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close this book Measuring drought and drought impacts in Red Sea Province
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View the document Some comments on Oxfam and research

Some comments on Oxfam and research

The research conducted by Oxfam Port Sudan over the past two years has been very much an experiment. The Research Section at Oxfam Port Sudan was created to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the Beja, drought, response, and recovery. Synchronic views were avoided in all of the studies that make up this collection because without a clear understanding of the past there is no means to interpret the present or future. It is this point of view that has been at the heart of the research programme in Oxfam Port Sudan.

Oxfam's research experiment in Red Sea Province has produced rewarding results. Research is essential if Oxfam is to make sound policy decisions and evaluation is necessary to maintain a credible level of accountability. It has been useful to have one person continuously present to organise and coordinate the research. It would have been more appropriate, however, for a Research Officer to have been appointed at the beginning of Oxfam's involvement in Red Sea Province to give continuity and consistency to the work.

There are two types of research that Oxfam can support: programme research and relief related research. These two types of research may be conducted by local nongovernmental organisations, government, or by Oxfam itself.

At the programme level, three types of research are necessary in development to help ensure a successful outcome. The first type is conducted before a programme begins. The second type is ongoing. The first type of research is generally termed programme identification or needs assessment. Ordinarily this work is done in a cursory fashion. Identify the place, what can be accomplished there in general terms, who benefits, and some guidelines on how to go about accomplishing the identified objectives. The second type of research is designed to augment the knowledge of the programme team after the programme has begun and enable the team members to accomplish the objectives articulated in the programme identification paper or to tailor those objectives to something more realistic. The third type of research at the programme level is more properly termed evaluation. This evaluation determines if the programme itself achieved its stated objectives in the manner intended. This evaluation can be ongoing (formative evaluation) or occur at the end of the programme (summative). Ongoing evaluation is more desirable because it modifies the programme as it develops and should be incorporated at the planning level. Oxfam programmes should not be approved if they do not provide for ongoing evaluation at the planning stage.

Research in relief programmes is and has been more problematic than that associated with development programmes. Usually, emergencies are such that a quick response is called for rather than lengthy consideration about the merits of involvement; evaluation has rarely been considered as a priority, although there is evidence that this is changing. When outside intervention moves from the camps to the general population research must be conducted to determine the necessity and the economic, social, political, and environmental impacts of such action. In relief programmes professional evaluation is of the greatest importance. It is essential that Oxfam require an ongoing research and evaluation component be incorporated at the planning stage of every relief programme.

A final point is whether Oxfam is the right organisation to be doing research. It may be more appropriate for the national government, local government, local universities, or local nongovernmental or professional organisations to conduct research. Local institutions may be able to conduct research in greater harmony with local people, local institutions and government than is possible by an outside organisation. A possible role for outside organisations may be in training researchers. This type of effort will enhance a country's human resources and strengthen institutions rather than create parallel structures on a temporary basis.