By Joern Fischer
The Sheffield Institute for International Development recently launched a new collaborative project, which aims to identify the 100 most important questions for international development. You can participate in this project by contributing questions that you think are important here.
The questions need to follow the following format (copied and pasted from the website linked above). They …
(i) Must be answerable through a realistic research design,
(ii) Must be of a spatial and temporal scope that reasonably could be addressed by a research team
(iii) Must not be formulated as a general topic area
(iv) Must have a factual answer and must not be answerable with ‘it all depends’
(v) Except if questioning a precise statement (e.g. ‘does the earth go round the sun?’), should not be answerable by ‘yes’ or ‘no’
(vi) If related to impact and interventions, must contain a subject, an intervention, and a measurable outcome
Views on the likely usefulness of this kind of exercise will very likely be divergent. On the negative side, one might argue that highly focused questions fitting the above format will – by definition – not help to address the deep, fundamental issues that we urgently need to grapple with. On the positive side, it’s likely that the questions being generated won’t go unnoticed by key international players – and on that basis, I’d argue it’s worthwhile to contribute some questions.
Here are the questions I submitted to this process:
- Given clear evidence that humanity is violating planetary boundaries, which concrete steps can be taken to move away from ongoing material growth as an unquestioned global development paradigm, and by who?
- Given the important but under-recognised role of value and belief systems for development pathways, which incentives, institutions or communication strategies should be used to encourage societies at all scales to question and reflect on their dominant value and belief systems – for example regarding ongoing material growth, and diets rich in animal protein?
- Given the interconnected nature of social and ecological phenomena, which properties of social-ecological systems are conducive to sustainability, for example at the landscape scale?
- Given the ongoing malnourishment of nearly one billion people, despite growing per capita food production globally, which policies other than those focusing on increasing food production should be of primary global importance?
- Given the association of increasingly loose connections between people and ecosystems with increasingly unsustainable patterns of ecosystem use, what would be viable visions for modern social-ecological systems that facilitate new, genuine connections people and ecosystems?
I wrote these “big and broad” questions (rather than more specific ones) because I think it is important that this initiative pushes boundaries. Identifying the 100 most important questions for international development without questioning the paradigms underpinning global un-sustainability would be entirely meaningless, to my mind.
If you agree, I suggest you contribute your own questions that push boundaries to this process via the project’s website. I think this project is an important opportunity. But I also think it’s important it does not end up dominated by imminently doable but essentially superficial questions.
Thanks for the questions!
In essence, I agree with your comment; getting the balance right between broad questions that tackle fundamental notions about ID and those whose answers might have more immediate tangible outcomes is a difficult one. The motivation (which you already highlight) is to make these questions more relevant to policy makers and practitioners. There is an increasing emphasis on knowledge co-production in research and policy, and part of the challenge for the ID100 project is in aligning the priorities of stakeholders from various institutional backgrounds, who perhaps have conflicting views on the ideal ‘level of focus’. Previous exercises have been academically successful but their long term legacy in terms of policy remains to be seen.
Thanks Johan! I hope many people submit their questions via your website — it’s absolutely worth trying! — Joern