Give us a sense of your current work and affiliations.
My research focuses on tackling community health challenges across the world, further driven by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015. Since my appointment I have been establishing national and international global health research, which has led to the development of a very distinct field in global health design internationally. Developing and leading the first international Design Research Society Special Interest Group in Global Health Design research group as well as two books in Design for Health and Design for Global Challenges the first ones in the field, establishing new research agendas. I have led design research on projects tacking SDGs in the Global South. These include projects on understanding cleaning practices and driving infections from homes in Ghana; developing health and care policies for senior citizens in Malaysia using creative methods; developing a research network focusing on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in African Countries; developing community-led solutions to Antimicrobial Resistance and several more.
ImaginationLancaster is an interesting centre, but what makes this centre unique to support sustainable projects?
ImaginationLancaster’s research is based upon different ways of doing, thinking, and interacting, and is inclusive in scope. We adopt a mélange of different approaches and cultures. Imagination promotes a design research philosophy that includes experimental, collaborative, speculative, inductive, explication-based, practice-based, hybrid, and hacked approaches and methods. Various cultures coexist in contemporary design research, and this pluralism is encouraged throughout the ImaginationLancaster ethos. Design’s ability to engage real people and communities, understand everyday problems and implement the ‘right’ solution, not just the ‘newest technology’, enables it to act as a bridge between other disciplines. It is an important and growing voice in this field, that helps to bridge the gap between the rapid advancements in science, technology and engineering with real people, challenges and contexts on an everyday level.
What has been your experience with developing and managing strategic partnerships?
Over the past 5 years we have been developing and managing strategic partnerships with partners in Ghana, Angola, Cameroon, Malaysia and Indonesia. We have found that meeting people in person is key in developing partnership relations. Then seeking mutually beneficial collaboration through research activities, such as joint publications and research proposals helps cement this and create a working model and relationship.
What do you consider are the two biggest challenges to equitable and sustainable partnerships?
One of the main challenges researchers with experience in the Global North face, when working with researchers in the Global South, is to assume that the same conditions will prevail when expanding their activities into developing countries. The conditions are in fact very different. A lot of it relates to power dynamics in the North–South collaboration and partnership. These include inequitable access to information, training, funding, conferences, publications leading to disproportionate influence of Northern partners in project administration and budget management. This usually results in the research agenda being dominated by the Global North partner researchers and agencies, with funding directed primarily towards international salaries, rather than the salaries of local researchers.
Face-to-face time with research partners forms a key enabler to develop further the sustainable partnerships and the research, however limited funding for international travel often prevents this. In the absence or limited opportunities for face-to-face communication (often dictated by the need to reduce travel, due to the climate change as well as to natural disasters in some Global South countries), online/telephone communication becomes paramount. However, collaborations in global research are strained by distance and communication barriers
Can you highlight some of the key ImaginationLancaster projects that concern Africa and how you have managed the project partnerships?
The Dust Bunny project, applies design research methods coupled with microbiological analyses to address issues of home-based infections in Ghana, particularly those carrying antimicrobial resistance. In developing this project capacity building was key.
Building capacity and strengthening collaboration between public and private sectors in the Global South, both to create sustainable research infrastructure and also to facilitate adoption of the resulting findings are equally key and require constant renegotiation. This can be achieved by bringing together a large number of universities in building postgraduate student capacity in the Global North and in the South.
Challenges around the formation and maintenance of the research partnership also emerged. The main themes revolved around collaboration, communication and gender, with discussion touching upon issues of power dynamics and hierarchy, limited internet access for communication and having an ‘all male’ research team. In the Dust Bunny project, this was compensated for by recruiting all female Research assistants/data collectors.
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