Author: Dr Douglas Halliday – Research Skills Toolkit Lead Advisor
Douglas Halliday is the Director of Durham University’s Global Challenge Centre for Doctoral Training. He is a Co-Director of Durham Institute and runs the Interdisciplinary Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy. His research interests are in the development of sustainable approaches to solar photovoltaic energy.
The world faces numerous and complex Global Challenges. The Sustainable Development Goals describe these challenges which encompass: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace and justice strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goal. These goals were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 and reflect their desire to see the world as a better place to live for all people by 2030. World leaders expressed a wish to see the problems described by each goal eradicated by 2030. The final goal expresses a desire that all countries work together in partnerships to address the challenges. In 2015 the UK government created a five year £1.5 Billion Global Challenge Research Fund to harness UK research expertise in finding lasting solutions to these Global Challenges.
Universities are a research powerhouse. They have much to contribute in achieving the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals. Research can develop drugs to eliminate tropical diseases, research can develop sustainable low-carbon energy technologies, and research can identify new methods of mass water purification. Similar statements can be made for all the Sustainable Development Goals. However for any solutions to have a lasting and meaningful impact, which changes lives for the better, there needs to be a deeper engagement between global research activity and developing nations. Collaboration between universities and other partners in developing and developed nations raises complex ethical issues. Effective partnerships are built on trust, respect and a recognition that effective solutions to problems must acknowledge the context of the country in which they are applied.
Universities have ensured the ongoing production of new knowledge, new insights and potential solutions to complex global problems. A key and integral part of this process is the development of research skills, problem solving skills and the ability to apply these to ensure robust outcomes. The doctorate, or PhD, is seen as the first step in the development and formation of a researcher. Doctoral candidates must be experts in their domain, they must have excellent knowledge of their field and they must make an original contribution to the collective knowledge of humanity.
Solutions to global challenges are not just knowledge. To achieve success we need new approaches for the training, professional development and cultivation of skills in early career researchers. Solutions are built on sound scientific research methods, solutions are creative and innovative, and solutions have a profound insight into the local, cultural and societal context in which they must work. This can only be achieved by meaningful partnerships between different global regions, the so-called global north and the global south. The training requirements to achieve success in global challenges are substantial. Researchers must be experts in their field of study. They must have high levels of technical competence. They must understand the root causes of global challenges which will vary by context and locale. Working across the global north – global south divide requires particular care. Lasting solutions can only be achieved by a partnership of equals, this co-creation of global challenge solutions is seen as a key cornerstone of global challenge research.
Careful consideration must be given to the conduct of researchers and wider ethical considerations. Research partnerships based on the principles of co-creation between low-income and high-income regions are essential. Considerable care must be taken to ensure that cultural contexts are respected, that unethical research practices and “ethics dumping” are avoided. The recent “Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings” is a welcome framework to support global challenge research. It advocates the key values of fairness, respect, care and honesty. It is now more important than ever that doctoral candidates and early career researchers take time within their research project to consider and reflect on these values, what they mean in the context of their research project and how they can be put into practice. The growth of global challenge research places additional intellectual and emotional demands on researchers. High quality training programmes and resources including face-to-face, online, and blended opportunities provide a valuable space for researchers to consider concepts, case studies and evaluate how their individual research programmes should take cognisance of these factors.
Seeking, identifying and implementing lasting solutions to our planet’s global challenges should concern us all. All our futures depend on this. The support, training and research opportunities offered by universities and Epigeum has come a long way. However there is more to be done in building a robust global challenge research training framework for the future. This needs to embrace co-creation as a partnership of equals; it needs to have a deep respect for all forms of knowledge and understanding from all cultural contexts. There is much to be done to reach the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. With effective partnerships, effective training and effective leadership perhaps we might achieve the vision of the sustainable development goals by 2030?
Dr Douglas Halliday is the Lead Advisor for Epigeum’s Research Skills Toolkit. The first programme in the Toolkit, Ethical Research, provides comprehensive training in both the theoretical and practical implications of ethical research, and supports researchers in establishing good ethical decision making skills.