|Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 18, Number 2, 1997 (UNU Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 1997, 118 pages)|
|Working Group report on capacity-building in research|
Research capacity in nutrition will be enhanced by educating future research faculty, that is, those who can conduct independent research and educate future researchers in nutrition and related disciplines within universities or in affiliated research institutions. This may be accomplished through the provision of degree training at the master's and doctoral levels for these professionals. These should be research-based academic degrees, and research conducted in the course of degree training should be based in the individual's country of origin and respond to a research need of the index country.
In the shorter term, existing academic faculty and researchers should benefit from additional education and training as appropriate to upgrade their skills and knowledge and to sensitize them to nutrition issues. This may take the form of degree training or short-term training. Another means of strengthening research capacity is actively to promote the participation of professionals from targeted centres in research, so that research capacity can be developed through hands-on experience and mentorship by more experienced researchers.
Governments have the primary responsibility to support this initiative, and should be sensitized to the importance of providing resources for this purpose. To accomplish this, the government, along with bilateral and multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private sector partners who sponsor research, should actively seek collaborators from the countries or regions where the research is planned to take place, and additional funds for training should be provided, whenever possible. Currently, the identification of in-country collaborators for externally sponsored research is often difficult and is commonly limited by the personal network of externally sponsored researchers. These difficulties may be minimized by using existing regional networks, or, for example, by establishing regional UNU secretariats or other regional bodies charged with maintaining and updating databases of agencies, academic and research institutions, and individuals involved in various areas of research and action related to nutrition. Over time, independent capacity to conduct research and train investigators will be developed in selected institutions.
Ideally, schools or departments selected for development should have a multidisciplinary orientation that approaches nutrition problems as they exist in society at large, reflecting the current understanding of nutrition as a multidisciplinary science that crosses the laboratory, clinical, and social sciences. Nonetheless, each department or school should be encouraged to develop its own areas of specialization, recognizing that no single department or school can develop sufficient depth to achieve excellence in every discipline related to nutrition.
Many institutions whose areas of expertise reflect a traditional focus on laboratory and clinical sciences have identified the social sciences of nutrition policy and programmes as an area in which additional capacity is needed. Thus, faculty excellence should not be defined only within the traditional academic disciplines, but should include the promotion of academically rigorous, problem-focused, cross-disciplinary researchers. Every effort should be made to ensure that within a given region, the institutions selected for development build complementary areas of strength.
Institutional capacity, once developed, must be maintained. The targeted institutions and their collaborators should be linked in a communication network that allows individuals to inform each other of their activities and to seek information or assistance from each other to meet particular research or educational needs. The Internet or other electronic media can be used to maintain this communication in an informal manner. The UNU is encouraged to provide leadership to this activity. Beyond informal electronic communication, regularly scheduled meetings of regional and international networks responsible for training should be held. (Over time, it is likely that institutions may come to have both roles, that is, those of provider and recipient of education, training, and mentorship.) These meetings might be scheduled to coincide with major professional meetings, such as the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS). Both the informal communication networks and periodic meetings would facilitate the exchange of training and research materials, lessons learned, specific programmes, and so forth.