Never mind that it is drizzling throughout the opening ceremony, forcing many people under a undulating roof of red, green, blue, and pink umbrellas. The re-opening of Cote d’Ivoire’s leading university here in Abidjan’s Cocody district, after its closure two years ago because of the long political crisis which culminated in the disputed results of the 2010 presidential election, isn’t going to be deterred by the last fading days of the rainy season. Academics in their green robes sit good naturedly under tents. Student reps wait nervously by the entranceway for Cote d’Ivoire’s President Ouattara to arrive. The music is loud and exuberant. The place is humming with expectation and excitement. It’s a new start for higher education.
The government has been planning for this moment for the last eight months, hiring legions of workmen, builders, and gardeners to refurbish the old University of Cocody, one of Africa’s longest-running and best-known tertiary institutes which opened before the country won its independence in 1960.
Got dragged into DFID this week for yet another session on theories of change. This one was organized by the DFID-funded Research for Development (R4D) project (sorry, ‘portal’). A lot of my previous comments on such sessions apply – in DFID the theories of change agenda seems rather dominated by evaluation and planning (‘logframes on steroids’), whereas in Oxfam, it is mainly used to sharpen our work in programmes and campaigns. But the conversation that jumped out at me was around ‘how do we influence the researchers that we fund to use theories of change (ToCs) to improve the impact of their research?’
It’s risky to generalize about ‘academics’, but I'm going to do it anyway. Let’s apply some ToCs thinking to academia as a target. Applying ToCs to try and understand why academics don't use ToCs may feel a bit weird (like the bit in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich enters his own brain), but bear with me.
The impetus for this post comes from a couple of recent experiences. First, I got copied on the letter sent to an author containing a decision from the editor from a paper that I had refereed so long ago that I had forgotten even refereeing it. Second, every now and then I have conversations with colleagues about where to send papers, which for most journals rely on anecdotes/sample sizes of a couple of experiences (e.g. what is journal X like for turnaround time – well, the one paper I sent there recently took 10 months to get a report, etc.).
I came back from a week off at the start of this year to find 7 referee requests from different journals waiting for me , of which I accepted 5 and turned down 2 – clearly some people are working quickly on that New Year’s resolution to send out their papers. Getting so many requests in the same week got me thinking about both how much I want to referee this year and what I can do to be a better referee.
How much to referee?