A short letter from the field – researchers trying to inform government policy
In Sierra Leone, as well as in many developing and resource rich countries in the world, there is an increasingly important debate regarding local content: the use of local products and services by foreign investors.
From the 14th to the 16th of January I participated in a workshop at Njala University, one of the universities in Sierra Leone, that focused on developing a research agenda that contributes to the development and implementation of a local content policy in Sierra Leone.
In order to foster the links between (large-scale) foreign investors and local entrepreneurs the government of Sierra Leone is currently developing a local content policy. This policy aims at ensuring that foreign investors source as much as possible locally thereby stimulating the national economy. However, there has been little research on local business, especially on the challenges of moving from micro-enterprises to small and medium scale enterprises, and stimulating local content might be more complex an currently expected. Moreover, the draft policy puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of foreign investors, whereas the challenges and the reasons for the (assumed) disconnection between different scales and levels of production are many and not well understood. A group of national and international academics, as well as representatives of GIZ (the German Development Corporation) and London Mining (one of the iron ore mining companies) therefore decided to come together to develop a research agenda that contributes to the development and implementation of a local content policy in Sierra Leone.
One of the organizers of the workshop, a Canadian professor, invited me to participate and present my current research, thereby focusing on anthropological methods. This was for me a great opportunity to use the gained knowledge from the last months (and years), to liaise with national and international academics and to engage in discussions that are directly related to the development and implementation of national policy.
The first workshop, which I unfortunately missed because I didn´t know about its existence, had focused on discussing some of the issues and challenges with regards to the local content policy. This workshop built upon those discussions and focused on developing a research agenda. During the first day, there were several presentations where different methods were discussed by using different research projects. We focused for example of problem-centered interviews, statistical analysis, case study method (also as a form of presentation) and an anthropological mixed methods approach, the latter being my own contribution. I talked about participant observation, the use of different kinds of interviews, focus group, conversations and long-term engagement. Furthermore, I tried to give some reflections on methodological challenges in Sierra Leone. All in all, a very interesting and stimulating day that resulted in a research agenda and the idea to develop a pilot study on local entrepreneurs in Lunsar, my own research area. This was taken forward during the second day of the workshop where we developed several hypothesis/research questions regarding the challenges that local entrepreneurs face when they want to scale up (do they want to scale up?), discussed the unit of analysis (the area will be Lunsar and there are several options regarding the sectors we focus on) and developed a methodological plan that combines surveys, questionnaires, interviews and short-term participant observation. Some of us are now trying to get some funding and if this works out well we´ll be conducting this research during April and May 2014. Fingers crossed!
After two intensive and stimulating days it was good travelling back to Lunsar, full of ideas and opportunities. If all goes well there will be an interesting research conducted that will be useful for the local content strategy of the Sierra Leonean government (this of course will depend on many things). For me personally, the two days also triggered some ideas for the coming months of fieldwork and I´m looking forward to start putting them into practice.