As 2016 begins many international development issues are threatening to intensify – the crisis in Syria and the thousands of people now refugees, the growing global power of ISIS, and the World Bank’s recently released flagship report, Global Economic Prospects, which predicts a “perfect storm” of financial turmoil coupled with slowing of growth in emerging markets this year. A recent article named the 10 news stories most likely to dominate the news this year as being:
- The Syrian refugee crisis
- Climate change
- Data security
- The US presidential election
- Regulating drones And self-driving cars
- Gun violence
- Global internet access
- Regulating the sharing economy (companies such as Airbnb and Uber)
- Online social justice
And while news organisations are looking ahead to the events that will shape the world in 2016, others are focused on how we can prevent and solve some of these global development challenges. 14 Academics and 21 NGOs recently put together a list of the 100 most important development issues and research questions that need to be answered. The list, published in Development Policy Review, has focused on identifying the most relevant and important research questions around the Sustainable Development Goals, set in September 2015, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. The questions or research themes are divided into nine main themes:
- Governance, participation and rights;
- Environmental sustainability;
- Food security, land and agriculture;
- Energy and natural resources
- Conflict, population dynamics and urbanisation;
- Economic growth, employment and the private sector
- Social and economic inequalities
- Health and education
- Development policies, practices and institutions
Questions cover both long-existing and recently emerged problems from improving rural livelihoods to the growing role of business and middle income countries in development. Such a priority setting exercise is becoming more and more important as global agreements and targets are scaled up both in number and in magnitude, and collaboration amongst stakeholders to set such priorities for the global development agenda will hopefully inspire action and support. Authors do acknowledge, however, the low participation of organisations from the global South, only around a quarter of initial submissions. Low response rates from African, Latin American and Asia-Pacific organisations was linked to “linguistic, cultural and technological barriers”, as well as previous experience of participation bringing little benefit for the time involved. Consultations occurring regionally are suggested as away of overcoming these barriers.
The shortlist is kind of reflection of modern development theory and practice, for example the mainstreaming of gender perspectives across a variety of research areas, the focus on empowerment of marginalised communities and a greater awareness of development beyond solely economic progress. Some questions examined the paradigms underpinning international development practices and the global institutions that dominate the field. The lack of pre-approved themes is credited with allowing participants to examine broader development theories and long-held assumptions. For the shortlist, however, a focus on answerable questions and those needed to meet the SDGs mean few of these more fundamental questions made it into the final 100.
Of course pinpointing our information needs is one thing, and getting agreement on these 100, themes, drawn from an initial pool of 704, is no easy feat. And such collaboration will be essential for meeting the SDGs and other global targets but answering these questions and finding practicable solutions is going to be much harder. Ways of doing research, funding research and implementing this research differ between institutions and countries. So while It is hoped that the list will focus research efforts and inspire the kind of transdisciplinary research that will help tackle the key challenges facing the international community this is really only the beginning.
If you’re more interested in answers than questions, check out this article posted around the launch of the SDGs, whereby World Economic Forum experts provide their take on how we meet each of the 17 goals.