On Tuesday 14th January 2020 I attended a meeting of the Project Leads of the 14 consortia supported by the UK Aid Connect. This was a new experience for me in several ways. Firstly, working together with DfID is a first for our Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion (CSSC) at the University of Oxford. That CSSC is the lead partner in our Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) is part of our efforts to pursue new lines of research with strong policy relevance and potential impact. We are interested in developing ways of measuring the real-world impact of our work as well as documenting how the uptake of our insights by the policy world takes place.
Ultimately, we believe that this interaction with the policy world can lead in turn to better science. Secondly, it was also a new experience as the event was the first time I spoke to non-project members about our project. So far our conversations were with our partners: the Church of England and the International Panel for Parliamentarians on Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB).
Speaking to a wider group was exciting and my engagement already provided invaluable feedback on what aspects of our work spark interest and which aims dovetails well with those of other institutions within the area of development.
So what did we discuss? What emerged as the key take home message from our shared experiences in setting up the 14 projects and establishing the 14 consortia underpinning the projects? For me, the key message was Mike Battcock’s (DfID) reminder that the scheme was there to produce solutions for complex issues affecting the poorest and that the scheme focuses specifically on producing innovative and novel ways to achieve this.
Furthermore, it was hammered home that these innovations are in need of trialling and needs to be underpinned with research focusing on metrics: how can we measure the successfulness of our interventions?
Put more generally, providing a framework to validate principles and workflows underpinning aid and development is very much at the heart of this scheme. This is obviously right up our street at the CSSC where we are committed to turning scientific research into practical applications for the real world and we are hoping this project will thus allow us to do better science and development at the same time!
Dr Pieter Francois
Principal Investigator and Lead of FoRBLN