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Balancing research and practice in an international NGO

REL Practice Paper 1 Ten Years of Change is a collaborative, long-term practitioner research initiative designed to take place in three countries – Colombia, Kenya and the UK. It is implemented by the Research, Evidence and Learning team at Christian Aid. The research began with the overarching question how are community members and supporters being influenced by, and influencing, processes of social change? Each country team adapted the question to make it relevant to their socio-political context, and designed research at several different levels, from local to national. This paper tells the story of the first three years of Ten Years of Change. It narrates our ideas and ambitions and how we clarified them; how we identified where, by whom and how the study would be implemented; and how we worked with colleagues in other countries to begin to translate our idea into practice. It then discusses the forces that shaped the parallel but distinct evolution of each of the three streams of the study, before reflecting on the challenges of trade-offs and power. It concludes by returning to some of our assumptions about practitioner research, reflecting on how they played out in practice, finally turning to considerations for the next stage of the study.  

Developing skills for life and making connections in Ghana

In this final update from our EU funded GEOP programme in Ghana, we discover how young men and women are gaining technical, business and leadership skills and are using their collective voice to create better working environments. 

STAR Ghana Foundation annual report 2019

STAR Ghana delivers transformational change that advances democracy, accountability and social inclusion. What we have done We have supported civil society organisations through grants and technical assistance, and convened meetings and discussions. We have launched major funding calls on gender equality and social inclusion, media, anti-corruption and local governance, and supported work under strategic opportunity calls. We enabled 87 civil society organisations to mobilise and support citizens to take action around issues such as inclusive access to quality public goods and services, tackling corruption, and promoting good governance. With support from our grant partners, more than 5 million citizens have engaged with duty bearers at all levels of governance, including Parliament, district assemblies and traditional authorities. 'STAR Ghana is helping citizens and civil society organisations to become more active and informed, able to speak up and engage constructively with duty bearers at all levels.' We have seen these institutions respond and deliver. The work we support has led to more inclusion and accountability – and real improvements in people’s lives. At the same time, it has given citizens new knowledge, new ideas and greater confidence, enabling them and their organisations to apply their learning to other issues and areas. Lessons and challenges To make sure lessons were learned from the work, we have worked with stakeholders to reflect on their experiences and gather findings. We have compiled and shared key learning documents. A new foundation We have paved the way for transition to the STAR Ghana Foundation, a new national Ghanaian entity, which was successfully launched in November 2018. Our achievements are all the more remarkable for taking place in a difficult context of growing inequality, and dwindling funding for civil society organisations and questions around their legitimacy and impact. We have responded to these challenges. As Ghana undergoes much-needed economic development, it is important that it doesn’t come at the cost of equality, but also delivers for vulnerable people including women, children and people with disabilities. Civil society can drive this debate and amplify the voice of the marginalised. All of us at the STAR Ghana Foundation thank you for your active support and look forward to working with you in bringing about transformational change towards an equitable and prosperous Ghana. Dr Esther Ofei-Aboagye, Chair, Governing Council, STAR Ghana Foundation

Stories of change: case studies from GEOP Ghana, April 2019

Stories of change from Ghana, where our EU-funded GEOP project is helping people with disabilities access training, get jobs and set up their own businesses.  Project background Growing Economic Opportunities for Sustainable Development project (GEOP) is a three-year, EU-funded project that aims to foster strong partnerships between civil society and local authorities, to promote local job creation, revenue mobilisation and expansion of economic activities. The project is implemented in the Ellembelle District, Western Region, and Ayawaso East Municipal Assembly and Ablekuma South sub-metros of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Ghana. Find out more about GEOP here.

Fair and equitable research partnerships case study: Eric Gutierrez

Funding for research in international development often includes a focus on fair and equitable partnerships. Academics from the global North are increasingly encouraged by funders to include academic partners based in the global South and civil society practitioners in their research projects. But achieving this is complicated: partnership and research are both political. This case study is one of a set of resources that has been designed to help academics, NGOs, CSOs, research brokers and funders put principles for fair and equitable research partnerships into practice. The case study explores insights from Eric Gutierrez of Christian Aid, who was involved in a successful application to the Global Challenges Research Fund for a research project looking at the way economies transition from war to peace. The project is led by SOAS University of London, a respected UK university. Christian Aid became involved in the project because it had previously worked with SOAS to commission research. In this case study, Eric reflects on the experience of being involved in the research application process. He talks about the time and work involved in the application, the challenges of tight deadlines, and the structural barriers that limited Christian Aid’s role. He discusses on Christian Aid’s experience in lobbying for policy change, and how this kind of work can be overlooked by academic actors with less experience of ensuring that research leads to policy change.

Fair and equitable research partnerships case study: Kate Newman

Funding for research in international development often includes a focus on fair and equitable partnerships. Academics from the global North are increasingly encouraged by funders to include academic partners based in the global South and civil society practitioners in their research projects. But achieving this is complicated: partnership and research are both political. This case study is one of a set of resources that has been designed to help academics, NGOs, CSOs, research brokers and funders put principles for fair and equitable research partnerships into practice. The case study explores insights from Kate Newman of Christian Aid, who reflects on her experience of participating in an moderator panel for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), convened to make funding recommendations to the AHRC based on a ‘Network Plus’ call funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. It was Kate’s first time on an academic moderator panel, and she found the experience very challenging. She was not clear about her specific role on the panel (was she there to represent a civil society voice, or as an individual participating in a panel?), there were no clear criteria against which the proposals should be evaluated, and there were vastly different expectations of academic research and development impact across the panel. Kate asks questions and makes recommendations for future panels to enable better participation of civil society representatives on similar panels.

Christian Aid Ireland’s adaptive programme management

Governance, gender, peace building and human rights Tackling the problems of poverty, vulnerability and exclusion that persist in parts of the world that continue to be affected by violence or political insecurity is difficult for several reasons. For one, because of the complexity of the prevailing social, economic and political systems, solutions to chronic problems are far from obvious. One response to this aspect of the challenge is adaptive programme design and management. This paper, 'Learning to make a difference: Christian Aid Ireland’s adaptive programme management in governance, gender, peace building and human rights', is the product of a multi-year collaboration between ODI and the core team of Christian Aid Ireland to assess the relevance of adaptive or trial-and-error approaches to the field of governance, peace building and human rights. It explains the basis on which Christian Aid Ireland’s current five-year programme funded by Irish Aid has become committed to an adaptive approach. It then describes and seeks to draw lessons from the programme’s first year of experience, considering the possible implications for implementation over the coming years.

STAR Ghana annual report 2016-17

STAR Ghana has a vision of an active and engaged civil society, capable of articulating citizens’ demands, and an effective state, responsive and accountable to its citizens. In our first year of implementation as STAR II, from October 2016 to September, 2017, we laid the foundations and achieved significant milestones towards the realisation of this vision.

Stories of change from GEOP

Growing Economic Opportunities for Sustainable Development project (GEOP) is a three-year, EU funded project that aims to foster strong partnerships between civil society and local authorities, to promote local job creation, revenue mobilisation and expansion of economic activities. The project is implemented in the Ellembelle District, Western Region, and Ayawaso East and Ablekuma South sub-metros of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Ghana. This report looks at case studies and the stories of change from the GEOP project.