Alissa Trotz, University of Toronto, keynote speakerWhat kind of development do we want for today's world? That was the central question addressed by almost 400 participants from some 35 countries during the biannual Swedish Development Research Conference (DevRes) organised 22 and 23 August in Gothenburg. Mundus maris contributed to a special session under the aegis of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes focusing on how to ensure that perspectives of people on the ground - anywhere - get heard and that joint learning can take place.

The conference set out with a keynote by Alissa Trotz, Professor of Caribbean Studies and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada who talked about the changing role of the diaspora from developing countries. She cautioned that the current exhuberance for seeing remittances and sacrifice of the migrants as the principal solution to "underdevelopment". While remittances undoubtedly played a major role in alleviating poverty in families, the attempts to channel these flows through burocratic obstacles in favour of short-term 'market based' solutions could easily reduce their effectiveness for opening up choices of citizens.

Shielding from migration? Building higher and higher walls?Loss of the majority of citizens educated to tertiary levels - up to 93% in countries like Guyana - did not easily fit the new ideal of 'brain circulation' and did not do anything to stop the net outflow of capital from former colonies. This is currently estimated at 2 trillion USD, despite 1.3 trillion USD of aid, all sources combined. So, without wanting to point only to the negative sides, Alissa invited critical reflection on the trade, financial and institutional relations. She also pointed out that the discourse on migration and diasporas had only very weak links to concerns about climate change and that many policies were actually exasperating climate effects instead of helping to mitigate or adapt.

The second keynote was offered by David Simon of the Mistra Urban Futures Centre at Chalmers University Gothenburg and Professor of Development Geography of Royal Holloway University of London. He talked about how the notion of development had changed over time and confronted theory with practice in development research at a time when Zeitgeist is characterised by widespread uncertainty, anxiety and fear.

He argued that how we understand the world (the cosmos) determines how we relate to the perceptions of how 'the development system' failed or betrayed us and the key thinkers / doers embodying the disappointment:

  • wealth is for the few (Goldman Sachs - global trade)
  • public sectors and states lose ability to determine conditions of their citizens - powerlessness (Geoffrey Sachs - being well-meaning but not quite up to the task)
  • scholars declaring 'death of modernity' (Wolfgang Sachs - ignored critiques).

Mans Nilsson commented on the challenges of integrated decision makingDavid argued in favour of conceptual pluralism, to recognise that people learn collectively and develop a social type of knowledge and the need to find a new balance between people as individuals and part of a bigger social, economic and environmental context. As a result, research needs to develop methodologies that are transdisciplinary, inclusive and allow for co-production of knowledge through forms of participation by different actors. How can we practice transdisciplinary research? through collectively defining the research questions, designing and developing investigations and implementing the resulting knowledge.

One of the key challenges in this context is how to get to long-term planning and implementation processes that are not bound up with short-term electoral or investment cycles. Critical engagement over time has shown some results, however, despite of difficulties. Think of recent decisions by major companies to stop using plastic cups to externalise the costs. That gives hope for rethinkng value chains towards fairer and, hopefully, more sustainable models.

The registration of the lecture will shortly become available on YouTube.

Highlights from integrating implementation across the SDGs

Sustainability versus Micky Mouse EconomicsMåns Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) presented some methodological efforts to respond to the need for integrated planning and decision-making demanded by implementing the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030. While showing how the different SDGs are connected and scoring that with some indicators, Måns cautioned to be aware that many assessments are specific to context and that one should be prudent with generalisations. He also admitted that while the Swedish government was well aware of the research it was not willing to engage. The researchers had found such unwillingness to give up control over narrow portfolios in favour for more integrated decision-making also in other countries.

Prajal Pradham of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) started out showing different concepts underlying policy choices. He confronted forms of sustainable economics within the boundaries of the planet with what he termed "Micky Mouse economics", where everything is subordinate to short-term profit. He then  walked the audience through integrated analyses of the SDGs based on UN indicators from the 2016 datasets and exploring how to break the vicious circle of bad trade offs between some SDGs turning them at least into neutralities, if not outright synergies. The UN datasets do not cover SDGs 14 and 16 at this stage as Life under Water was not covered in the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But the team is willing to look into the matter given the importance of the ocean for the climate, the economy and life on Earth in general.

Co-production of knowledge remains a challenge

Presenting the small-scale fisheries academy in SenegalOur contribution was in the EADI Panel "Reflecting on the Role of Local Context and Collaboration in Transdisciplinary Development Research" chaired by colleagues of the SEI.

We focused the talk by Aliou Sall and Cornelia E Nauen, presented by the latter, on the opportunities and challenges of co-producing knowledges thanks to the forthcoming tests for implementing a small-scale fisheries academy in Senegal, West Africa.

We highlighted briefly the context of small-scale fisheries, which have massively expanded, but are under siege from often illegal operations of international industrial fleets. The women fish processors and marketers are particularly affected as they can not effectively compete with investors with deep pockets.

Moreover, tacit coordination between the fisheries administration and traditional leaders have all but collapsed as new institutions set up under a reformed sector policy with the help of a regional World Bank project are trespassing into pre-existing social regulation mechanisms.

Moreover, the small-scale fisheries and traditional processing through smoking and drying also take a toll on the environment when reaching bigger scales and contributing, e.g. to deforestation.

In this context, the small-scale fisheries academy started by Mundus maris in collaboration with INNODEV of the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and professional organisations of small-scale fishers, such as CNPS, FENAGIE and others is an attempt to overcome such dysfunctionalities through an agora-type safe space for joint study and learning. Tests are scheduled to start in October 2018. Click here for the presentation. We thank the session participants for valuable questions and comments.

The conference was organised by the University of Gothenburg in cooperation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Swedish Research Council. Click here for more info.

Text and pictures by Cornelia E. Nauen

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