This learning case discusses the research collaboration process. For research results see: MIT GOV/LAB Research Brief. 2018. “Examining the Impact of Civic Leadership Training in the Philippines.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.

Suggested Citation. MIT GOV/LAB Learning Case. 2018. “Exploring Civic Leadership Training with Partners in the Philippines.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.

Summary

Over four years (2013-2017), MIT GOV/LAB explored the effects of civic leadership training on citizen engagement with a network of civil society organizations in the Philippines, led by Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG), Responsible Citizens, Empowered Communities and Solidarity towards Social Change (RECITE, Inc.), and Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF). This GOV/LEARN case study focuses on how an iterative design process helped build a strong partnership, which, in turn, led to innovative research questions and the ability to adapt the research design to unexpected political changes.

Key Takeaways

Recognizing that learning is a process, and some tension can make for creative collaboration, here are a few lessons from our project in the Philippines that we are working to put in practice:

  • Keep an open mind to new research questions. The best research questions arise when researchers and partners work together. Instead of starting with a predetermined question of only academic interest, researchers and partners can share in the process and arrive at questions of mutual interest, together. Though it may take several iterations to arrive at the right question, the process results in more pertinent, insightful research. Plus, when research questions are relevant to practitioner partners, it helps sustain their engagement with the project over time, and builds their interest to see through to the results of the research.
  • A strong relationship with partners leads to better research.“Partner engagement” is not a one-way exercise towards researchers gaining trust and buy-in at the beginning of a project. When researchers have a deeper understanding of their partners’ goals, realities, and programs, it strengthens the quality of the research and sustains projects through challenging times. In this case, the long-standing relationship between GOV/LAB researchers and practitioners, developed over four years, made for a more resilient partnership that could adapt to political changes and seize new opportunities, while still staying true to academic and practitioner goals.
  • Match funding and feasibility. Large-scale field experiments are expensive and require researchers to maintain a sustained in-country presence. In addition to the Making All Voices Count grant, about 50% of the overall project budget was supplemented with core funding from GOV/LAB. Core funding was essential to do the kind of careful, iterative work discussed here, which was tailored to the context, our partners’ needs, and unpredictable pacing.
  • The iterative research design process has tremendous potential — and some challenges. Both academics and on-the-ground practitioners have crucial roles to play in any iterative research process. Researchers provide the scientific rigor that practitioners need to legitimize their work. Practitioners provide insights and intuitive knowledge that help a research team home in on the most important questions. This type of collaboration can result in some of the most relevant research for policy-makers. Yet despite the potential, there are still some particular challenges, especially when it comes to timelines. The typically long horizon of a large-scale study can be challenging for partners, who may be eager to translate and apply results as quickly as possible.

Featured research projects:

Lily L. Tsai, Nina McMurry and Swetha Rajeswaran (2018). The effect of civic leadership training on citizen engagement and government responsiveness: experimental evidence from the Philippines. Making All Voices Count Research Report, Brighton: IDS. Available online.

Nina McMurry and Lily L. Tsai (2018). “The effect of co-training citizen and government officials at the village level: experimental evidence from the Philippines.” Work in progress.

Partners: This research was undertaken with a network of civil society organizations in the Philippines, led by Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG), Responsible Citizens, Empowered Communities and Solidarity towards Social Change (RECITE, Inc.), and Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF). Local civil society organizations including Diocese of Urdaneta, Project 101, Caritas Nueva Segovia, Molte Aires, Northern Luzon Baptist Pastors and Preachers Fellowship, Inc, and Kataguwan Center.