According to the Emerald Publishing Group, research impact is defined as the changes that are demonstratable to have happened in real life beyond academia.
Per this definition, research impact is seen as what happens with research findings in society and not necessarily in the academic institutions where the research was undertaken.
It also means that, while universities and/or academic researchers may receive significant recognition for their research works, in the end, if the research findings are not reflected in causing a change in the wider society, then academia may be deemed to have failed.
On Thursday, 18th August 2022, I had a chat with some eminent retired academic professors over a snack at a research forum on the campus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi.
For me, it was a rare opportunity to interact with some of the finest trailblazers, who have kept the pace going amid all the challenges and constraints of being an academic researcher in a developing country.
The discussions were indeed lively, reminiscent of the joy of serving mother Ghana and beyond through knowledge promotion. However, I could also sense a feeling of frustration and disappointment in the tone of my respected seniors.
The biggest disappointment, I infer is about them not really seeing the impact of the many widely-acclaimed research findings in the wider society and the economy, having spent their well-intended energetic youthful years in the ivory tower hoping for such fulfilment.
We indeed lamented the regular frustrated constraints researchers in Ghana and many developing countries have to contend with and what could really be done in changing the status quo, especially in getting the research from academia to drive national discourse and in manifesting practically in society.
The conversation then switched to the notion that, well, maybe, the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) should have been leading the way, given its antecedent as an organization established at the seat of the presidency several decades ago, by an Act of Parliament, (Act 392) as amended GAAS Act 1971.
We were just wondering and asking ourselves, why isn’t the academy at the forefront of national discourse, as the leading scientific advisor to the President, because it is obvious that, that was the intention for it being established. Or, is it that, they are doing so and the public including some of us even in academia may not be aware?
Undoubtedly, the establishment of GAAS epitomizes the Government of Ghana’s belief in the crucial relevance of science and technology to the development of the nation.
Indeed, reading through the antecedent of the academy on its website, I got to know that, it was established in 1959 on the initiative of the first president of the country, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, then known as the Ghana Academy of Learning (GAL).
It later merged with the National Research Council (NRC) to become the GAAS. Information found on its LinkedIn page alludes to the academy starting with 20 founding members, with the then President himself as the chairman.
Meetings as I got to know were held in the flagstaff house. Wikipedia search also suggests that the Academy was the first of its kind in post-independence Africa.
This means that the GAAS was established almost three decades earlier before the continental block established the regional equivalent, the African Academy of Sciences in 1985.
Current information on its website suggests that the GAAS is active on the academic landscape churning out regular memorials and inaugural lectures for knowledge promotion.
The Academy has maintained very impressive membership including boasting of very eminent scholars such as the renowned Professor Francis Allotey of blessed memory.
A welcome message from the current president Emeritus Professor Samuel Sefa-Dedeh outlines its vision thus: “to be Ghana’s foremost merit-based learned society committed to national development and the advancement of the world (as in its strategic plan 2020-2025)’’.
It is noted that members of the academy are represented on a number of Arts and Sciences Policy forming Bodies in the country.
But is this enough given what we know about its historical background? Contrary to its original intention, direct connection with the seat of Government and for that matter the presidency where it truly belongs is not visible, at least, since Ghana embarked on the 4th republican agenda.
Given its historical antecedents, shouldn’t the GAAS be amongst the foremost constitutionally mandated body advising the President? However, while chapter nine of the 1992 Constitution mentions the Council of State (COS), as advisors to the President, the GAAS is copiously “missing in action.”
Moreover, while reverence is given to the position of for instance; the Chief Justice, Chief of Defence Staff, Inspector General of Police etc, there is no mention of the GAAS and/or a member of the scientific community being represented.
However, the mandate of the NDPC is clear; that is to advise on development planning policy and strategy.
This is contrary to the position of the literature for example espoused by Linda Nordling, who in a 2014 article wrote that African governments need scientific advisors to help them avoid what she called “junk science.” Linda Nordling specialises in African Science policy education and writes for SCiDev.Net, Nature and others.
According to Linda Nordling, many developed economies have chief scientific advisors at the top level including in the UK for example, where it is suggested that, apart from the chief scientific advisor, there are also departmental scientific advisors at every governmental departmental level.
Scientific advisors focus more on the relevance and application of substantive/empirical theories in decision making as against procedural principles, to serve as the link between the science community and policymakers.
They can also act as a government spokesperson on scientific issues. In Ghana, it is often common to have spokespersons at all levels of political and governmental activities and many will agree with me that, the emphasis is often not on scientific communication.
This is a drawback towards engendering the growth of a knowledge-based economy, required for accelerated development.
From the words of Romain Murenzi, former Science minister of Rwanda, who as reported by Linda Nordling, was the only African to speak at the global meeting of Government Science Advisors in 2014:
“We need to get to a place where the science culture is pervasive and where we can truly say there is a scientifically literate society.”
So, the question I am asking on behalf of my colleagues in academia is, why is the science culture of governments relying heavily on scientific advisors not pervasive in Ghana, a country that recognised the relevance of the GAAS, several decades ago, as pacesetters on the continent?
What could have happened for an iconic country like Ghana which beliefs so much in the mantra of science and technology education, to have relegated its foremost academic organizations from the centre stage of national discourse and developmental agenda?
Whatever is keeping the GAAS side-lined as the body that should indeed be leading Government’s scientific advisory agenda as originally intended is worth asking.
If it is not a case of “thou hast forsaken thee” then one can’t really fathom what it is. Something definitely has to change and, in my view, the call for the position of scientific advisor remains very relevant.
Is there any best practice out there in Africa currently? Yes, Rwanda is touted to have embraced the concept in 2006 and I am inclined to believe that, they are reaping the benefits, as suggested in the widespread commendations they are receiving on the continent recently per their developmental agenda.
Obviously, the template already exists in the establishment of the GAAS and could be used as the conduit for distilling best practices in the culture of engaging scientific advisors at all levels of government departments.
How Ghana missed this opportunity in the past is what is keeping many of us in academia wondering! It is therefore high time the academic community be it UTAG, Technical University
Teachers Association of Ghana (TUTAC) and the Research Scientist Association of the CSIR rallied with a common voice to demand for the rightful place of science communication and advocacy in Governmental affairs and national development.
The writer, Professor Divine Kwaku Ahadzie is an award-winning research professor at the Centre for Settlements Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and specialises in writing scientific blog post.