How can we ensure that partnerships are transformative?

Beyond good intentions – the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI)

Workshop Area A 201 September 6, 2017 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

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Carel IJsselmuiden1, Jon-Andri Lys2, David Beran3

1COHRED, Switzerland; 2KFPE, Switzerland; 3University of Geneva, Switzerland


Why partnerships – in research

Research is all about partnerships and is increasingly about large networks of collaboration to deal with increasingly complex global problems – in health, food security, climate change and more. Partnerships provide access to expertise, capital, innovation, equipment, populations, problems and solutions not available to single institutions, sectors or countries. Facilitated by ease of transport, communication, data sharing, democratization of knowledge and flexible financing – research networks become innovation networks – creating direct links between research and innovation, between knowledge and scalable solutions. This is happening in high income countries – and increasingly in low and middle income countries as well.

This session focuses on how research partnerships can support research system development in emerging economies through the RFI (although the RFI is equally useful for any other research setting). There is one more reason to focus on partnerships in the context of this conference. High quality research that stimulates and sustains social and economic development can only happen in high performing national research and innovation systems. To develop these takes many decades – perhaps 50 years or more. The long-term predictable funding needed for research system development can, realistically, only be achieved in two ways: i) national funding prioritizing research system development – and ii) ensuring that the many short-term partnerships that take place over this period are constructed within a framework of fairness, equitability and impact. Long-term institutional partnerships that achieve this at institutional level exist (such as Swiss TPH and Ifakara Health Centre in Tanzania) but are few – and these do not necessarily impact on national research system capacity.



The predominant model of research funding is competitive. While this may work well in a developed research environment, it usually creates a ‘start-stop’ dynamic that is less suited to build national research and innovation capacity in low and middle income countries. This is not new. Many publications, past and current, focus on improving equitability of partnerships in the ‘north-south’ context. Several guidelines take the lessons of these publications further: the Swiss KFPE Principles and Questions among those leading the world. Practical tools go one step further – and aim to shift the power of negotiation and contracting towards the traditionally ‘weaker’ partners, whether in high or low income settings. Finally, local and international legal instruments are available to enforce fairness – for example the Nagoja protocol to ensure fair sharing in biodiversity research.


Why the RFI

“Going beyond intentions” – is the purpose of the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI). The RFI is designed as a voluntary reporting system applicable to all stakeholders in research and innovation – applicable to any science field. Every one or two years, the user produces an updated institutional RFI Report – describing current status in relation to 15 core aspects of fair, equitable and effective research partnerships – and providing plans to improve over the coming 2 years. RFI Reporting aims to achieve the following:


  • Direct benefit to the RFI Reporting Organisation (RROs): a comprehensive framework for research management, and for creating and maintaining fair, effective partnerships – not in the least by making internal values explicit
  • Increased compliance with existing guidelines, standards, benchmarks and legislation – completing the RFI Report encourages knowledge and use of existing guidelines, such as the KFPE partnership guidelines
  • Due diligence and transparency – quality of partnerships are often assumed. The RFI encourages mutual examination of 15 key determinants of fair, effective and lasting partnerships – before these are started – and to publish these so all partners can make informed choices.
  • Global learning platform – creating evidence-base on what works in partnerships around the world. The RFI ecosystem will provide systematic learning on a global learning platform – a first in research and innovation partnerships
  • Resilience – research and innovation systems are key to support socio-economic development and resilience of nations. The RFI ecosystem is owned and developed by all stakeholders, is transdisciplinary – and will evolve as systems and capacity grow.
  • Transform – the global research governance system to one of equitability, fairness, and impact on the research and innovation capacity of all nations.



This interactive session – is meant for participants to get a ‘hands-on’ opportunity to experience the use and impact of the Research Fairness Initiative. Using a ‘world café’ format, participants will be able to have in-depth discussions with active users of the RFI, and be able to explore how it creates benefits for all stakeholder groups in research – government departments, national agencies, research and academic institutions, business, research and development funders and others engaged in research aiming to improve health, equity and development.


A practical perspective on implementing the RFI will be given in three short presentations:

  • Carel IJsselmuiden, COHRED – a short re-statement of RFI for those who did not attend the previous session (“Increasing equality in partnerships: views from the field, policy makers and funders”)
  • Director General Research or Director of Research Finance (to be confirmed) – Ministry of Higher Education and Research, Senegal
  • Director General or Senior Scientific Advisor – high income country institution (to be confirmed)


Each ‘world café’ table will have a facilitator experienced in designing, improving or implementing the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI) in their sphere of work.

This session is a joint effort by COHRED, KFPE (SCNAT), and the COHESION Project of the University of Geneva.