Collaborative research has a critical role to play in furthering our understanding of African politics. Many of the most important and interesting questions in the field are difficult, if not impossible, to tackle without some form of collaboration, either between academics within and outside of Africa—often termed North–South research partnerships—or between those researchers and organizations from outside the academic world. In Africa in particular, collaborative research is becoming more frequent and more extensive. This is due not only to the value of the research that it can produce but also to pressures on the funding of African scholars and academics in the Global North, alongside similar pressures on the budgets of non-academic collaborators, including bilateral aid agencies, multilateral organizations, and national and international non-government organizations. Collaborative projects offer many advantages to these actors beyond access to new funding sources, so they constitute more than mere “marriages of convenience.” These benefits typically include access to methodological expertise and valuable new data sources, as well as opportunities to increase both the academic and “real-world” impact of research findings. Yet collaborative research also raises a number of challenges, many of which relate to equity. They center on issues such as who sets the research agenda, whether particular methodological approaches are privileged over others, how responsibility for different research tasks is allocated, how the benefits of that research are distributed, and the importance of treating colleagues with respect despite the narrative of “capacity-building.” Each challenge manifests in slightly different ways, and to varying extents, depending on the type of collaboration at hand: North–South research partnership or collaboration between academics and policymakers or practitioners. This article discusses both types of collaboration together because of their potential to overlap in ways that affect the severity and complexity of those challenges. These challenges are not unique to research in Africa, but they tend to manifest in ways that are distinct or particularly acute on the continent because of the context in which collaboration takes place. In short, the legacy of colonialism matters. That history not only shapes who collaborates with whom but also who does so from a position of power and who does not. Thus, the inequitable nature of some research collaborations is not simply the result of oversights or bad habits; it is the product of entrenched structural factors that produce, and reproduce, imbalances of power. This means that researchers seeking to make collaborative projects in Africa more equitable must engage with these issues early, proactively, and continuously throughout the entire life cycle of those research projects. This is true not just for researchers based in the Global North but for scholars from, or working in, Africa as well.
Linda Courtenay Botterill
Since the late 1990s, increased attention has been given by governments and scholars to evidence-based policymaking (EBPM). The use of the term EBPM appears to have emerged with the election of Tony Blair’s government in the United Kingdom (UK) and a desire to be seen to be taking ideology and politics out of the policy process. The focus was on drawing on research-based evidence to inform policymakers about “what works” and thereby produce better policy outcomes. In this sense, evidence-based policy is arguably a new label for an old concern. The relationship between knowledge, research, and policy has been a focus of scholarly attention for decades—Annette Boaz and her colleagues date it to as early as 1895 (Boaz et al., 2008, p. 234). In its more recent form, EBPM has been the subject of much debate in the literature, particularly through critiques that question its assumptions about the nature of the policy process, the validity of evidence, the skewing in favor of certain types of evidence, and the potentially undemocratic implications. The first concern with the concept is that the EBPM movement runs counter to the lessons of the critique of rational-comprehensive approaches to policymaking that was launched so effectively in Lindblom’s article “The Science of ‘Muddling Through’” and never really refuted, in spite of attempts by advocates of the policy cycle and other rational models. The second problem is that the rhetoric of evidence-based policy does not recognize the contested nature of evidence itself, an area that has been the subject of a large body of research in the fields of the sociology of science and science and technology studies. These studies draw attention to the value-laden nature of scientific inquiry and the choices that are made about what to research and how to undertake that research. Third, the emphasis has been on particular types of evidence, with particular methodologies being privileged over others, running the risk that what counts as evidence is only what can be counted or presented in a particular way. The choice of evidence is value-laden and political in itself. Finally, attempts to take the ideology or politics out of policy are also potentially undemocratic. Policymaking is the business of politics. In democratic systems, politicians are elected to implement their policies, and those policies are based on particular sets of values. Leaders are elected to make collective decisions on behalf of the electorate and those decisions are based on judgments, including value judgments. Evidence surely must inform this process, but, equally, it cannot be decisive. Trade-offs are required between conflicting values, such as between equity and efficiency, and this can include deciding between solutions that the evidence suggests are optimal and other societal priorities.