This is the third regional conference of population research centers organized by CICRED; the first was held in Bali, Indonesia, in 1988 for the Asian centers, and the second in Quito, Ecuador, in 1991 for the Latin American centers. Being familiar with the discussions held at these two earlier meetings and listening to the discussions here in Addis Ababa these past two days, I am struck by the similar concerns that characterize centers worldwide. I believe this points to the value of having such exchanges, the valuable role that CICRED can play in facilitating interaction among centers, and the need for within-region organisations such as your own Union for African Population Studies to facilitate intraregional exchanges and cooperation.
We know from the call for this meeting that CICRED had several objectives in mind: 1) to inform participants about the research and training activities of the respective centers; 2) to facilitate the sharing of experiences and ideas about how to cope with ongoing problems; 3) to encourage development of cooperative networks and common projects.
Within this broad framework, I believe we can conclude that the discussions have been quite successful. They have involved: a) reviewing the results of the survey undertaken by CICRED, covering centers in both English-speaking and French-speaking Africa with respect to their activities, resources, interests, and modes of operation; b) exchanging information about research capacities, problems, priorities, and directions of future development; c) sharing information on the scope of each other's training, research, and information dissemination activities; d) critically evaluating "successes" and "failures" of efforts at integrated research; and e) exchanging ideas regarding intercenter cooperation and ways to strengthen research capabilities, training, and information dissemination activities.
Both in the survey and in the ensuing discussions, we have covered a wide range of topics in considerable depth and managed to do so in a comparatively short period of time.
If one point stands out in the discussions, it is that institutional arrangements in English-speaking and French-speaking countries are quite different, even though many of the concerns are the same. Therefore, much can be learned from one another, and probably much can be gained by narrowing some of the differences in approaches by adopting those which experience has shown to be more effective. In doing so, however, one must recognize that demographic conditions vary widely by country and even within individual countries.
This means that the criteria used in setting priorities regarding research and training as well as policy issues will likely have to differ depending on a) the specific needs of the country; b) whether decision makers are interested in the particular areas of research; c) availability of necessary secondary data sources needed for reasonably priced, early answers to pressing questions; d) donor interests, recognizing that much research and training is dictated by the perspectives of donor agencies and foundations; e) the interests of the individual researchers. Underlying our discussions was the thesis that African centers know best what their needs are and should be allowed to set their own priorities based on the agenda that they have developed after careful review at regional conferences such as the Dakar Preparatory Meeting for the Cairo World Population and Development Conference.
Scarce human resources involve staff shortages and serious gaps in senior staff. Serious "brain drain" in many countries produces a vacuum and a serious generation gap among staff. It calls for more effective measures by the home institutions and the overseas training institutions to increase the rate of return (e.g., it was suggested that training institutions withhold degrees until the trainee has returned to his/her home institution).
Inadequate facilities for research and training, including deficient libraries computer installations, and transportation for field studies.
Weak publication outlets.
Since most available funding (often too limited in amount) is restricted to core operations, there is inadequate freedom in use of available funds for enriching the research and/or training programs to meet pressing needs.
A number of centers encountered problems of structural autonomy within the government or within the institution of which they were a part. While there were advantages to being part of a larger entity, it also often restricted freedom of activities and interfered with effective relations with other university, government, NGO, or public institutions.
Inadequate evaluation of research and too many poor and superficial research products. Inadequate staff also often lead to low levels of exploitation of data collected in field surveys or available in censuses and other government statistics.
Poor public relations strategies in conveying the results of their research and training endeavors as well as in communicating their needs. More effective networks need to be developed for disseminating research findings, communicating the role of the center in research and training and in the identification, formulation, and evaluation of policy issues.
Lack of demographic expertise of some center leaders and sometimes among research staff. This reflects the political nature of some appointments, especially of leaders, and the inadequate training of some staff.
Problems in translating technical reports into language understood by policy makers; several methods for improving such communication were suggested.
Need greater trust in sharing data, in criticizing each other's research, in evaluating proposals, in interactions of scholars and policy makers. Giving staff members overseas an opportunity to use survey and official statistics was stressed as one way to exploit these data more effectively and also to entice trainees back to their home country.
Several representatives reported a decline in the "research culture" of their centers as the centers become increasingly bureaucratic, leading to a deterioration in the research environment. Some centers may not have had the opportunity to develop a strong research orientation, partly because of the heavy emphasis put on training. Networking, including exchange of personnel, with other centers was discussed as one way to cope with this problem.
Lack of exposure to and use of newly emerging technology that can facilitate intercenter and other interaction, such as fax and internet.
The lack of female representation in centers revealed by the fact that none of the center representatives in the workshop were women was pointed to as indicative of the need for greater gender equality within centers.
Stronger integration of training and research was seen as a highly desirable way to enrich the training experience, for staff to remain current with the latest research methods and findings, and as an important means for strengthening linkages of research to policy since many trainees eventually take positions in planning and other government agencies.
Government, intergovernmental agencies, NGOs, foundations, CICRED, and UAPS should all exert strong efforts to reinforce the African research centers so they can better respond to the serious challenges required by efforts to integrate population/development programs and to accelerate improvements in the quality of life. This requires fuller integration of training, research, input to policy formation, and evaluation of policy effectiveness.
In doing so, it must be recognized, as representatives of several centers stressed, that demographic research and training in Africa is at a turning point -- in transition from a heavy stress on and concern with strictly demographic perspectives, such as rates of growth, to a concern with and emphasis on the determinants and consequences of demographic change.
In making this transition to population studies from a strong emphasis on demographic analysis, there should be a shift to greater use of both social and behavioral sciences. This will involve greater opportunities for closer cooperation between government statistical offices and university and other research centers, fuller integration of research, training, and policy-related activities, wider dissemination of findings so that both government and community leaders will recognize the value of research findings and so researchers will be more aware of the problems the community had identified.
Such a transition also places a responsibility on CICRED and other regional and international agencies to communicate to individual centers information about ongoing research and research findings elsewhere as well as information about training programs. CICRED's Review of Population Reviews, the cooperative research enterprises it fosters, and workshops such as this provide welcome opportunities for exchange of such information and experience. Centers must recognize, however, that CICRED's role is intended to be largely that of a "marriage broker," serving as a catalyst for greater cooperation among centers and doing so on a worldwide basis. It can help to link centers with one another, to link them to potential funders and to international agencies, and to enhance greater comparability in data collection, processing, and analysis.
But centers must also look within the African region for help and inspiration. It is from within their own region that the most effective assistance can probably come. Here UAPS provides a most valuable channel for achieving the type of interaction and guidance that would benefit individual centers. UAPS is an ideal organisation for regional networking, for issuing a regional journal and newsletter, for fostering cooperative training and research. Through it, cooperative use of intraregional expertise, data resources, and processing facilities can be maximized. Centers should take much greater advantage than is now the case of the various channels of communication UAPS has developed.
All these goals would be achieved more easily by the availability of an inventory of technical expertise, training programs, physical infrastructure, data files, etc., that exist within the region and can be tapped for research/training activities. The fact that at this meeting representatives of centers in adjoining countries were not fully aware of each other's programs and facilities attests to the pressing need for more and better exchanges of information and fuller cooperation. Such an inventory would also enhance the opportunity to avoid unnecessary duplication of facilities and endeavors when these can be effectively shared.
Similarly, an inventory of center needs should also be developed so that other institutions, both within and outside the region, can learn how they can be helpful. There are, for example, a number of institutions and even individual scholars in more developed countries who are willing and even eager to contribute library materials and journals, and sometimes even equipment; to share computer software, working papers, newsletters, and their expertise; to develop cooperative research and/or training programs. But a first step must be identification of needs and opportunities.