The time is directly proportional to the extent of research activity of an institution. In a small non-profit involved in a few research projects, one dedicated person may complete the RFI Report in less than a day and have final internal agreement in another day. In national innovation agencies, multi-national organizations or businesses with large R&D budgets, it may take a team of 6 to gather data and up to 6 months to submit a report to the CEO.
However, there are two major considerations why ‘time and effort needed to produce the RFI report’ may not be the right question to ask and answer.
Firstly, ALL of the topics covered in the RFI are essential components of effective and efficient research organizations.
So, if your organization does not have the information to answer these questions, it is actually a great investment in improving functioning of your own research business.
- For example: if you do not have a clear organizational policy that specifies how research ethics review in foreign countries with foreign partners needs to be done, you open yourself to serious reputational damage. By examining institutional policies and practice, and by comparing these against global best practices, your institution can prevent damage to itself, its partners and potentially the study participants.
Secondly, the time it takes to answer a question is very small compared to changing institutional policy or practice in many cases. The RFI simply indicates an area for improvement – but agreeing on and achieving the improvement may take years!
- For example: a major national innovation agency in a middle income country applied the RFI. It responded to Indicator 2.10.3. External Financial Audit that it used a locally accepted accounting standard. Upon further reflection with the COHRED RFI Team, it appeared that close to 50% of its annual research budget was derived from foreign sources, and that it would make this institution more acceptable to receive foreign funding if its accounting standard would be changed to a globally accepted one. In this case, answering the question took literally less than a minute, but changing the internal accounting standard may well take 3 years before completion. Yet, this was seen by the Executive as a key benefit of using the RFI and it endorsed this decision.
The RFI Web Resources pages (http://rfi.cohred.org/resources) lists many articles, guidelines, tools and templates, and even international agreements that should influence how research partnerships are being constructed, maintained, grown, monitored and evaluated. RFI Reporting requires you to take note of these existing resources, and apply one or more – or adapt one or more – to improve your institutional partnerships policy and practice.
In this way, the RFI is a tool that enhance ‘compliance with existing guides, policies and practices’. The RFI does not develop new guidelines where there are existing ones. Instead, it encourages sharing experiences and improvements to these guidelines through the RFI Web Portal – which may well lead to new and improved guides, standards and benchmarks over time.
Another way in which the RFI can be used as a ‘compliance tool’ – is by requiring that recipients of research funding become RFI Reporting Institutions. This will provide some security to the funder or the government of countries of recipient institutions, for example, that various approaches to best partnerships practices are explicitly considered and the best selected for individual collaborations.
- For example: currently, a National Science Foundation, a corporate research sponsoring foundation, and a regional government body with research sponsorship responsibilities are all considering requiring that the lead organization in any funded partnership becomes an RFI Reporting Institution.
The short answer is ‘Yes – the RFI is a generic tool – it applies to all kinds of research, scientific and innovation partnerships and collaborations’.
We began the RFI in the broad domain of ‘health research – simply because that is where COHRED developed its expertise since 1993. However, since 2004, we have widened our work considerably to a wider domain ‘research and innovation for health, equity and development’. This can include virtually any field of science, and the RFI has been designed to cover this much wider area.
We encourage use of the RFI to any sphere of science collaboration – and look forward to fine-tuning the topics and indicators if that will be necessary to make it more appropriate.
The theory on which the RFI is premised is that:
- Research and innovation are essential for development of low and middle income countries – for health, equity and sustainable economic development. The future of any country – no matter how distant it may appear now – is through increasing its human capital and transform into a knowledge economy. This can not happen without consistent, long-term and substantive investment by all countries and regions in research, science, innovation.
- Research does not happen by chance – it requires strong, multi-faceted, resilient and responsive ‘research systems’. This includes research expertise, but also research management expertise, research communication, financing including venture funding of start-ups, education relevant to research, and a flourishing private sector to deal with user-focused design and ability to go to scale.