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What we do

The center has two functions. The first is a clearinghouse function. The aim is to provide a capacity to respond to requests for research support, evaluate the merits of different projects for support, and match implementing partners with researchers from the Columbia Community. Over the course of the summer 2008 for example three such requests have been made:

  1. UNICEF has requested support in the design and evaluation of a major investment in education infrastructure in the border areas of Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Lack of access to education has been found to be an important predictor of participation in violence; the hypothesis guiding this project is that improved access to education, in this case through the building of 80 primary schools, will reduce the risks of violence in the region;
  2. The United Nations Peace Building Support Office has requested support for evaluating a range of projects including the effects of United Nations investments in security sector reform on state structures in pilot countries, Sierra Leone and Burundi;
  3. The US government Millennium Challenge Corporation has requested support for examining the effects of access to US aid on corruption and state strength.

At present there is not the capacity to respond to these calls. What the center would do however is

  • to provide seed funding to engage a graduate fellow, a post doc fellow, or an interested faculty member to engage with the implementing partner to work out a research design; in many cases this requires an initial field visit to the project sites, as well as a review of existing research in the area;
  • to agree on terms of reference for a research project and on a research budget;
  • to seek supplementary external research funding as needed to cover research costs not normally covered by implementing partners;
  • finally, once agreed, the center would form a team to work on the project, draft and communicate reports to partners, and share methods and results with other projects.

In addition to responding to calls in this way, the center, by providing focal point for research of this form, will play a role in maintaining relations with implementing groups and identifying fertile project opportunities in a more proactive manner. An important forum for this will be the center’s joint researcher-practitioner seminar series.

The second function of the center is in facilitating research coordination. There will likely be strong complementarities between the projects undertaken by the center in terms of methods used, instruments employed, and lessons learned. The center will support these complementarities by

  • providing a physical space where groups working on center projects sit together and lend each
    other support and by
  • hosting a forum, in the form of a biweekly seminar series, in which practitioners from diverse organizations and researchers from the Columbia community and beyond examine new work on the political economy of development.

The center will take the form of a physical space housing the director, administrative support and space for one external post doc or pre doc fellow plus 3 – 4 graduate fellows. This space forms the hub. However, research activities will engage a broader set of affiliated faculty both within Columbia and beyond. Indeed, since research projects to address these questions are often large in scale, both in terms of geographic coverage and in duration, individual projects will likely involve multiple researchers, some led by faculty, some by graduate students and some by post docs that are in or that have passed through the center.