Sheffield recently hosted a workshop on “Improving maternal and child health in Nepal by leveraging international interdisciplinary partnerships”. The workshop was designed to share my experiences of working in Nepal through my previous ESRC/DFID funded project, “Resilience Policy Making in Nepal: Giving Voice to Communities”, followed by critical discussions around experiences and challenges of working in low– and –middle income countries with a focus on the three key areas: local partnerships, participatory work, and interdisciplinary research. In this blog, I will share the insights from the workshop, but first I would like to introduce the community resilience project and its key outcomes.
The community resilience project aimed to understand community members’ views on the disaster risks their communities face; and investigate their perceptions of the roles of government and other organisations in assisting their communities in coping better with future disasters (i.e. community-level resilience). My colleague, Dr. Karki and I conducted 10-day participatory video making (PV) projects in three villages that had been affected by the earthquakes of 2015: Hagam and Jalbire in Sindhupalchok District; and Keraunja in Gorkha District. We trained eight community participants in Hagam and Jalbire and nine in Keraunja, and supported them in making short films addressing issues of disaster and resilience in their communities. The participants made short films that included key messages from their community to policymakers. We held policy workshops at districts, provinces and the capital city, Kathmandu, and involved the community filmmakers, government officials, representatives of (I)NGOs, and the media. More information about PV is available on our blog.
The policy workshops in Nepal provided us with opportunities to have direct interactions between community members (participatory video participants), and policymakers, programme managers and implementers. While some workshop participants criticised the quality of the participatory videos instead of focusing on its contents, others appreciated the effort of the community members to show community issues through videos. The Chief Executive Officer of the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) supported our work by providing a written letter asking us to document reconstruction issues in the same villages. This letter was useful for us to apply and receive a Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) to work on a project, ‘Tracking post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal: addressing civil engineering and policy implementation challenges’. As part of that project, a national level-screening event is being held on the 14th June 2019 at the NRA office in Kathmandu. Additionally, I received a QR-GCRF pump priming award to organise this workshop in Sheffield. Ultimately, this workshop provided us with an excellent platform to reflect on the various aspects of the resilience project that led to its success.
The success of the resilience project was largely because it was implemented in partnership with a local NGO, PHASE Nepal, which has a strong presence in the research areas. Local partner’s help was crucial for us to implement the project on the ground. However, working in partnership requires a clear definition of what partnership means within a project, as described by my colleague and the founder of PHASE Nepal, Dr Jiban Karki: “We are not equal partners. Understanding and acknowledging the existing inequality within the partnership and working from that point on is crucial if we want to work together”. All other attendees agreed on the importance of engaging with local partners from the beginning of the project and really listening to them if we want to work with them to tackle issues of international development.
Another reason for the success of resilience project was due to the participatory approach of the research. While we facilitated the data collection, but it was the community members who collected the data and made films about disaster issues that were relevant to their communities. Our relatively long interaction with research participants (15 days, 10 days in local communities and 5 days in workshops) meant that we devoted time and effort to preparing the selected community members for the workshops, formulating questions, and preparing them to speak up in front of the policymakers. In doing so, the community participants reported increased confidence to speak to a high-level audience and put their issues forward. Our workshop attendees in Sheffield also agreed the importance of such participatory approaches to work in developing countries.
The next reason for the success of our resilience project was it generated a space to have dialogues across community members, policymakers, implementers and researchers so that the gaps among them could be bridged. However, such involvement of policymakers (key champions) was viewed sceptically by some workshop participants in Sheffield, who commented that policymakers often have their own way of generating evidence and might not agree with the approaches and views of researchers. Other attendees argued that involving policymakers might not necessarily generate the desired outcomes, because there are many policy documents that look good on paper but that are rarely implemented. We agreed on the critical importance of using a bottom-up approach in which community members are engaged in generating their own solutions. This is exactly what I plan to do in my upcoming GCF funded Fellowship.
Finally, part of the success of our resilience project was due to its interdisciplinary teamwork. Our team was composed of theorists, and experts from public health, politics, management, and local researchers. The workshop participants highlighted the importance of working collaboratively to tackle current development challenges in low-income countries. Our participants also had different sets of research skills (clinical, theoretical, methodological, experimental) and disciplinary backgrounds (social sciences, health, engineering, geography, archaeology and anthropology). So, we discussed possibilities of developing a team for future funding applications. As a result, Dr. Brown from Durham University is organising a similar workshop in May/June 2019. A research team from Sheffield and Leeds will visit Durham to learn more about their research and plan for future collaborations. Together, we identified the following potential areas of joint research in Nepal:
- Understanding transmission of knowledge across generations (adaptations of indigenous knowledge)
- Understanding the politics of what counts as evidence/knowledge and increasing public understanding of research through public engagement
- Developing teaching and research programmes within the University
- Using and testing participatory approaches such as PV, photo voice, storytelling, focus groups, and interviews, among others.
We launched the final report of the resilience project at the end of the workshop.
To conclude, the workshop generated very useful discussions around the challenges of working in low- and –middle income countries, especially involving policy makers in the research process and redefining partnerships. The workshop also provided us with useful insights on local partnerships, participatory work, and interdisciplinary research.
Sarita Panday is currently based at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC). She has recently been appointed to a two year Global Challenges Fellowship at the University of Sheffield to work on a research project, “Equity and inclusion in maternal and child healthcare: from policy to action in a participatory co-designed research on access to health among women from marginalised populations in rural Nepal’.