New Avenues for Collaborative Research

We need to talk about research collaboration!

As researchers and civil society actors from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe we make an urgent call for a dialogue on the practice of transnational collaboration in field research. In our domains of development and (post-)conflict studies, many collaborations exist between an academic researcher based at a university in the ‘West’ and a ‘local’ researcher-assistant-guide-driver-associate-translator-friend-fixer-insider-host-collaborator. While the precise nature of these collaborations is highly diverse, they are indispensable for making academic research in our fields possible.

Apart from the obligatory footnote reference in academic publications, however, such collaborations often disappear from sight in research output. In the margins of the disciplinary mainstream, efforts are being made to ‘come to terms’ with this silence. For all their worth, such efforts often revolve around the ’foreign’ researcher contemplating about such collaborations. Efforts to engage in a dialogue that involves both parties are even rarer.

Therefore, from 25 to 30 October 2018, a group of (post-)doctoral researchers at Ghent University invited their collaborators for several days of intense discussions around three core questions: Why do we collaborate? How do we collaborate? What are the issues we face?

What is there to talk about?

While research collaboration provides great opportunities, it can also be tricky business. The reasons why are endless. Here, we limit ourselves to three central tensions.


GROUNDS FOR ENGAGEMENT -The goals and ambitions people have in collaborating and their respective chances of achieving them intersect with the context in which they take place. The motivations to engage in research collaboration differ from person to person: to write an academic publication, to improve the lives of the people we study and work with, to make a living, to engage in policy and advocacy work, to obtain an academic career, to make friends, to gain new insights. This should not necessarily be a problem. However, (geo)politics, class, race, gender, and historical legacies of imperialism ensure that collaborations are intertwined with often highly unequal power relations. Researchers that (un)consciously neglect these realities are likely to engage in unjust research collaboration.


PRODUCING KNOWLEDGE TOGETHER - Research collaboration in our field is often framed through faulty assumptions about the respective roles of a ‘foreign researcher’ and a ‘local assistant’. Such standard misconception assumes a ‘foreign researcher’ who shapes the research design, theoretical concepts, questions and analysis. The ‘local assistant’ is there to provide privileged access to otherwise inaccessible (exotic) data in the ‘Global South’. This mistaken view rests upon persistent inequalities in academia that prioritize Western universities as the ultimate sites of knowledge production and Western researchers as the sole producers of academic knowledge. In practice, however, everyday research collaboration is always decisively shaped while doing the research ‘in the field’. Both collaborators play dynamic and essential roles throughout the entire process: from the definition and operationalization of research questions; over the construction of ‘the field’; to the final analysis. Surely, both parties – however we may define their roles – contribute to the collaborative end product we call knowledge. The common assumption that such end product exclusively takes the form of an academic publication is another reflection of the unequal power relations that dominate the business of knowledge production.


COLLABORATING IN PRECARIOUSNESS - Research collaboration often takes place under uncertain, unstable and insecure conditions. Most researchers are only employed on short-term funding, if funding is available at all. ‘Local assistants’ often face much higher risks of social and physical exposure. Limited budgets and tenure uncertainty of foreign researchers tend to be shifted onwards to their collaborators. Social security is often fully absent and ethical guidelines at academic institutions mostly ignore the existence of research collaboration. Arrangements and expectations with regard to (non-)monetary compensation are frequently established on the basis of trust rather than formal contract or written agreement. Depending on the aims, means and ambitions of both parties involved, there may be valid reasons for this. However, this does not excuse the research sector as a whole for building a knowledge production model on the basis of unequal and precarious labor relations.

From talk to action!

There is no magic solution to these challenges. Each person or institution that engages in collaborative research does so with different aims, expectations and ambitions. Each research collaboration takes place in its own specific historical, social and institutional context. We do not call for a one-size-fits-all template to engage in future research collaboration.

We do call for a more serious engagement with the challenges pointed out here. We must do so from a position as active and responsible participants in the knowledge production sector. Therefore, we suggest five guiding principles:


TRANSPARANCY – People engage in research collaborations with different ambitions, motivations, goals and expectations. Such differences are no objection to successful research collaboration. However, we call for all participants in research collaboration to be fully transparent about the reasons for and the expectations from engaging in collaborations. The core idea is simple: do not promise honey if you’re not a beekeeper. This includes transparency about the inevitable doubts and uncertainties that come with the practice of research, be they financial, practical or content-related. Research collaborators share a common responsibility to act against the inequalities that exist between them. Together they can raise a voice against precariousness within the sector in general.


EQUITABILITY IN DIVERSITY – The parties engaging in research collaboration are immensely diverse in terms of gender, race, nationality, class and educational background. Sincere research collaboration thrives on this diversity as different perspectives enter the research process in all its stages. For research collaboration to fulfill its potential, we call for a stronger awareness of the power relations that intersect with this diversity. We strive for equitability in the collaborations we engage in ourselves, as well as a more equitable knowledge production sector as a whole.


MODESTY – We should be modest about the knowledge we produce, and about our own role in producing it. We must face the multiple ways in which knowledge is produced and respect the diversity of contributions made by the variety of people that cross our paths. We must also be aware that academic publications and degrees are but one specific form of knowledge. A humble engagement in research collaboration entails an awareness of and contribution to the different motivations that may underpin each and everyone’s engagement in the practice of knowledge production.


CREATIVITY - No perfect formula exists. Just like our research, our modes of collaboration are never stable, never settled. As we engage in research collaboration, we must keep on searching for better ways to do so.  As researchers, let’s embrace this creativity as we aim to improve ourselves and the general practice of research collaboration. Let’s open up our minds to the great range of opportunities that research collaboration entails and the wide variety of shapes its output can take.


UNSETTLE THE MINDS, UNSETTLE THE SECTOR – The above principles sound far from radical. Still, they are far from established practice in our fields of study. To uphold these principles, we must sensitize the minds of individual researchers and address the structural features of the sector that impede better modes of research collaboration. As research collaborators, we commit ourselves to improve our own modes of thinking and practice. Together, we aim to unsettle mistaken ideas and ill practice in research collaboration. By doing so, we can create an environment in which the great potential of research collaboration can fully bloom as it should.


Sign the Manifesto

By signing the manifesto you express your interest in joining the conversation on research collaboration and keeping in touch on further initiatives of (Silent) voices



  1. Arthur Owor, founder (Silent) Voices. Director at Centre for African Research in Gulu. Uganda
  2. Mehedi Hasan Babu, founder (Silent) Voices. Bangladesh
  3. David Mwambari, founder (Silent) Voices. Postdoctoral researcher at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium/Rwanda
  4. Emmanuel Akampurira, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Uganda
  5. Eva Willems, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at the Department of History, Ghent University. Belgium
  6. Faustino Clemente T. Revilleza, founder (Silent) Voices. Philippines
  7. Gabriela Zamora Castellares, founder (Silent) Voices. Researcher at San Cristobal de Huamanga University. Ayacucho-Perú
  8. Isaac Twinomuhangi, founder (Silent) Voices. Uganda
  9. Jeroen Cuvelier, founder (Silent) Voices. Postdoctoral researcher at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  10. Jolien Tegenbos, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies. Ghent University, Belgium
  11. Julian Kuttig, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Germany
  12. Laura Erzakhovna Berdikhojayeva, founder (Silent) Voices. Kazakhstan
  13. Maurizio Totaro, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Italy
  14. Meriam Pantacan, founder (Silent) Voices. Philippines
  15. Mohammad Abas, founder (Silent) Voices. Philippines
  16. Mohammad Atique Rahman, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Bangladesh
  17. Robin Thiers, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  18. Sarker Shams Bin Sharif, founder (Silent) Voices. Communication Officer at Campaing for Tobacco Free Kids. Bangladesh
  19. Stéphane Lumbu Maliba, founder (Silent) Voices. Democratic Republic of Congo
  20. Steven Schoofs, founder (Silent) Voices. PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  21. Connor Clerke, Research manager, Rift Valley Institute. UK
  22. Shastry Njeru, Director, Research and Advocacy Unit. Zimbabwe
  23. Stephen Oola, Executive Director, Amani Institute Uganda. Uganda
  24. Shirley Gunn, Executive Director, Human Rights Media Centre. South-Africa
  25. Jairo Rivas, Project Coordinator, Asociacion Civil Transparencia. Peru
  26. Levis Onegi, PhD Candidate, Uganda Martyrs University. Uganda
  27. Simon Robins, researcher/practitioner at University of York, Centre for Applied Human Rights. US
  28. Kate Flynn, senior fellow at Center for Civic Engagement, Bard College. US
  29. Mina Rauschenbach, researcher and lecturer at University of Lausanne and KU Leuven. Switzerland/Belgium
  30. Julia Palmiano Federer, University of Basel / Qwisspeace, PhD Candidate/Program Officer. Switzerland
  31. Lyandro Komakech, legislator, Parliament of Uganda. Uganda
  32. Catalina Vallejo, PhD student, University of Virginia. US
  33. Toon Dirkx, PhD researcher, University of Basel, Swisspeace, Switzerland
  34. Michaelina Jakala, Research fellow, Coventry University, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations. UK
  35. Omona Andrew David, senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University. Uganda
  36. Hazem Mizyed, MA student of democracy and human rights, independent research assistant. Palestine
  37. Désiré Nzisabira, HIJRA-Uganda, Community incentive worker. Uganda
  38. Chris Huggins, assistant professor, University of Ottowa. US
  39. Ameziane Lahcen, professor of Sociology, University of Mohammed V. Morocco
  40. Annika Hampel,  University of Freiburg, Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) & Arnold Bergstraesser Institute (ABI), Scientific Coordinator & Managing Director Africa Centre Freiburg/ Merian Institute for Advanced Studies Africa (MIASA), Germany
  41. Julie Carlier, Ghent University, Research coordinator Global Studies,  Belgium
  42. José Mvuezolo Bazonzi, professor in Sociology, Université de Kinshasa. DRC
  43. Nicola Carradori, University of London, SOAS, UK
  44. Thijs Van Laer, Programme Director at International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI). Uganda
  45. Olivia Bueno, Interim Executive Director at International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI). Uganda
  46. Frances Rice, IHEID in Geneva,  Managing Editor DevPol journal. Switzerland
  47. Siggie Vertommen, research fellow at King's College London. UK
  48. Koen Bogaert, professor at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  49. Sidney Leclercq, postdoctoral researcher at Université libre de Bruxelles / Université de Montreal. Belgium
  50. Rafael Verbuyst, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  51. Reuben Loffman, Lecturer in African History at Queen Mary University of London. UK
  52. Anke Lion, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  53. Jean Paul Nizigiyimana, researcher at Impunity Watch. Burundi
  54. Elke Mahieu, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  55. David Ongenaert, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  56. Hannelore Vandenbergen, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  57. Sara Fremberg, researcher. Germany
  58. Bram Verelst, PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  59. Tomas Van Acker, postdoctoral researcher at Department of Conflict & Development studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  60. Sara Bonfanti, postdoctoral researcher in Anthropology at University of Trento. Italy
  61. Catarina, PhD researcher at SOAS, UK
  62. Nash Tysmans, student & independent researcher at University of Antwerp. Belgium
  63. Yemisi Jeff-gboola, Postdoctoral fellow and senior researcher at University of Medical Science & Ghent University. Belgium.
  64. Christoph Vogel, Researcher, CRP. Belgium
  65. Koen Vlassenroot, professor at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  66. Jacob Vermeire, FWO postdoctoral researcher, Ghent University. Belgium
  67. Dimitra Koumparou, Environmental Anthropologist, Open Hellenic University. Greece
  68. Dorien Vanden Boer, PhD student at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  69. Asif Majid, PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester. UK
  70. Sara Geenen, Lecturer at the Institute of Development Policy, University of Antwerp. Belgium
  71. Jana Sayantani, PhD student at University of Southern California. US
  72. Sabah Carrim, PhD student at University of Malaya. Malaysia
  73. Sarah Minslow, assistant professor at Cal State LA. US
  74. Elise Westin, PhD Candidate at University of Adelaide. Australia
  75. Karen Büscher, assistant professor at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  76. Muzalia Kihangu Godefroid, professor at Department of History-Social Science and Head of The Research Group on Conflict and Human Security at Institut Supérieur Pédagogie de Bukavu. RDC
  77. Jeroen Adam, professor at Department of Conflict & Development Studies, Ghent University. Belgium
  78. Wilson Bwambale, coordinator at Antimins Network Rwenzori (AMNET-R). Uganda
  79. Christiane K. Alsop, adjunct professor at Van Loan School at Endicott College, Massachusetts. USA
  80. Emery Mushagalusa Mudinga, researcher at Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural-ISDR Bukavu. DRC
  81. Jan Weuts, humanitarian advisor at Caritas International Belgium. Lecturer humanitarian management at Université Catholique de Louvain. Belgium
  82. Francine Mudunga, researcher and secretary at Groupe d'étude sur les Conflits et la Sécurité Humaine (GEC-SH). DRC
  83. An Ansoms, professor at Université Catholique de Louvain. Belgium
  84. Carole Ammann, postdoctoral researchers at University of Bern. Switzerland
  85. Lukas Pairon, founding director of SIMM research platform. Belgium
  86. Nicki Kindersley, UK-based researcher. UK
  87. Espoir Bisimwa Bulangalire Kalambi, assistant at Institut Supérieur de Développement Rural de Bukavu. DRC
  88. Tomaso Ferrando, Lecturer at University of Bristol. UK
  89. Sarah Katz-Lavinge, PhD Candidate at University of Groningen. Netherlands
  90. Julia Seibert, Consultant of Education at Brot für die Welt. Germany
  91. Kasturi Chatterjee, assistant professor at FLAME University. India
  92. Sebastian Van Hoeck, intercultural trainer at UCOS. Belgium
  93. Gert Van Hecken, assistant professor at IOB, Antwerp. Belgium
  94. Mike Powell, independent worker at Emergent Works. UK
  95. Johan Belaen, PhD student at Ghent University. Belgium
  96. Nicki Hitchcott, professor at University of St. Andrews. UK
  97. Kenneth Nsah, PhD fellow at Aarhus University. Denmark
  98. Felicien M Masanga Maisha, Research associate at the university of Florida
  99. Lucas Pairon, researcher at SIMM
  100. Jamie O'Dell, MSc Student, SOAS
  101. Kasper Hoffmann, Assistant professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen
  102. Charlotte Vekemans, Teaching Assistant / PhD student, Ghent University