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Searching for new perspectives on research excellence

February 12, 2020
What is “excellent” science, and how can we recognize it?
Members of the Science Granting Councils Initiative making a presentation

Transforming Research Excellence: New Ideas from the Global South, a book co-edited by Matthew Wallace and Robert McLean of IDRC, with a contribution from IDRC President Jean Lebel, sets out to tackle these critical questions. Featuring scholars from around the world and touching on a variety of disciplines, the publication explores conceptual issues and practical problems that inevitably emerge when “excellence” is at the centre of science systems.

Supported by the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) in sub-Saharan Africa, the book launched at the final workshop of SGCI’s first phase in Dakar, Senegal, on February 12.

“Excellent research is something that we should all strive for”, says co-editor Matthew Wallace, “but over-relying on the term to guide funding decisions, for instance, can be problematic. Excellence can mean different things to different people.”

The drive to steer funding towards research “excellence” around the world presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the Global South. Emerging councils aim to support science that is both high quality and relevant to their own national priorities, but often with scarce resources.

“The heads of granting agencies took interest in the notion of research excellence on the continent early on in SGCI,” says Wallace. “Following initial research and recommendations by Erika Kraemer-Mbula (University of Johannesburg) and Robert Tijssen (Leiden University and University of Stellenbosch), we delved deeper into the problem, which had previously been explored from the perspective of research in the Global North.”

The result brings a critical lens to the notion of research excellence. The publication contributes to scholarly debates on the topic and brings new ideas and innovative solutions to research funders and managers around the world. It concludes with a collective call to action that argues for a purposeful, contextualized, and pluralistic approach to using terms such as “excellence”, and suggests a need to mobilize new tools and organizations to do so.

Read Transforming Research Excellence: New Ideas from the Global South, published by Africa Minds