Stimulating exchange

Cooperation is crucial for development. All relevant players in policy-making, implementation and research must pull together – both in donor and developing countries. The work in extremely diverse environments, however, is driven by different incentives. PEGNet – the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network – offers a platform for the kind of exchange that needs to take place, but cannot be taken for granted.

By Alexander Freese and Linda Kleemann

To bring policymaking in line with research findings and practical realities, actors in all three fields need to pool their expertise and experience. For this reason, PEGNet was created in 2005 as a joint initiative of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), its implementing agencies GTZ (now incorpor­ated in GIZ) and KfW Entwicklungsbank and the universities of Göttingen and Frankfurt.

The founding institutions were later joined by other research institutions, individual researchers and practitioners from all over the world. Notable examples include the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Paris-based think tank DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Ajustement à Long terme), and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) in Cape Town. Today, PEGNet has more than 100 institutional and individual members.

Researchers’ interests typically differ from practitioners’. In the research system, what matters most is publication in peer-reviewed journals. Accordingly, the emphasis is not on application-oriented inquiry but on groundbreaking work fit to inspire new theories.

Practitioners, however, need information for solving project-related problems. They eagerly consume the wealth of experience collected in case studies. The understanding of context-specific variables, which do not matter much for theorising, can make the difference between the success and failure of development projects. Accordingly, practitioners’ interest in empirical studies can boost researchers’ motivation – especially since communication between the two groups often sparks the kind of new ideas the scholars need.

Development projects obviously are more likely to succeed when soundly based on research findings. It is essential, moreover, that researchers be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of projects. Policymakers too benefit from basing decisions on solid research.

The primary role of PEGNet is to promote the vital exchange between all players. The Network’s main activities include organising annual conferences on pertinent issues. The first one was staged in 2007. The conferences are hosted alternately by PEGNet members in donor and partner countries. The last conference took place at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in Midrand, South Africa.

One of the special features of PEGNet conferences is the high level of active participation by experienced as well as young researchers and practitioners. Major contributions are made not only by the top leaders of relevant institutions, but also by the next generation. Feedback from conference participants shows that the result is a very stimulating mix. PEGNet thus paves the way for more than just highbrow debate; it just as much allows for an exchange at working level. Participants have the opportunity to make their research known, elaborate on the practical relevance of their PhD theses or fine-tune ideas for implementing a development project.

Apart from the annual conference, the network organises events in partner countries as well as sessions at the Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE). PEGNet also awards travel grants to researchers from developing countries for visiting Europe and funds small research projects. Many cooperative ventures have been facilitated that involved researchers from Europe and developing countries.

The latest example of an interesting PEGNet cooperation is a major research project co-financed by the BMZ. It is about the economic, social and institutional obstacles entrepreneurs face in seven West African countries. The results will help to stimulate economic growth and employment. Participants include the PEGNet members IfW, GIGA, DIAL, the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague and the Observatoire économique et statistique d’Afrique sub-saharienne (AFRISTAT) in Bamako, Mali. Given the project’s links to a multi-donor World Bank trust fund, feedback to policymakers and practitioners is guaranteed.

PEGNet contributes to establishing communication channels between young and experienced researchers, practitioners and policymakers in developing and donor countries, thus facilitating the constructive exchange needed to optimise resource allocation in pursuit of development goals. Since this approach accurately mirrors the editorial concept of D+C/E+Z, it makes sense that the periodical is the media partner of this year’s annual PEGNet conference in Hamburg (see box).

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