in the request for both funding and some of the research that goes with that.
Dr Beall: To take India as an example, the British Council has been involved in some of the work there and has experienced and heard similar frustrations from users and researchers. The development of UKIERI-the UK-India Educational Research Initiative-has been an example of gradually building up joined-up working. It involves British Council, UKTI, DFID and, importantly, the Government of India. It is a system-to-system approach that includes scholarships and individual opportunities, but also opportunities for universities and research systems to collaborate and so on. It is joined up from teaching through to research. That has been a matter of hard work, and as much hard work on the UK side in getting a joined-up approach as working across with Indian institutions.
Q67 Stephen Mosley: India has been mentioned several times. It seems to be a good example of where it is working. Is there anywhere where you do not think it is working?
Dr Beall: It is more difficult to reach that same level of joined-up working in China, although I think we are getting there. In part, the focus purely on research, which is the main focus of Chinese institutions and Government, has meant that not all British universities are equally equipped to engage. There have been different challenges in China. Similarly, much more recently in Brazil there has been the development of a science without borders programme in which we are involved with UUK. Currently, we are involved in breaking down the barriers faced initially in India as well, but we feel quite confident that they will be broken down.
Sir Mark Walport: To pick two more Indian examples that I think are extremely important, one is a capacity-building grant that we have with the Public Health Foundation of India. That is a partnership between the PHFI and a series of British universities coordinated by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That brings people across from the Public Health Foundation of India and trains them in the methods of epidemiology and public health. That is hugely important for two reasons: first, it is needed for India; and, secondly, it creates friends from India with the UK public health system, which I think will last us for life. An aspect of capacity building that is often forgotten is that the activity of the UK in training internationally creates very long-term relationships. To some extent we have lost those over the past few years, and I think we lose that at our peril.
Another smaller example of capacity building is a partnership we have with the British Council in India. That is for a competition called Debating Matters, started by the Institute of Ideas in the UK and led by Claire Fox. That is a debating competition in Indian schools. It teaches young people in India to argue-they are quite good at it-which is also immensely important. It is modelled on a competition that is run in the UK. The winning team in the Indian competition competes with the winner of the UK competition, and it is a pretty even fight.
Dr Carter: India and China work well because there are very strongly established scientific communities. There are also multiple interests from the UK, whether it is in terms of trade or diplomacy but also poverty alleviation. In other countries that are perhaps least developed clearly we do not see those kinds of relationships develop. India has worked particularly well because of the RCUK and Science Innovation Network presence, but in many of the countries we are talking about we do not have that type of support and structure. To develop collaborations in a bilateral way is quite difficult without people on the ground.
Q68 Stephen Mosley: Moving off that subject slightly, I will quote some of the evidence we have seen, which is quite interesting: "In the last five years there has been a definite trend towards the major funders … to be very directive, to a degree that is probably not healthy". Sir Mark might be pleased that it goes on to say: "… whereas more mature funders like the Wellcome Trust … don’t do that; they still want it to be largely research-led." Do you think that is a fair criticism not of Wellcome but of DFID and the other organisations that are mentioned?
Sir Mark Walport: As I said before, there is no single right answer. Clearly, an organisation that is totally directive is unlikely to be very successful in capacity building, so I do not think I will rise to the bait of criticising others, but I am delighted that others think the Wellcome Trust does it well.
Dr Beall: Perhaps I may say something in my personal capacity rather than as a representative of the British Council. I was on the development studies panel in a research assessment exercise in 2008. It goes back to the question of innovation. If you want innovative research, very often it comes from the smaller-funded, less-directed research; if you want a big-bang idea or to get a new research agenda going, then the large kinds of DFID consortia work. It depends on what you are after. That might sound like a cop-out, but in making an assessment on the development studies research panel it was obvious where the innovative research and research impact was. There was not always a direct correlation between large-funded programmes and impact and innovation.
Sir Mark Walport: I would make one critical comment. Sometimes there is a debate between vertical programmes, which are intended to channel funds into malaria, HIV or tuberculosis, and more horizontal broader activities. There is a danger of channelling too much money into vertical programmes because, although tuberculosis and HIV are immensely important, there are also a lot of other important activities. You need a good balance between programmes that are highly directed to a particular disease. To give a specific example, there is no point in setting up across Africa a set of vaccine sites dedicated solely to the development of HIV vaccines when there is a need for tuberculosis and malaria vaccines as well, and these sites are capable of being generic in their operation. That is an area one has to watch quite carefully. Where donors or funders have very large directed programmes in one area there is a danger of distortion.
John Young: In addition to whether it is directed or non-directed, there is a question about how it is directed. I think many donors change their minds too frequently and so programmes and the emphasis changes. That has certainly been the case in DFID over the last 10 years. The emphasis on research communications in the second generation of the research programme consortia was very good. We did an evaluation of its impact, which found that it had a major impact on how people went about doing their research. There was much more dialogue with policy makers and practitioners at the beginning of the research process to ensure that the research questions were appropriate, as we were saying earlier on. That seems to be changing within DFID. The more recent research programme consortia are finding it more difficult to get support for those sorts of activities within the RPCs. I think that is linked to the Government-wide moratorium on communications and the very narrow definition of what they mean by communications. That has been interpreted too broadly by DFID to include all that kind of engagement stuff that needs to be done to ensure that the research questions are right. Changing approaches within donors over relatively short time scales is probably more damaging than the focus of the programme in the long term.
Q69 Stephen Mosley: Last month Oxfam and Save the Children produced a report on the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, arguing that sophisticated early warning systems had indicated that there would be a drought and famine and those warnings were not responded to in time. What more could be done to encourage national Governments to respond more effectively to scientific evidence? Are there any lessons that can be learned from that specific example?
Dr Carter: UKCDS also runs a disaster research group, and some of the key stakeholders including NGOs come along to that. The Haiti review by Lord Ashdown led to a science and humanitarian and environmental disasters report being produced by GO Science, which will be available next month. That will look at exactly the questions you are asking here about what the UK national Government can do to be better prepared in working with DFID. There is also a foresight activity, which will report by November, to look at science needs and how better to respond in the future. I think that will be a reaction to exactly those questions raised by the Oxfam report. Perhaps we could send through details of those reports for you.
Chair: That would be very helpful to have.
Sir Mark Walport: This is a very difficult issue for Governments in general. It is always easy to predict the future by looking backwards. I think the challenge is that we are living in a world of remote sensing systems. For example, weather forecasting is much improved compared with the situation in our youth. In a sense the answer is obvious. People have to take forecasting very seriously and understand its limitations. You can make preparations for a flu pandemic as an example. The sort of question we are asking is how much money you spend on an insurance policy. Having said that, the danger is neglecting it when it is not even the future but the present, and that is what we do all too often. You can see that with the famines in Africa at the moment; we wait far too long. In predicting the future, there is no question but that remote sensing is becoming a more and more powerful way of predicting what is going to happen, and people have to get used to the fact that these predictions are more accurate and act on them, but the retrospectoscope is an infinitely powerful instrument.
Q70 Stephen Mosley: This is a problem we have. We received e-mails about it this time last year, but then we receive e-mails about all sorts of impending disasters that people claim might happen. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
Sir Mark Walport: That is where good scientific advice is essential and why you need good chief scientific advisers. You need people to listen to them and to be sure that, if possible, they are on departmental boards. It is about taking your scientific advice seriously and using those scientific advisers to assemble the real experts. It goes back to the discussion we had here about peer review not that long ago; it is all about using the best experts you can to make judgments and rise above the cacophony of voices that are saying opposite things.
John Young: It is also important to recognise that policy making is essentially a political process and, in all of the studies we have done about policy change, research-based evidence very often plays quite a small role. Policy makers and politicians have a whole range of other factors that they are balancing when making decisions. We are not necessarily very good at it, even in this country. There are interesting stories about the last foot and mouth epidemic, for example, which illustrate that the Government here were very slow to respond to scientific evidence. That was because of political attitudes at the time, which are very difficult to change. This is a problem of governance and politics rather than research.
Q71 Pamela Nash: I would add to that, Mr Young, that we did learn from the last foot and mouth epidemic. When it happened again in 2007 we reacted very quickly and prevented an epidemic occurring. It is my hope that we also learn from the report that is coming on this situation. Before I come to my question, perhaps I may pick up something you said, Sir Mark. You talked about big donors and their capability in directing funding and what happens in research. Can you see any way round that? We have these big organisations. People might have left money in a trust with very specific wishes about how they want their cash spent. How can we get round that and encourage more collaboration?
Sir Mark Walport: I would say two things. First, I used the word "donor" myself, but I rather dislike it. The Wellcome Trust, for example, is a funder and not a donor. We have a vision, which is to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. When we make a grant it is ultimately to achieve that. Because it is a very broad vision, we can make it in a way that develops capacity in its very broad sense, but it is perfectly reasonable that a funder, for example, says, "My fund is intended for malaria." I think we have to take comfort from the fact that we live in a plural environment where there are an awful lot of different funders. Ultimately all of this will come out in the wash, but if what is ultimately a private source of funds says, "I would like in my will to leave my money to be used for malaria or sleeping sickness research", that is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. One has to be very careful about being critical of funders who have their own particular mission. Clearly, it becomes a problem if someone gives many billions of pounds to research something of no importance, or indeed not even science, but I do not think we are in that situation. Even very large foundations like the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust are a drop in the ocean.
Q72 Pamela Nash: I also chair the HIV all-party group, and that was why my ears pricked up when you mentioned it. You say there are many organisations in these fields that have very specific wants, not just in HIV but in different areas. I know that is the same for other illnesses. I want to move on to communication of research on which you touched, Mr Young. We have received several submissions in this inquiry that have highlighted the success of DFID’s role in promoting the dissemination of research results. I want to ask each of you what you think is the current evidence base that illustrates the link between the effective communication of scientific research and its use and policy making in the developing world.
John Young: There is not a convincing evidence base, which is one of the problems. As far as I am aware, nobody has yet funded a study of sufficient breadth and depth to look at that, because the kind of approaches that are used are often so project-specific that it is very difficult to look systematically at the added value that research communication gives to the basic research.
There have been a number of quite narrow studies. One that we did, which I mentioned earlier, was a review of the impact of the rules that DFID put in place in the second generation of its research programme consortia. It showed quite convincingly that it had had a very positive impact in terms of the way the research programmes had gone about defining the research questions and engaging with all the other actors that needed to be involved if there was to be a chance of the research-based evidence having an impact. But it was too early in the process to find out subsequently whether or not it did have an impact. I think the evidence base is patchy.
There is an informal group that is fostered although not financially supported by DFID-the last meeting was in the Department-called the Research Monitoring and Evaluation Group. That is looking specifically at the question of whether it is possible to measure the impact of the communications dimensions on top of the research. I have been involved in that group for about eight years. We have been saying that it needs to be looked at more systematically for that time.
Sir Mark Walport: I slightly disagree with you. Look at the uptake of childhood vaccination across Africa, in particular the uptake of Haemophilus B vaccination, which has reduced the incidence of meningitis in young children. That chain started with very good clinical trials demonstrating that Haemophilus B vaccination was effective and then worked with Ministries of Health across African Governments to demonstrate the evidence. You can see the effect in the reduction of the disease. Another example is insecticide-treated bed nets. Research that was done by people like Brian Greenwood in The Gambia, which showed that they were effective, led to experiments funded by the Wellcome Trust and DFID, among others, in Kenya on how they were best distributed. The idea was that in order for people to use something they had to pay for it. If you have no money at all, you cannot pay for it. There was a series of studies in Kenya looking at different economic models in terms of the use of bed nets. It turned out that if you distribute them free, you get the best uptake, perhaps not surprisingly. Through effective partnerships and communications with Ministries of Health we have much better uptake of bed nets than we did. I think that communication happens.
The reductio ad absurdum in the other direction is that, if you do not communicate the results of research, you can guarantee that there will be no impact. You can debate how much evidence there is, but it is absolutely clear that there is an improvement in health, though there is a long way to go, and that happens because of the communication of the results of scientific research.
John Young: I entirely agree with that. I am firmly committed to research funders investing much more on the communications side of what they do. One of the rather quick and dirty comparisons we made several years ago was of the proportion of funds that at that time the DFID central research department invested in broadly called communications activities of the research that they funded and the International Development Research Centre of Canada invested. IDRC invested about 40% of its funds in communication activities, and at that time DFID’s central research department invested about 5%. There was a very strong view that the IDRC research was some of the most effective in international development, and I think it is largely because of that.
The problem with the lack of convincing empirical evidence of the added value of investing in research communications activities is that it is relatively easy for donors to regard that as a sort of optional add-on rather than to invest very substantially in it. If we had more convincing evidence of the added value of communications, there would be a stronger argument for donors investing more in it. DFID are slightly in that position at the moment. In the absence of very convincing empirical evidence of the value of that investment, they tend not to invest as much as I think they would have done had the trajectory at the time of the second generation of RPCs continued.
Sir Mark Walport: We also specifically fund public engagement in the developing world as a programme in its own right. I think that the word "funder" rather than "donor" is important, because we are concerned with how our money is used. We are not giving it away to be used for any purpose, so we do fund it. There is also a global organisation of science journalists, which has international meetings. We have funded journalists to go to that, because science journalism is pretty well developed in the UK but not in many parts of the world. That is an important part of the communication. If we are going to do this well, good science journalism, though it may be under attack from a variety of sources, is an essential part of science communication.
Dr Carter: Many of these issues were covered in a workshop held last year by DFID, AusAID and ourselves. That report, which we will send to you, covers exactly the issues that have been talked about. That should be quite helpful to you.
Dr Beall: I would like to pick up the point about science communication and the need to institutionalise it and work with young scientists in order that they develop the skills to communicate their research. The British Council runs something called FameLab, which does precisely this. It works in partnership with the Cheltenham Festival, and it has been rolled out across many countries in the world. Young scientists engage in a competition to articulate their research, and those who win get media training and so on. That is very important.
Q73 Pamela Nash: Sir Mark, you said that, when the Wellcome Trust funded a project, communications were included as a priority. Does that include researchers and academics in developing countries being given the skills and empowerment to communicate their research themselves?
Sir Mark Walport: Absolutely. It is not compulsory, because one has to be realistic. Not every researcher is necessarily going to be a fabulous public communicator, but it is very much integral to our programmes and we do provide training. There is no doubt that scientific research is not finished until it is communicated, in the first sense published in a scientific journal. We think that open access is very important to that. Again, in the context of international development, the whole issue of providing open access to scientific literature is of overwhelming importance. It is no use funding a piece of research if it cannot be read by the people who can benefit from it. It is an integral part of the activity but is not something that, as it were, we force down people’s throats.
Q74 Pamela Nash: In that case, how severe an impact do you think DFID’s cuts in this area will have?
Sir Mark Walport: I cannot comment on that.
John Young: To some extent we are a victim of that, because we have been talking to DFID for a long time about funding more research in this area. Until they have resolved their interpretation of the moratorium it is very difficult for them to go ahead with it. I hope it is a blip rather than a permanent problem.
Dr Carter: One thing that will help is the HEFCE requirement in the REF-the research evaluation framework-for 20% of the mark to be allocated to impact. We have worked with DFID and others to persuade HEFCE specifically to mention international development in the panel advice so that it is in panels A and B and mentioned as international in C. That will be a key driver for academics in future.
Q75 Pamela Nash: It has been suggested that RPCs come with a requirement for funding communication of research in the region of 15% to 20%. Would you agree that this is a good idea, or could this approach be seen as too directive?
John Young: Based on the review that we did, it is an extremely good idea, ensuring that in the very early stages of setting up a research programme a consortium gives serious thought to the uptake pathways and the communication strategy necessary to maximise the likelihood of positive impact of their research, and making sure that sufficient resources are invested in communications more broadly than just communication products or events. Therefore, it would include the dialogue with all the stakeholders that is necessary to define the research questions. That is absolutely essential for effective research, particularly policy-focused research.
Sir Mark Walport: Given the underlying costs of medical research, 15% to 20% would be quite a high percentage. I would have thought it ought to be an integral part of the activity, but it should be costed appropriately.
Dr Beall: Sometimes there is a tendency for research communication to be seen as a very immediate thing, and, in the spirit of it being more integral, enabling researchers from developing countries working in these partnerships to do peer review work should be part of the communication strategy. In other words, the impact of communication strategies is judged not only immediately after the research is completed but down the road a while.
Chair: I am conscious of the pressures on your time, Sir Mark. We have a few more quick questions.
Q76 Stephen Mosley: One of the issues raised in the evidence is that frequently a lot of funding is via NGOs. You have an NGO in the UK and an NGO in the other country working together. Sometimes those NGOs are more concerned about what happens during the term of their contract and trying to get it extended than they are in longer-term thinking. We have had evidence that suggests you might be better off funding through universities, which are there for the long term and are not looking just to get the next contract. Is there any truth or foundation in that at all?
Sir Mark Walport: I make the general comment that good stewardship of our funds is very important. It is another area of capacity development. In a British university, academics take for granted the fact that there will be a good grants office and there will be good finance for all those functions. Those are not necessarily present in universities in the developing world. From our perspective, we do very careful due diligence on whatever organisation it is we are funding, and often it takes quite a lot of work. I do not think there is a single right answer. You need to be sure that you are funding in a body that is capable of managing those funds in an effective way. Equally, there is a responsibility on the funding organisation to monitor its funding carefully to make sure it is used for the purposes to which it is directed. It goes to the whole evaluation question. Part of the evaluation is making sure that your money is spent for the purposes intended.
John Young: I come from an organisation that is more or less entirely contract- funded, and we suffer very much from that problem. We would like to be able to do much more follow-up work of our research to find out what impact it has had, but you need to do that some time after the project has finished. Within a contract-funded environment it is very difficult to find the resources to do that. I am not sure that the answer to that problem is to shift the funding elsewhere. There are other answers to that problem. If donors were to set up a separate evaluation fund that could be accessed x years after the research had finished, that might be another way round it.
Sir Mark Walport: I do not think I like that answer.
Q77 Stephen Mosley: There were two nods and one shake of the head.
Sir Mark Walport: As a funder we are funding the results, as it were; so we are interested in knowing what is discovered and what the evaluation is. To say that is something that should be conducted separately from the funding of the programme seems to me to be wrong. There is a tendency to put an enormous amount of work into writing a proposal to gain the money and much less work in the evaluation at the end. We are paying for the products of the research, so I think the evaluation has to be an intrinsic part of it. I take the point that it may happen at the end, but it is terribly important and is clearly something that DFID take seriously.
John Young: We are not disagreeing here. I agree with you entirely, and it is fine if the evaluation is at the end of the funding period, but, if you are looking for impact on policy and practice, you are often looking five years or longer beyond the end. That would be more difficult to manage. I do not for a second suggest that it is not a responsibility of the researchers to do that.
Q78 Chair: But it would also require whoever is establishing the contract to realise the relevance of that kind of evaluation.
John Young: Exactly.
Sir Mark Walport: That is right. It is part of the responsibility of the funder to evaluate whether the funds are spent effectively, and that is what my board of governors at the Wellcome Trust is about. It holds us to account for making sure the money is spent wisely. We have a policy and evaluation unit that would do some of that longer-term work.
Q79 Stephen Mosley: That leads on nicely to the next question. You want to make sure that this capacity building is self-sustaining and continues after the end of the project. What practical steps can you take to make sure that happens?
Sir Mark Walport: It is very project-specific, is it not? If it is a scientific discovery that has an impact on health, it may need to be translated through a technology transfer-type grant; it may be that it is a communication with Ministries of Health. You have to look at each project sui generis and work out the appropriate way to take it forward. It may well be something that needs to be picked up by others. Funders tend to fund in their own area, and that is one of the strengths of partnerships. One of the reasons we have been pleased about our partnerships with DFID is that having slightly different missions means we can pick up different aspects of a project.
Q80 Stephen Mosley: One project in which you are involved is the African Institutions Initiative. Is that working towards a long-term self-sustainable model?
Sir Mark Walport: It is working towards developing African universities so that they can compete with universities in the rest of the world. That is the goal. It is pretty difficult, and £30 million will not do it. We funded an independent evaluation as part of that programme, so throughout it has been evaluated. There is developmental work with the programmes. Will they all succeed? No, I do not think they will; some will and some will not. Within the individual consortia some universities will do better than others. I think it is a start, but there is a very long way to go.
Q81 Stephen Metcalfe: UKCDS said that "some funders have not made the evaluations of their programme publicly available in the past. We would urge all funders to make their evaluations available so that everyone can learn from them." First, do you agree with that statement? Secondly, what can be done to ensure that all funders share that information so that people can learn from it?
Dr Carter: We said it. We very much welcome within the Research Capacity Strengthening Group a commitment for people to share their evaluations, particularly in the case of the African Institutions Initiative. The whole point of it was to share those lessons learned at the end of it, and that is an extremely valuable one. Talking with other funders, this is beginning to develop now. This is about trust and talking to people and goes back to what was said originally about successes and failures and having an environment in which this kind of information can be shared. I think it is beginning to happen, but how we force people to do that I really do not know.
Sir Mark Walport: The short answer is that you cannot force people to do it. If they are private funders, they cannot be forced.
Q82 Stephen Metcalfe: Encouraged.
Sir Mark Walport: They can be encouraged. The Wellcome Trust is signed up to the principles of openness in all aspects of science, but I think "forced" is not the right word; "encouraged" is. I think most funders would be signed up to that.
Q83 Stephen Metcalfe: There must be a role for local people in evaluation programmes. What can DFID do to support and encourage local monitoring on the ground? What can we do to empower them?
Dr Carter: From my knowledge, many of the projects that DFID fund to encourage local people to be involved are pretty much part of the success.
Q84 Stephen Metcalfe: In the evaluation.
Dr Carter: Probably not necessarily in the evaluation. I think the next step is to involve them directly in the evaluation as well.
Sir Mark Walport: It all depends on what you mean by "evaluation". If the evaluation is of a new and somewhat esoteric scientific discovery, that is what peer review is about and the evaluation has to be done by experts. There is no magic bullet for evaluation. The point Andrée made about participation is immensely important. For example, at Kilifi in Kenya, where we fund a major programme, there is a very large local community engagement programme. An anthropologist works specifically with the community. One of the things I learned very early when I visited the programme is that apparently there is no word for "research" in Swahili. The serious issue is that you have to explain in great detail to the community what you are trying to do and understand some of their concerns, which may come completely out of the blue. There was an issue about the logo, which they did not like and understand, for a reason which really does not matter. The real issue is that you have to engage with the community in which you work because they are partners with you, but in terms of evaluation it depends on the project.
Dr Beall: I would support that. In the monitoring process in a lot of the programmes in which we are involved there is local involvement in monitoring and all aspects of the programme, but, when it comes to an external evaluation, that has to be external. Whether or not it is local is not the issue but whether it is independent.
Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your contribution this morning. It has been extremely helpful.