This reflection is part of the 20 lessons included in the paper Lessons learned on promoting better links between research and policy in Latin America
The fact that the SFE programme was regionally executed by a local partner such as CIPPEC was very frequently signaled by participants as an added value to most of its activities since discussions, materials, etc. had a clear seal of individuals who understood the real challenges faced by those who want to influence policy through research in our region.
The flow of exchange in this sense goes beyond sympathy and empathy, which are very important considerations as Goran Buldioski has risen in this post at P&I on such as that we should not take for granted that people from similar settings can empathize better with each other since this is not always the key determinant of success of capacity building. It is certainly true that many Northern experts who have been working in social contexts and poverty settings similar to those in developing countries can very quickly empathise with challenges and dilemmas faced by Southern institutions.
However, our experience reveals that familiarity with the type of context (social, political, cultural, etc.) within which a researcher works is very helpful in terms of adapting technical content of any training. In this sense, I would feel more comfortable doing this in Latin America than in Africa… I would know certain policy makers or colleagues in those countries… I would have read more about the region/country. Thus, some bridges and connectors would be more easily established. It is like talking a “similar language”, both trainer and trainee begin to feel more at ease, with more common ground, etc.
Indeed, besides collective spaces in Latin America, we also realized there was an increasing interest and demand from individuals and organisations in other regions. Activities including Africans and Asians gradually revealed the potential of this exchange. Several online courses were held for those regions as well and we were surprised to find that similarities were larger than differences in terms of where policy research institutions stand today in their policy influence planning, monitoring and evaluation capacities. We ended up finding out that we had more questions and challenges in common that what we had initially believed.
In consequence, we decided promote more South-South collaboration, with activities like peer assistance between think tanks and joint panels or sessions in regional and international events, etc. In this type of activities the value of knowledge and experience from Southern partners was immediately acknowledged. Facilitating networking based on a Southern perspective was always well received by participants, demonstrating a real need to complement what has been so far produced and disseminated from the North.
South-South collaboration centered in the link between research and knowledge should be further explored and developed to expand and strengthen one of SFE´s competitive advantages: the possibility to facilitate and support knowledge exchange in the South. In this sense, one key challenge to address is that any initiative to promote South-South collaboration should acknowledge that there are diverse interests in potential partners in terms of learning and/or training, sharing key information, developing new practices, etc. Thus, a thoroughly thought strategy should be developed when trying to help Southern institutions to work together.
In fact, even if South-South collaboration is high on demand, we should also be cautious about how it is supported/implemented. My gut instinct would say that for the first experiences the role of a facilitator who can help both parts very well establish goals, devise strategies and organize the learning experience is key. In this sense, I have learned a great deal from Northerners who are usually more organized, focused and strategic than generally we are in the South. Furthermore, this type of experiences can really benefit from what fortunately resource rich countries have learned and systematized. At least in my experience we could have never developed CD activities like we did had we not counted with the initial guidance and the wealth of knowledge produced in the North.
So it´s time to re-design partnerships (all around the globe!) in which we can capitalize on what each brings to the table based on an equal relationship and a deep understanding of the value of co-producing knowledge for change.