Achieving the global sustainable development agenda at the national level requires scientific evidence that is based on critical analyses of each country’s social, development and policy challenges. Such evidence, particularly from social science research (SSR), will help to inform contextually relevant actions and reforms for economic growth, development and welfare. Reflecting on this, the Chief Executive of the British Academy in London recently wrote, “…without the humanities and social sciences, hard science and technology can do little to resolve complex societal challenges. Wise governments will find ways to incorporate that insight”.
However, research that produces relevant evidence is not autarkic; rather, it takes place within a dynamic, interconnected and continuously evolving system of actors. These actors and their relationships constitute the social science research (SSR) system. The strength of each actor and of the connections among all actors within the SSR system influences the volume and quality of research, the rate of diffusion and the extent to which it is applied to solve societal problems. An understanding of national SSR systems is therefore critical, as it provides the context within which relevant research takes place.
This forms the basis for the Doing Research Assessment (DRA) programme of the GDN which has now taken place in several developing countries, including Nigeria. As far as we know, the Nigerian DRA was the first comprehensive assessment of the state of health of the country’s national SSR system. Using a mixed method approach that involved three inter-related stages (a context analysis, a systematic mapping of stakeholders and a comprehensive data collection exercise), the assessment aimed to systematically understand how critical factors of the Nigerian research system impact its capacity to produce, diffuse and use SSR for its social and economic development.
An important insight from the study is the sheer size of the Nigerian SSR system. Nearly 2000 organisations were found to be involved in different sectors of the system, including 170 universities, 75 government and funding agencies, 65 organisations in the private sector and 1,515 NGOs. A total of 4,085 peer-reviewed SSR publications, of which 34% is open-access, emerged from this system of actors between 2015 and 2017. This makes Nigeria the second largest producer of SSR in Africa. When all fields are considered, as most existing assessments do, the country is the third largest producer on the continent. While this places the country in good standing on the continent, the volume of production is relatively thin when viewed on a global scale. This begs two questions that the DRA helps to answer: Why does such a large research system produce so little, and what can be done about it?