Virtual Kollage: My Case for a Research Directorate in Sierra Leone

Posted by / Wednesday, 14 March 2018 / No comments

My Case for a Research Directorate in Sierra Leone

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The mortal remains of the late Professors Akintola Wyse (one time History Professor in Sierra Leone) and Everett Rogers (one time Professor of Rural Sociology and Development Communication in the United States of America-he did extensive research in some African countries) would be rolling, twisting, turning and fuming in anger, expressing grave disappointment and incredulity, that a country, once known as, arguably, the bastion of education (which interpretively means research and development), is today profoundly and conspicuously sinking, head down, in the abyss of academic and research work.
And what is more glaring and pathetic, at present, is the unfortunate inability of the “educated illiterates”, who appear on our national television and radio stations, newspapers and other communication outlets to intentionally spill vile manufactured facts and spreading incredible amount of misinformation phrased as “researched” materials (“talking points”) to an interestingly sometimes raw, gullible, utterly or semi-illiterate national or community/rural audience. And this is true for government institutions, civil society organizations, local and international governmental and NGOs. Hence until we make Research a central piece or serious contemporary management tool in our daily decision-making process, individual, community and national development is hindered.
One of the biggest deficiencies we have in Sierra Leone today (according to three research studies done by three different organizations I have worked for, or currently consulting for, in the last 5 years), which has led to poor formal, academic or literary writing, shameless presentation of manufactured facts and questionable analysis (if it is analysis at all) is the inability of a large number of our organizational staff, government workers, college graduates (who claim to be educated at the undergrad or graduate level) to conduct basic research, using fundamental quantitative or qualitative research techniques, tools, procedures and asking critical questions.
My concerns/issues/problems surrounding research arose, few weeks ago, when two students, one from Njala and the other from FBC asked me to help them narrow down their research topic, develop questions; suggest bibliography for literature review and more. I gladly offered to help, but boy oh boy, I was sickened over the reaction I got when I asked them to do a basic preliminary literature review, and design a simple research proposal for discussion. They returned with unqualified rubbish.
The Njala student actually, tried his best; there were flashes of research fundamentals, but the FBC student, was a disgrace. As a result, I recoiled into a pensive mood, asking several personal questions, and trying to proffer answers based on a couple of research readings did and interviews I conducted with university lecturers in Freetown.
Now, for students, government workers, journalists, lawyers, and many more, the key questions are:
  What is research, anyway? Simply, it is the ability to investigate, collect, collate, analyze, interpret, both quantitative and qualitative data, for decision-making that would, sometimes, lead to individual, community and national advancement, and contribute to the body of academic knowledge. For example, in a basic way, we conduct research everyday; how? The Abacha Street traders conduct market assessment  to determine the kinds of products to sell, at what price, who buys them…And after collecting those basic demographic data, they are then processed into information,  which can be shared with others or not, and later stored as knowledge and archived for future reference. In addition, anytime we ask a simple, whether philosophical or practical question, we are conducting research although at its basic, but when we attempt to collect empirical data or social narrative, then research takes another dimension. Almost every year banks, organizations, the government and universities, etc., produce report on their operations. The research methods used help to find answers to specific or general questions which in turn feed the content of those reports.
 Why is research important for individual, community and national development? Rather than relying on secondary data, in the last 10 years, alone, organizations, individuals and governments, have spent billions of dollars on research exercises and the findings are informing key decisions. Research findings, whether qualitative or quantitative, and sometimes, depending on the rigor or robustness of the research design, can lead to massive national, community and individual development. For example, based on monitored media reports, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is conducting a massive socio-economic development research to determine what area(s) that needs massive infrastructural development to engender national socio-economic advancement in the country. In his seminal work (Diffusion of Innovation, 1962) Rogers extolled the uses and gratification of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, noting that his diffusion of innovation was born out of massive data collection, theory reviews and analyses, hence if his theory was to be applied successfully, more research has to be done to add to it, and help inform development agendas and personal growth. The same applies to our universities in Sierra Leone; they used to do “meta-dynamic” analysis to strategically produce theories and concepts based on research findings to advance growth, but alas!
In conclusion, whether we use case study, participatory action research, survey or statistical analysis or not, the goal, when we make an argument, is to attempt to convince or persuade, to appeal (to your logos, ethos or pathos). However, what would convince people, to a large extent, is evidence, and logically, evidence is assembled from research findings.
What the government can do (aided by the universities, private sector and NGOs):
1.      The government can start a new agency other than statistics Sierra Leone, or metamorphose Statistics Sierra Leone into a National Research Directorate (NRD) whose core functions would be to research, and store data on most, if not all, manner of things in the country, using Q & Q or mixed methods, where necessary, to make decisions. I crave for the day when the Ministry of Labor would give Sierra Leoneans monthly analyzed and disaggregated job data and other consumer indexes.
2.  Through the NRD the government can invest in research to strengthen all the main universities—FBC, NU, Univ. of Makeni…and facilitate the conduct of short, medium and longitudinal studies on specific variables or units of analysis or on specific social narrative.
3. The multiple rippled effects of these suggestions are that more research courses will be done at the university level, it would be mandatory for students to take basic statistics and research methods courses, increased number of research exercises on various fields, data/information/knowledge could be sold to outside investments and some national decisions would be not instinctive but evidence-based.
By Victor Massaquoi

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