What challenges for development research in Latin America?

This post was written by Carolina Zuluaga, Assistant Editor Vox.LACEA

Is the Latin America and Caribbean region carrying out more research than in previous years? Are there more resources for research available in emerging countries? Is public policy more consequential with research results? The LACEA and LAMES 2013 invited session “Development Research Challenges”, sponsored by GDN, seeks to find the answers to these interrogations.

In order to make an outline of the challenges ahead for development research, globally and within Latin America, it is important to understand where we are now and what has been done in the last few years. In his intervention, Francois Bourguignon (Paris School of Economics) discusses how economic and development research has done a shift from a Macro to a Micro point of view in the last 15 years. Although Micro focused research brings unique elements to a given study such as access to micro data and to details of the behavior of agents, the universal perspective of things is lost. Hence we are losing analysis of Macro topics that are essential to economic research and that help us to pose better solutions to current problems. As a matter of example, in the case of education, we could say that we are educating more people through more effective programs, but deploying efforts in this direction does not mean we are creating more jobs for those people! In which case, it is not an all-inclusive solution to the problem but rather, we are just tackling one part of the problem. For Bourguignon, one of the main challenges for economic research is to go back to including the “big picture” in our analyses; combining thus the two lines of research, Micro and Macro.

Alan Winters (University of Sussex) highlights the impact that globalization has had on research topics in the last 10 years, going from migration and inequality to trade and investment. But recently, he says, another topic is becoming of great importance: Productivity. Future research needs to focus on productivity, especially on issues related to the environment, industrial policy and regulation, allocation of resources, infrastructure and the role of the government upon all these issues.

Regarding development research in Latin America, Santiago Levy (Inter-American Development Bank) considers that a lot has improved in the last 10 years in terms of quality, topics, and the response to current political and economic situations. Nevertheless, future research has to be tailored to incorporate results in the social discussion, communicate more with the society and not only with researchers and policymakers. Research results need to be communicated in a simplified way in order to reach a wider audience. According to Marcela Eslava (Universidad de los Andes) and Andres Neumeyer (Universidad Torcuato di Tella), if communicated effectively, research will have more visibility and therefore, more access to funding and more possibilities of producing co-authored works with economists from other regions and professionals from other disciplines. Eslava and Newmeyer also highlighted the importance of creating and maintaining research networks in Latin America as well as associations that promote research such as LACEA. Such organizations have proved to be successful in generating positive synergies of participation in research and fundraising campaigns.

While concluding the session, all panelists agreed upon the need for researchers to focus more on the topic rather than the research techniques and methods of research. To tackle the various problems affecting the region, there has to be a separation between interesting ideas and the latest fashion topics. Topics that seem less interesting to the general public or that don’t need innovative or fashion techniques are sometimes left out. This is why researchers are responsible for selling certain ideas for studies that need to be carried out, and raise funds for their conduction. In addition, it is essential that funding organizations engage more with the specific area covered by the study as research done by and for the region shows to be more effective in solving real problems. A scheme that has proved to be very effective, as Eslava suggests, is producing co-authored research in which at least one of the researchers is working from the area of coverage of the study.

A lot has been done in the last 15 years. We know more than before and we can prove it as data collection has also improved considerably during this period of time. We have certainly made great progress regarding research techniques and this has helped us explain things that before were only intuitive. So now that we have the tools, and the data we have to focus in improving the fundraising for research, communicating more with the society and policy makers, and creating more and better bonds between the funding institutions and the areas of coverage of the research.

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