September 30, 2009
JICA Research Institute 1st Anniversary ? looking to our past and our future
An Interview with Keiichi Tsunekawa, JICA Research Institute Director
On October 1, 2009 JICA Research Institute (JICA-RI) marked its 1st anniversary.
We took this occasion to interview Dr. Keiichi Tsunekawa, the director of JICA Research Institute, on a range of relevant topics: studies undertaken and research progress; current international cooperation trends; political and economic changes -- both domestic and international -- since the institute’s establishment; and finally, the duties and future aspirations of JICA-RI.
JICA-RI's priority research areas and personnel recruitment
JICA Research Institute is marking its first anniversary. Please tell us about JICA-RI's research and progress.
At the time of its establishment, JICA-RI decided on four research areas: "Peace and Development," "Growth and Poverty Reduction," "Environment and Development/Climate Change," and "Aid Strategies." It was in these areas that we began our research.
During the past year, after considering internal and external requirements, we also identified five research focuses that especially demand study: "Fragile States," "African Development," "ASEAN Integration," "Climate Change," and "Aid Effectiveness."
Currently there are 28 research projects ongoing at JICA-RI within these four research areas and under these five focuses. The number of actual projects, however, is greater. Projects such as "Adaptation to and Mitigation of Climate Change in Developing Countries," "Revisiting the Capacity Development Approach through Comparative Case Analysis," and "Application of Improved Impact Analysis Methods to JICA Operations," among others, include various distinct sub-projects. If these are added to the count, the total number of research projects underway will be more than 30.
The standard procedure for our research work flow -- deciding on the project, contracting with outside researchers, conducting the study, and evaluating and transmitting the results -- has advanced considerably over the past year. But we still have many issues to be worked out and systematized, which suggests that we have not quite yet graduated from the trial and error stage.
Of these many issues, the most significant is enhanced recruitment of qualified researchers. The total number of researchers currently enrolled at JICA-RI, including fulltime JICA staff and fixed-term personnel, is only a dozen or so, supporting more than 30 research projects. We also seek outside researchers and university participation to form teams to implement projects. Still we are lacking human resources, so that for instance coordinating a research project that involves universities and researchers from both Japan and overseas is a real challenge.
This past year, we established a system for employing outside researchers, although on fixed term contracts. The good news is that we expect to gain several new researchers from our recruitment session of the first half of this year. Meanwhile JICA-RI will continue to hire domestic and overseas researchers as needed. At the same time, improvement in network style research is a priority continuously to be addressed, since we foresee increasing the number of our projects.
Response to world events and analysis of development effectiveness
Striking changes in international politics and economics, such as the recent global economic crisis and the advent of the Obama administration, have occurred since the establishment of JICA-RI. What is your view on the impact of such changes on Japan's international development and ODA policies?
First of all, although some now say that the financial crisis has bottomed out around the world, ODA spending is not likely to increase rapidly in the near future due to the ballooning budget deficits of the DAC (Development Assistance Committee) member countries of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). ODA spending is maxed out at best, and possibly may even decrease. Under these circumstances, it is the effective and efficient use of limited resources that becomes paramount. As mentioned earlier, aid effectiveness is one of JICA-RI's major research focuses. I expect this also to take hold in other parts of the world.
With regard to the new Obama administration, which some characterize by the term "smart power," the United States may be at the point of turning from military measures to civil support oriented measures. If this is the case, the importance of civil ODA in which JICA specializes will be heightened.
One more point I would raise about political change is the very recent government change in Japan. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is now in power and this may well have ramifications. With regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, more attention will most certainly be paid to civil support. Generally speaking, there are expectations for the sort of civil support in terms of conflict prevention and peace building which Japan is capable of providing. From this perspective, JICA-RI may need to further enhance research in these fields.
In short, in the prevailing political and economic environment, the ODA resources of many countries are limited, although the importance of ODA globally is on the rise. The challenge is closing the gap between availability and need. There is no doubt that more effective usage of aid will become of greater importance.
Here, however, the purpose of conducting aid operations must be considered. Assessment of aid effort is possible only if the purpose is clearly understood. In order to achieve our vision of "inclusive and dynamic development," JICA is working on many issues including climate change, water and food supply, infectious diseases, equitable growth and poverty reduction, improved governance and policies, and realization of human security. Ultimately these require that we consider the overall consequences of JICA operations.
Some of these development effects can easily be assessed in the short term, such as how many schools have been built. However, pursuit of inclusive and dynamic development means that results must be analyzed with a long term perspective. History shows that even so-called "developed" countries have taken decades to grow and reach their present level. This is a difficult task for JICA-RI, but I hope to develop a framework for analyzing effects beyond the short term, to at least the mid-term of as long as 10 years ahead.
Two methods of observing development effects are now under study at JICA-RI. One of them is research on capacity development, where the idea is not only to improve the capacity of an individual through human resource development and technical training, but also to foster the capacity-building of organizations, communities and systems in which individuals can perform to their full potential. The phrase "capacity development" has been used extensively; however, systematic comparative studies leading to categorizing and theorizing and to analysis of effects have not been thoroughly implemented until now. Our researchers are addressing this challenge by comparing more than ten JICA projects.
The other method is impact analysis. Impact analysis involves the quantitative measuring of effects using microeconomics. This requires data for analysis. We plan, therefore, to collect data, not only for the post-project phase, but also for baselines of projects yet to be implemented.
The new JICA has integrated into one mechanism the three modalities of loan aid, grant aid, and technical cooperation. This means that JICA-RI alone is in a position to conduct research on how this novel integrated aid system performs. While this may sound rather pretentious, there is no question that this is research that JICA-RI must pursue.
Addressing high quality research results
When can we expect concrete research results?
The research project "Impact of Non-DAC Donors in Asia: A Recipient's Perspective" is in the final stages. This is a study of the aid programs implemented in Cambodia by China, India, Thailand, and Korea. This research, I believe, is unique enough to attract a lot of attention if available in English. Furthermore, the research project "Empirical Study of Growth and Poverty Reduction in Indonesian Farms" has just finished the first phase and a series of papers based on it are being prepared for publication.
In addition to these activities, although not directly related to any of our research projects, each year we have been sending a JICA-RI team to the meeting of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD) Task Force on Africa, an initiative launched by the Nobel laureate in economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University. From among the papers prepared by our team for the IPD meeting held in South Africa in July of this year, we have selected three to be submitted as working papers. One of these, concerning conflict and land tenure in Rwanda, was published in September.
All our research results including working papers will be made available in English. If our research is published only in Japanese, the response to it will as a matter of course stay in Japan; but if the research is published in English, we can expect to have a much broader response. We have adopted this as a basic policy because I strongly expect our research to be world-class.
We intended that some of our research results will be published as books. I am considering having them printed by overseas publishers through a process that involves conducting pre-publication international evaluations. Research evaluated as not worthy of publication will be rejected. I want to be clear, however, that JICA-RI will remain fully conscious of its Japanese public. For this reason, we will prepare policy briefs in Japanese.
JICA-RI research projects are implemented on a two-year cycle. If a book is to be published, another eight months or so will be necessary. Therefore, it will take some time for a book of concrete research results finally to appear. At present, there is one being prepared for publication.
On the subject of book publishing, I would add one more thing. We plan to publish in Japanese books about past JICA projects which we regard as noteworthy for informing the Japanese people. Since JICA-RI will prepare this material, the content must be academically-sound, but at the same time, it is intended to be enjoyable for non-technical readers.
We are preparing to publish the first book of this kind in the first half of 2010. Young experts in fish culture from Japan and Chile, overcoming a series of difficulties, established the foundation of the Chilean salmon farming industry. Through many episodes experienced only by them, the process by which salmon farming developed in Chile will be presented as a human interest story. Their hard work and dedication have made Chile a global leader in salmon export (along with Norway). Today many of the salmon imported to Japan are from Chile. I am sure that many people have seen the "product of Chile" label on their package of salmon.
In our publications, both in English and in Japanese, we will uphold the strictest quality control. It is easy to make advocacy-like presentations, but it is content that really matters. To make the best use of JICA-RI research results, the best option is to work with integrity and maintain high quality.