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close this bookThe Human Settlements Conditions of the World's Urban Poor (HABITAT, 1996, 233 p.)
close this folderVII. Agenda for future work
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Countering urban poverty
View the documentB. Shelter, good governance and the enabling role
View the documentC. Specific policy areas in need of development
View the documentD. Strengthening shelter strategies for the poorest groups
View the documentE. Harnessing the benefits of research
View the documentF. The future role of local authorities
View the documentG. The role of CBOs and NGOs
View the documentH. The role of the private commercial sector

E. Harnessing the benefits of research

The World Bank (1991) has decried the apparent reduction in urban research activity during the 1980s and called for the “reactivation” of urban research in the 1990s. Others have pointed out that there is a growing “gulf” between the research community and the agenda for action by practitioners in the field of shelter and human settlements development. Both of these statements implicitly underline the importance of research to urban policy development and the need for a stimulating policy dialogue between research and practice. Whilst there is no shortage of ideas for research, in recent years there has been a shortage of resources to support critical and substantive research programmes.

There are a variety of roles which research can fulfill and it is relatively easy to identify recognizable gaps in research coverage. Firstly, in reviewing areas of fundamental or substantive research it is possible to identify several areas which need to be addressed. There has been, for example, remarkably little research which has analyzed the impact of SAPs and macro-economic reform on the shelter policies of developing countries. Secondly, whilst policy-makers advocate increased recognition of the role of the privately rented sector there is little understanding of what this means in terms of living conditions, landlord-tenant relations, or the level of rents payable. Initiatives designed to promote private renting are few and far between and there is little knowledge of what incentives or safeguards may be necessary to encourage ‘responsible renting’ as a component of shelter strategies. Thirdly, whilst the World Bank has established its Housing Indicators Programme and UNCHS (Habitat) has more recently begun an Urban Indicators Programme, there has been very little research which seeks to understand the dynamics of local housing markets, or indeed whether a ‘market’, as such, exists at all! Each of these areas (and there are others), raises some fundamental questions for policy-makers which are not currently being addressed effectively.

A second role for research is monitoring and evaluation. Such research is usually linked to an innovative project or area of policy. There is considerable scope for additional monitoring and evaluation work especially in association with the shelter initiatives of international agencies. There are also other important shelter and urban development programmes where monitoring ought to be included and is currently absent or ineffective in feeding back into decision-making.

Thirdly, research may be used to identify and promote innovation and good practice. A good example of such a research programme already mentioned is the UNCHS (Habitat)/DANIDA Community Development Programme (see section VI.D.) from which a worldwide capacity for advice, guidance and training has been developed. If additional resources were forthcoming from international donors, this kind of research/action could be extended to include other policy areas, e.g. local economic development and shelter partnerships.

By definition the two former types of research are prescriptive, i.e. the areas of work may be defined and research bids invited, whilst the latter is more responsive, i.e. the research depends on the initiatives and their location. There is a need to harness all three types of research and, in the context of the increasing internationalization of global shelter strategies, to ensure an increasingly comparative dimension to shelter and urban research programmes. The international research community is responding organizationally to this need through the formation of shelter research networks. The European Network of Housing Researchers has grown rapidly since its inception in 1989; an Asian Housing Research Coalition has recently been established and an African network is proposed. With encouragement and support these networks should facilitate more effective communication between researchers, practitioners and donor agencies, more effective dissemination of research findings, and provide greater scope for inter-regional research collaboration.

Habitat II provides an invaluable opportunity for restoring the policy dialogue between researchers and practitioners, but this dialogue also needs to include donor agencies. It is important that one of the aims of Habitat II should be to identify and acknowledge a research agenda for the future, arising out of the debates and policy decisions of the Conference. This needs to be complemented, thereafter, by a regular series of events, workshops, seminars and conferences, organized around major policy issues associated with urban development and the GSS.