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Dr Graham Harrison
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Dr Graham Harrison

QNRF recently hosted the Global Research Council (GRC) Regional Meeting (RM) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region The GRC is an informal organization among public funding agencies worldwide. In a global research environment, researchers already cooperate and it is imperative that funding agencies work together to enable these collaborations, something that is encouraged by the GRC. QNRF spoke to Dr Graham Harrison, representing the National Science Foundation for the GRC during his recent visit to Doha.

Q: What attracted the GRC to Qatar and Qatar Foundation?

A: Each year, the GRC coordinates five Regional Meetings around the world – in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East/North Africa regions. The host organizations are chosen on the basis of competitive bids. This year, the Governing Board of the GRC selected QNRF and Qatar to host the MENA Regional Meeting. Qatar - through the Qatar Foundation and other drivers - has made a tremendous investment in research and innovation. The GRC is dedicated to fostering multilateral research cooperation throughout the world, not just in G8 or G20 countries but in all countries seeking to develop their research landscape. In many ways, Qatar exemplifies what the GRC is working to encourage on a worldwide basis.

In the development of a research funding organization such as QNRF – which, in a short time, has built up an enviable portfolio of programs and activities - combined with the resources dedicated to the fantastic Education City that we were fortunate enough to tour, Qatar and the Qatar Foundation have demonstrated their commitment to the future in which research, education and innovation drive the economy.

Q: Qatar is small. How does it compare to what has been achieved elsewhere in the world to date?

A: Qatar has clearly made a strong commitment to research and innovation as a driver for future economic development. One can see that consistent growth is not easy to achieve but, from a standing start, Qatar has made great strides in a very short time. While many of these actions are in the early stages, Qatar is building the framework, at the right time, to help create the right conditions for innovation to succeed. Research funding organizations, such as QNRF, are essential to support fundamental research and researcher training. Education City is a fantastic example of partnering with leading universities worldwide to develop the capacity for Qatar to engage on the worldwide stage in emerging areas of research, education and innovation.

Qatar clearly has the financial resources and the commitment to develop a post-hydrocarbon, broadly diverse economy. In this way, it has the potential to follow more mature environments such as Singapore and Hong Kong. And while research and education can drive these changes, it is ultimately necessary for research to develop into commercial success for this transition to succeed.

Q: Compared to other countries, is the full potential of all of the sectors being supported in terms of "Funding the Future" of R&D?

A: QNRF is in the enviable position of having access to the resources necessary for the long-term success of their strategy. They are seeing an increase in both the quantity and the quality of proposals across all disciplines, and can support those which are worthy. Other countries are not so fortunate. In addition, because many of these Qatari investments in “funding the future” are relatively new, they are able to learn from successful models that have been implemented elsewhere in the world and apply (and further develop) them to Qatar now.

QNRF has also invested in the capability to monitor both the quantity and quality of its programs. While countries around the world are increasingly using more diverse metrics to measure outputs, as a new organization QNRF has the ability to track these outcomes from the beginning of its actions. While investment alone is no guarantee of success, cogent analysis and planning can help create the best environment for research, development and innovation to flourish.

Q: What are your insights on the nature of research strategies being developed in Qatar and how will the GRC Regional Meeting being held in Doha contribute?

A: Two of the goals for the GRC are (1) for research funding agencies worldwide to learn from each other about best practices and “what works”, and (2) for research funding agencies to work together to enable international research collaborations. I think Qatar is a tremendous example of both of these goals.

Within the broader MENA region, I think that the discussions amongst the GRC Regional Meeting participants were extremely productive. In particular, in addition to the GRC specified topics, I think there was tremendous interest in deepening regional cooperation on topics of common interest. Regional cooperation has tremendous potential, as can be seen in looking at how various European countries cooperate and work together on a variety of topics.

Q: “Open Access” – why discuss it at a GRC RM?

A: Open Access for Publications (OA) was selected as a topic for the Global Research Council to consider almost two years ago. At that time, there was an acknowledgment by the Heads of Research Councils worldwide that this was an issue that was rapidly evolving, and was truly global in scope and potential impact.

OA can provide many benefits for the global research enterprise, and at the same time there are many issues and stakeholders to consider in its adoption and implementation. Around the world, different regions, countries, and organizations are piloting or implementing a variety of approaches towards OA.

Over the past eighteen months, the GRC has focused considerable attention on OA. We have used Regional Meetings to discuss how research councils worldwide are supporting OA activities, and to discuss the challenges that are inherent in any transition in the way research is supported and results reported. One thing that is apparent is that while the topic is relevant worldwide, the way in which it is being approached can vary substantially from country to country. And research councils are only one set of actors in this endeavor.

We discuss these complex questions at our Regional Meetings as we can learn from each other by asking “Has anyone already done it? How did you address this concern”? and in the long run its better to thrash out such issues face-to-face through open dialogue. At the end of the day we take a positive view – rather than consider such issues as problems, we see them as opportunities for solutions that ultimately will enhance global research activities.

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