May 25, 2011
With Foundation Firmly Established, Research Activities in Full Gear
An Interview with JICA-RI director Dr. Akio Hosono--Three main focuses of the new director
Newly inaugurated JICA-RI director Dr. Akio Hosono speaks of the following three policies that he believes will enhance the quality of research activities: 1) promotion of research that helps improve aid effectiveness, 2) knowledge and information sharing, and 3) contribution to the international aid community.
Boosting Feedback Efforts to Aid Practices
What are your ambitions as the new JICA-RI director?
Two and a half years have gone by since JICA-RI's inception in October 2008. The earliest stage of a new organization needs a special effort, and it is important — particularly for research institutes — to build a fundamental system as a solid organization during this period. This includes establishing basic policies and priority research areas while identifying project topics, creating quality control systems, and determining how to disseminate study outcomes. We have invested our time and efforts during the first years to lay the foundation; the next big step is to take our work to a higher level. To achieve this, we plan to base our activities on three main pillars.
First of all, our research will be devoted to the improvement of aid effectiveness. Being part of an aid-implementing organization that is JICA, our research findings must be applied in development assistance practice. We plan to further enhance collaborations between our researchers and on-field practitioners, and put efforts into quantitative and qualitative research that can help improve aid effectiveness. The presence of experienced practitioners in the same organization works to the advantage of JICA-RI. We will fully utilize this asset to advance our research projects.
How do you plan to enhance feedback of research findings to the field of development assistance?
We must begin by first grasping the needs of JICA's staff in the field and each department at headquarters. Through careful discussions with each department on the areas and themes to be studied, as well as their expectations for research outcomes, we will strive to reinforce the feedback function. As a part of this effort, we have recently conducted a research needs survey within JICA. A total of 36 research topics were proposed, which made us realize how high the expectations are. Each request is being thoroughly examined and reflected in our research policies.
I would like to introduce two specific examples of feedback to the field; a case study of the Philippine's Metro Manila on climate change adaptation measures, and another on capacity development (CD) analyzing the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh. The former was a joint study conducted in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, with focus on climate change impacts upon Asian coastal cities. Simulation analyses of floods were demonstrated to propose prospective climate change adaptation measures. The results will be useful in designing these measures for not only Manila but other Asian cities such as Jakarta. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated the Northeastern region of Japan in March was a reminder of the threat natural disasters pose on Asian mega-cities.
Meanwhile, the CD study analyzed in detail the exceptionally well-functional governmental organization, the LGED, in Bangladesh. The distinct feature of this research is that it conducted a theoretical analysis on the "strengths" that make LGED so efficient, compared with other Bangladeshi public institutions. I can say that we have produced analyses of no precedent with a new angle. Following the release of a working paper based on research findings, we received positive feedback from the LGED in which they highly valued the recommendations and decided to put them to use in future operations. JICA has been involved in various assistance projects for the LGED in the past, and I perceive the outcomes of this particular research as extremely significant for JICA as well.
With these examples in mind, we will make every effort to boost quality feedback to on-site practitioners and departments at JICA Headquarters.
Knowledge and Information Sharing
Please tell us more about the second pillar.
Another priority is to promote the sharing of knowledge and information that JICA has acquired throughout its history. Developing countries, regardless of its size, face numerous problems that must be dealt with. The key is to approach these problems not as separate issues but on a country level. In other words, it is necessary to accurately grasp the issues of developing countries, and organize them as a comprehensive and systematic knowledge base. Although JICA has been implementing development assistance projects for decades, the abundant experience and information have not been thoroughly sorted out. Systematically compiling such knowledge — through research — is surely the responsibility of JICA-RI. I hope to deliver findings, as "public goods," to not only developing country governments and aid practitioners, but to a wide range of stakeholders (e.g., NGOs, NPOs) as well.
To sum up, we must “look at the wood as well as the trees.” The "trees" in this case point to individual development issues or JICA projects. It is crucial, upon analysis, to have a comprehensive view of the country's situation surrounding these problems. With this broader view in mind, we have implemented research targeting regions such as Africa and the ASEAN, and on development issues regarding growing trends like emerging donors. We will continue to tackle research with this stance. The "wood/trees" approach is also applied in the dissemination process. While, for development experts, we will mainly deliver results via working papers based on extensive analyses, the release of solidly-analyzed but more approachable publications --like our Project History series-- will play a central role in knowledge sharing with the general public.
Towards the High Level Forum in Busan and TICAD V
In addition to JICA's projects, there is an increasing demand for feedback to the international aid community.
I feel keenly, from observing foreign aid trends, that while new actors are rapidly emerging, the world is facing new challenges. This calls for brand new approaches as well as global platforms and aid architectures that integrate them. Also, issues confronting Japan are undergoing major transformations following the March 11 disaster. It is crucial to explore new, powerful aid approaches and strategies, and to propose meaningful suggestions globally. By broadening and improving research projects, we must make efforts to contribute widely to the international community. This is the third pillar.
In particular, there is the growing presence of our neighbors China and South Korea, and emerging donors — India, South Africa, and Brazil. With their influence expanding at various international forums such as the G-20, it is important to follow the trends. We must also strengthen efforts in areas of new challenges such as climate change and disaster prevention. There is a need, particularly after the Eastern Japan earthquake, to direct focus on "disaster-vulnerable countries." Along with categorizations of "least developed countries" and "landlocked countries," I believe we can have a classification of "disaster-vulnerable countries" as well. Take, for example, landlocked countries. They share many problems, but not all landlocked countries are vulnerable to disasters. On the other hand, countries, located near seismic belts and volcanic zones, or lying in the course of hurricanes and typhoons, are prone to disasters. And when the risks are combined, the degree of damage is substantially high. Disaster control and prevention, which put these vulnerable countries into perspective, are pressing topics that the international community must tackle.
Meanwhile, it is highly likely that "south-south cooperation" (a development mechanism of experience and knowledge sharing between developing countries) and "triangular cooperation" (south-south cooperation facilitated by a developed country or an international organization such as JICA) will become more prominent. This is because the experiences and techniques voluntarily gained by developing countries are more easily transferable among fellow southern countries. When constructing earthquake resistant buildings, for instance, the materials available in southern countries are not always the same with those usually used in northern, developed countries. In such cases, approaches such as JICA's technical cooperation scheme are in need to determine how to enhance building strength with local materials. Thus "triangular cooperation" can be highly useful in this sense. We would like to promote our research activities on applicable approaches.
As for dissemination and feedback to the international aid community, outcomes of several research projects have already been presented. We released a book on climate change adaptation measures for COP16, and also took part in a side event at the conference. In the area of new aid approaches and platforms, a joint study on it with the Brookings Institution in the U.S and the Korea International Cooperation Agency of South Korea has borne fruit of a book in June 2011. For future prospects, we aim to disseminate research results which contribute to the international aid community by leading our projects towards global events and occasions such as the High Level Forum in Busan, Korea in November 2011, TICAD V, and the Post MDGs debates.