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Sustainability through Collaboration

Towards Evidence-Based Development, Policy-making and Community Based Research

World over many community  based research initiatives for democratization of science and technology such as the science shop exist. The goal of a science shop is to improve public access to science as well as the public’s participation in the creation of knowledge for transformative development. It raises public awareness of science as well as science’s awareness of the public.

Role of  Science Shop in Revival of Research

  • Communities transforming research as the research transforms communities.
  • Expands opportunities for grassroots groups, citizens and workers to become involved in vital facts of science and technology decision-making.
  • Focused on solving real problems and redressing social inequalities
  • A powerful tool that enables citizens to determine how and to what end research will be conducted in their communities.
  • Produces ‘good science’ with action-oriented results for the participating community

In Kenya, the documentation and evaluation of Community Based or Participatory Action Research for quality and impact remains patchy. A research system that is responsive to the concerns of citizens and the community is necessary. A research documentation centre that makes empowerment through mutual learning locally accessible is also required.  The proposed Nyakongo Science Shop is a Community Based Research Center (CBRC) that facilitates research that is conducted by, with and for Nyakongo community. It will inform scientists,  universities, research policymakers and funding bodies about the research needs of the citizens of Nyakongo.

Objectives of Nyakongo Science Shop

The overarching goal of Nyakongo Science Shop is fighting poverty with science; to reorient how economists, sociologists, engineers and politicians approach poverty. It will play the following roles:

  1. Generating and focusing public demand for resources and expertise of higher education

Traditionally, external communities, especially villages like Nyakongo hardly consider any engagement with universities save for a few of their young members who manage to enroll at these universities. There are no proper mechanisms for disseminating undergraduate research beyond the universities’ walls. The Science Shop can contribute to shaping the reputation of the institutions based on scientific exchange/communication as opposed to geographical/infrastructural connections and preferences.

Van de Ven (2007) criticized practicing managers for not being aware of relevant research and not doing enough to put their practice in theory. Consequently, organizations are not learning fast enough to keep up with the changing times.

  1. Benefit project and research work within universities

Especially for students by offering original and practical ideas for research. Many times students struggle to develop research proposals for scientific inquiry that is relevant to the needs of the society. The task of research problem identification is often lengthy and tedious. Thus, students, especially undergraduates,  often spend longer time defining research rather than actually doing research. Through the Science Shop they are able to tap from Nyakongo Community social groups.

Dissertation for Change  is a collaborative research in-action encouraging students to undertake their dissertations in Nyakongo to generate empirical evidence supporting the community’s development work.

  1. Evidence-based Policy Making: Shaping Policy through Analysis of Research Recommendations

The fight against global poverty has often utilized policies that depend on heart-rending anecdotes about successes or failures, something that economists at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology caution against. Policy silos are reinforced by organizing government according to sectors characterized by political and administrative bureaucracies.

Nyakongo village will offer a laboratory for undertaking social experiments to inform the development of policies aimed at poverty eradication – to ensure that policy is informed by science. It will provide scenarios for policy making in the simulation and modeling of complex systems, data analysis and information visualization, group decision-making, policy analysis and evaluation. Nothing gets implemented on large scale without being vetted and simulated in the sustainable development policy lab/theater.

Nyakongo2030 is an attempt towards a truly local-based approach to planning, policy-making and implementation at a community level. Nyakongo Planning Policy and Partnership Commission (based on the Sustaneo2030 model) will be established.

  1. Citizen/Village Researchers

Community groups and individual citizens are involved in research as full partners and even as researchers (conducting part of the research project – doing interview, administering questionnaires). The methods needed for doing so are supplied by the Science Shop. Engaged community groups are instructed on how to conduct an interview or design a questionnaire. In this way, the shop/GREEN center empowers community groups to help themselves understand and address their own issues. 

Activities for reforming Universities’ research agenda:

  1. Organize research activities based on the requests for advice from community user groups
  2. Organize and coordinate research programs like an interdisciplinary, high-priority area funded by universities, National Commission for Science and Technology (NACOSTI), etc through Visiting Professors, PhD and MSc. grants and seed money for preparation of research proposals.
  3. Organize discussion groups in co-operation with university departments and networks such as the RCE Lake Region. This could be in the form of:
    • Lectures given by researchers, NGOs and local authorities for exchanging experiences and views (knowledge cafes, science barazas)
    • Students projects being organized as a low-budget way of viewing aspects of the topics (follow-up to research finding illuminated through the talks)
  4. Develop a course module on theories and methods of corporation between experts and user groups while doing research. There is need for all students to learn how to co-operate with lay people in an interactive way by acknowledging the differences between scientific knowledge versus experience-based knowledge and how to use both proactively. For example, how to integrate indigenous knowledge and how to respond to the perception  (from lay people) that experts always have definite answers.

Pilot Nyakongo2030 Research Projects – Dissertation for Change

Dissertation for Change  is a collaborative research in-action campaign encouraging students to undertake their dissertations in Nyakongo to generate empirical evidence supporting the community’s development work. WSCSD-Kenya will mobilize students in colleges and universities to carry-out a baseline village survey (mapping Nyakongo’s landscape, mindscape and agency footprint) to inform Nyakongo2030 development projects. The following are the proposed 2016-2017 research projects:

1. Stakeholder Mapping

  • It entails mapping the villagers who are already involved with WSCSD-Kenya (some of whom constitute the Village Steering Committee) and other groups or clubs within the community. Both the individuals who are actively engaged in community events as well as organizations already operating in the community will be identified.

Communicating Nyakongo2030 Initiative to the entire Community:

  • Since only a handful of villagers were involved in the pilot Biosand Water Filter Project, the steering committee will announce and explain the initiative in a leaflet to be disseminated to each home in the village (door-to-door, through the dispensary, churches, schools and local administration). The leaflet identifies practical steps the villagers could take towards a more sustainable living (written in a positive tone). The Initiative is emphasized as a democratic process.

2. Community Inventory

  • Up-to date statistics on the community’s physical, demographic and socioeconomic parameters

3. Community Needs and Behaviour Survey

  • To establish a baseline picture of the current lifestyles in the village, villagers’ needs, interests as well as their perceptions and attitudes towards sustainability. This survey provides the basis for formulating practical activities. It entails a questionnaire survey of various aspects of the villagers daily practices e.g. the village getting about, in the home, work, shopping, in the garden/nature and in the community).

Data Collection Methodology:

  • One questionnaire per household with separate questions for young people with an accompanying letter will be delivered by hand to each household. The questionnaire allows ticking boxes and giving comments. Door to door delivery and collection provides a good return; a face-to-face engagement with other village residents as well as an opportunity to discuss the aims of the Sustainable Village Initiative.

Data Presentation and Interpretation:

  • Simple tables, histograms and pie charts will be generated. Results will be presented in a maximum 16-page colour document with a 2-page word-only summary at the Nyakongo Sustainable Development Conference. The process and results of the survey will be discussed in the steering committee for synthesis. 
  • Copies of the results will be exhibited at the Science Shop (hall within the GREEN Center) and a summary included with a regular newsletter delivered to each household.
  • The proposed “Nyakongo Gazette” – a bi-monthly newsletter written by the people of the village for others living in it, consistently disseminating information and good practice around the village while maintaining and promoting cohesion.
  • Later, a new village-user friendly website/app will be developed.

4. Community Literature Review

  • Documenting all scientific research work on the immediate community’s context

5. Biodiversity Survey

  • An ‘Audit’ of Nyakongo’s Wildlife and Natural History will be undertaken.
  • It involves a professional ecologist bringing together all the available information from previous surveys and existing research into a single summary document. Field Survey is then conducted with villagers invited to contribute their own input, which will be incorporated into the final version of the audit. The Final ‘Biodiversity Audit’ provides valuable historic resource for conservationists and development of the tourism sub-sector.

6. Poverty-Policy Lab: A New Way to Study Poverty

  • At the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a team of researchers are already   harnessing the tools of science to test one promising solution: a “big push” approach that helps poor people establish a livelihood. Such research approaches will be explored in Nyakongo. Randomized control trials will be undertaken to test policy intentions. Innovations will be put into trials, as social experiments, to remove guesswork in poverty eradication policy-making. This is certainly not easy, it is a slow process but is the way forward.

Examples of Possible Social Experiments:

a. Distribution of Water Filters:

  • If people must pay for filters, will they purchase them? When people get filters for free, will they use them? Do free filters discourage future purchases?

b. How to get children into school?

  • What policy options will achieve the greatest impact? Build better classrooms, Conditional cash transfers, provide school meals, pay for uniforms, eliminate school fees, provide health services, hire more teachers, give girls sanitary pads, etc.

References:

  1. Andre H. Van de Ven (1997), Engaged Scholarship: Creating knowledge for Science and Practice, Oxford University Press.
  2. Clin Trier and Olya Maiboroda (2009), Green Village Project: A Rural Community’s Journey Towards Sustainability. Local Environment, Vol. 14 No. 9 (p.819-831), Taylor and Francis
  3. Alexander King and Bertrand Schneider, The First Global Revolution, A Report by the Council of the Club of Rome, Orient Longman.