Dr David Lawson writes on changing norms across the social sciences, and the actions that researchers in both high and lower-income nations can take to promote a more inclusive and equitable global research community.
This blogpost is based on a recent article in Nature Human Behaviour, by an international team of researchers, spanning Tanzania, the United States, India, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom.
The adage ‘nothing about us, without us’ has become common in global health – with growing awareness of the need for a research community that fully recognizes the essential talents of researchers of all nationalities and backgrounds. Illustrating this point, several global health journals now discourage manuscript submissions in which primary data has been collected in a country without explicit collaboration and co-authorship with local researchers. ‘Parachute research’, whereby visiting researchers, often from Europe or North America, extract the data they want, while circumventing local institutions or giving little credit to the collaborators that enable their work, is hopefully on the way out.
But what about neighboring disciplines in the social sciences, like anthropology or cross-cultural psychology, that also collect data from around the world? This question is especially important in the light of a recent awakening among social scientists to the value of cross-cultural data. Psychology, for example, has been criticized for relying too heavily on studies of high-income nations to test theories about human nature. Yet, despite much concern over the academic benefits of diversifying our data, discussions of cross-cultural research are often largely silent on parallel concerns about the diversity of researchers.
In our recent paper, we argue that anthropology and psychology would do well to match current trends in global health; and adopt a much more proactive stance to challenge current inequities. Our recommendations are shared below. Recognizing the need for distinct actions by context, we have divided these recommendations into those for all researchers, and those based in high-income countries (HICs), and those based in relatively low or middle-income countries (LMICs) specifically.
- Adopt a flexible research agenda, exploring shared priorities with (potential) collaborative partners.
- Campaign funders to enable equitable grant sharing between HIC and LMIC institutions.
- Designate co-authorship where credit is due, applying equal expectations to HIC and LMIC collaborators.
- Embrace open-access publishing and data sharing to ensure global access to research.
- Decolonize and diversify syllabi, acknowledging inequities in cross-cultural research norms and the urgent need for change.
- Strengthen teaching of research ethics into curriculum, including dangers of extractive research.
- Embrace opportunities (for example, social media) to advertise your expertise to a global audience and encourage collaborative opportunities.
- Develop and enforce ethical review procedures defining and encouraging equitable collaboration between LMIC and HIC institutions and researchers.
- Support LMIC-based journals and academic societies, operating independently of HIC agendas. Hold 'international' society meetings in LMICs and/or virtually.
- Develop mentoring arrangements between HIC and LMIC researchers (for example, assistance with project design, funding applications, English-language proof-reading, and navigating the publication ecosystem), including via initiatives such as AuthorAid.
- Increase awareness of LMIC institutions and scholars, and seek out local collaborative partners.
- Where possible, factor LMIC institutional overheads and capacity building activities into research from the outset.
- Avoid ‘token’ LMIC co-authorship. Strive for genuine intellectual collaboration and financially supported partnerships.
- Diversify HIC-based faculty and student bodies, journal editors, and funding agency program officers via recruitment activities.
- When visiting LMICs (for example, to collect data), offer to provide training at LMIC universities and research centres.
- Share unused field equipment with LMIC partners after or during dormant periods of data collection.
- Avoid possessive references to study communities (for example, ‘my field site’), which can falsely imply ownership of access to a community.
- Reward the time and effort required to forge equitable collaborations as a reviewer in recruitment, promotion, and funding allocation decisions.
- Negotiate authorship inclusion and position, along with data sharing, in collaborative research with HICs. When possible, reject proposals for collaboration which are not equitable.
- Support appropriate, transparent budgeting within LMIC institutions to facilitate access to international grants and reduce dependence on HICs.
- Strengthen teaching in the social sciences, especially beyond global health. Foster positive aspirations, knowledge and access to opportunities for early-career LMIC researchers.
- Increase LMIC scholar visibility by negotiating to present collaborative and independent research at international conferences.
- Host HIC students and study abroad programs, which can be profitable and increase LMIC institution visibility.
- Strengthen collaborative research networks with HICs, especially with researchers originating from LMICs to counteract effects of ‘brain drain’.
- Take advantage of publication fee waivers for LMIC authors in journals where they exist.
- Communicate needs and priorities. HIC scholars may be eager to collaborate, but are rarely accustomed to different realities or expectations of LMIC research centres. Guide good intentions to effective actions.
While we focus on collaboration between LMIC and HIC researchers, our ultimate goal is equal opportunity for leadership, not merely participation, in the social sciences. In many cases, collaboration between researchers working across LMICs may offer the best opportunities. As proposed in a recent AuthorAid blog by Dr Edmond Sanganyado: “Early Career Researchers from the Global South do not necessarily need to resort to co-opting top scientists from the Global North for their work to be taken seriously. Promoting South-South and internal collaborations can help counter the narrative against scientific research quality in the Global South.”
We also caution that global research partnerships, even if defined by coauthorship and grant sharing, can fail to build research capacity in LMICs, if poorly executed. As highlighted by Dr Johnson Muchunguzi Ishengoma, collaborative research can exacerbate issues of ‘brain drain’ by reinforcing networks through which talented LMIC researchers are recruited to work overseas, depleting local institutions. They can also reinforce dependency on external funding, and subsequently deprioritize independent research agendas. We hope our article and recommendations will help spur continued dialogue and reflection on these complex issues. With careful navigation, and initiative from both LMIC and HIC institutions and researchers, we are optimistic about our collective potential for positive change.
Dr David Lawson is an Associate Professor of Anthropology, at the University of California, Santa Barbara and leader of the Applied Evolutionary Anthropology Lab. His research primarily concerns family relationships, including studies of marriage, gender norms, and parenting. He conducts research in Mwanza, Tanzania in collaboration with the National Institute for Medical Research. He is also an AuthorAid mentor.