No.76 of Session 2003-04 26 October 2004


The Department for International Development’s failure to fully value and make use of scientific research and evidence is leading to poorer quality policy making and support for developing countries, says a new report released today, October the 26th 2004, by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The inquiry, “The use of Science in UK International Development Policy”, found a number of serious weaknesses in DFID’s approach to the use of science and technology. The report states that a scientific approach to policy making, capacity building and evaluation is the only way to achieve DFID’s objectives of making sustainable progress towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed by the international community in 2000. Yet the Committee found that DFID suffers from a fundamental lack of scientific culture and a failure to appreciate the central role of science and research in international development.

The Committee expressed concern at DFID’s waning capacity to promote the role of science and technology in development and provide crucial technical advice. The report states that DFID’s own weaknesses in science and research have had a detrimental effect on the support it provides to developing countries, and on its ability to undertake the evidence-based policy making that is an essential part of good governance.

There was also concern that in developing its major research funding strategy for the next few years, DFID seemed to give so little attention to developing country input, in a way that calls into question the value of the strategy and  “makes a mockery” of its claim to follow a demand-led approach.

The report indicates that there is a risk that DFID’s approach may also be inadvertently damaging the UK’s own research base in development sciences and severely undermining the UK’s ability to play a full part in international development in the future.

 “We’ve taken a long hard look at DFID and there’s no escaping the fact that DFID’s use of science and research has not been up to scratch,” said Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the Committee.

“We’re great supporters of lots of the work that DFID does and Hilary Benn has had a positive attitude to some of the criticisms we’ve made. But the size of the task in hand mustn’t be underestimated - science and research in DFID have been treated like minority sports. This must change. The UK’s strategy for tackling poverty in the developing world should be based on hard evidence and science and technology should be at the heart of our approach.”

The committee concluded that:

  • DFID has failed to devote sufficient attention to evaluation of research, and must ensure this is rectified

  • DFID should commit significant extra funding for capacity building of science and research systems in developing countries

  • DFID should capitalise on the upcoming UK presidency of the EU and G8 next year to push for a major international science and technology capacity building effort

  • Government should urgently take responsibility for improving the status of development sciences research in the UK, and a Development Sciences Research Board should be established to safeguard the UK’s skills and research base

The Committee acknowledged the fact that DFID had started to take steps to improve its use of science since the inquiry began and welcomed the fact that during the course of the inquiry the Department announced the long overdue appointment of a Chief Scientific Advisor. Nonetheless, the Committee were concerned that DFID may have underestimated the challenge of rectifying the clear deficiencies in its approach to science.

The report is the culmination of an inquiry that took evidence from leading development NGOs and representatives of the international scientific community as well as the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and the Secretary of State for International Development.

Hard copies of the Reports can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting HC 133-I. The text of the Reports will also be available via the Committee=s internet homepage

For more information please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer, Media Officer for Select Committees, on 0207 219 0718. Previous press notices and publications are available on our website.

Notes to editors:

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Science and Technology Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies”. The Committee was appointed on 12 November 2001.

• The Committee’s inquiry was announced on 21 July 2003 in Press Notice 39 of Session 2002-03.

• The Committee took evidence from DFID on 12 January 2004, 26 May 2004 and 7 July 2004; the Institute of Development Studies, Development Studies Association of the UK, International Development Research Centre of Canada, Economic and Social Research Council and Intermediate Technology Development Group on 23 February 2004; Oxford Forestry Institute, Natural Resources Institute, Chairs of the Independent Advisory Committees for DFID’s RNRRS Programme, Natural Environment Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council on 15 March 2004; Office of Science and Technology, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Trade and Investment and British Council on 26 May 2044; and the Institution of Civil Engineers, Water, Engineering and Development Centre, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Centre for Veterinary Medicine and Medical Research Council on 9 June 2004.