The Decolonising Research Initiative at SOAS was set up following the conversation event Applying a Decolonial Lens to Research Structures, Norms and Practices in Higher Education Institutions that was held at SOAS on 18 September 2019. This emerged from conversations between Dr Romina Istratii, a critical international development practitioner serving as Research Funding Officer at SOAS, and Dr Alex Lewis, the Director of Research and Enterprise. Both were particularly concerned about the changing funding landscape in recent years - especially in view of emerging schemes that fund research for development (R4D) - and have been keen to explore how the Research Office at SOAS and higher education institutions in the UK more generally might better respond to these changes and support egalitarian and reflexive international research. Decolonising research has been a key drive in these conversations, having become an important item in the SOAS Research Strategy and a priority for the institution as a whole.
The conversation event, attended by almost a hundred people, included panels and presentations bringing together thirteen speakers, who included researchers, academics, practitioners, funders and research directors from the natural and social sciences in the UK and internationally. The presentations and discussions were livestreamed and can be viewed at any time via Panopto. The event was also tweeted live under the hashtag #DecolonialHE, which can be followed on Twitter. In the aftermath, Dr Istratii set up a JISC email listserv (DECOLONIALHE@JISCMAIL.AC.UK) to serve as a platform for continuing the conversation and for connecting funders, researchers and research offices to systematically and collaboratively pursue solutions to the complex issues and challenges identified at the event. All relevant parties internal and external to SOAS are encouraged to subscribe and to participate in the conversation.
Furthermore, the SOAS Research Office held an all-directorate meeting to discuss lessons from the event and the approaches the Research Office can take to provide research development support in a more reflexive manner. Already in the past year, Dr Istratii worked with the Research Ethics & Governance Officer, Mr Khalid Hasan, to develop an online training course that explores various tensions between a decolonial and ethical approach to research and the necessity to comply with UK/EU-based research governance standards. The module reflects on how researchers can meet evolving funder guidelines without compromising research ethics and cultural sensitivity and their relationships with local partners and communities. The course, Ethical Reflexivity and Research Governance: Navigating the Tensions, can be accessed by SOAS students and staff on Moodle. An online open access version for the wider public is available on SOAS Research Online. The event also spurred the launch of a lunchtime series on Research for Development (R4D) in collaboration with the University of Oxford for developing better practices that can inform institutional and funder policies and approaches.
Highlights of the event are provided below. The event was comprised of three panels, each organised around a common theme, and culminated in a roundtable. The videos summarise the main event and the presentations for each panel.
Highlights from Panel 1: Applying a ‘decolonial’ lens to higher education and research funding
Highlights from Panel 2: Assessing funder language and structures and research office practices
Highlights from Panel 3: Assessing attitudes and norms in collaborative global research