After talking to researchers Saskia Vossenberg, Dr Zeremarian Fre and Franziska Gassmann, it’s time for a policymaker to feature in our INCLUDE testimonials. INCLUDE aims to achieve better research–policy linkages on inclusive development in Africa so we talk today with Robert-Jan Scheer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Currently, Robert-Jan is the strategic advisor for Africa at the MFA, and his department contributes to a more equal relationship between the Netherlands and Africa. This productive relationship contributes to sustainable welfare, safety and stability in African countries. Before joining the MFA, Robert-Jan worked in Bolivia, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Zambia.
Robert-Jan joined INCLUDE 4 years ago and he has been part of the Include Steering Group (SG) ever since. When discussing the work of the SG he emphasizes:
“What makes the SG so engaging is the diversity in the group: we have experts from several countries and with various backgrounds and together we decide on the course of the platform itself.”
When asked how he would describe the INCLUDE knowledge platform, he responded:
“It’s not so easy to define the platform because there is nothing similar to it. There are only a few think-tanks focused on such an upcoming theme with both Northern and Southern partners involved. This focus makes INCLUDE unique, however, this also makes it harder to define from the outside and makes people question “what, precisely, are you doing?”
Although Robert-Jan is not using INCLUDE’s work on a day-to-day basis, he acknowledges INCLUDE’s contribution to discussions on various topics. INCLUDE generates knowledge with the results of the research groups and also collates the existing knowledge on several different themes and makes these accessible:
“In the Ministry we are looking for a gathering of knowledge to give an agenda a broader context, which INCLUDE sets out with its knowledge products and network(s)”
Robert-Jan explains that there is a demand within the MFA for a relevant connection with research, to strengthen policy with contextualized knowledge and expertise. The five knowledge platforms provide a positive environment to facilitate this policy-research connection directly.
Robert-Jan is personally interested in the challenge that policymakers face in connecting with citizens and having an ongoing dialogue on what’s genuinely needed:
“INCLUDE relates to this challenge of policymakers by pointing out the responsibilities of decision makers, as well as in which areas the opportunities might be. INCLUDE touches upon responsive governance by asking the right questions and identifying possible areas of opportunity. The answers will not be easy to find, it’s a long process but the fact that these questions are posed is very important”
With an eye on the future, Robert-Jan encourages INCLUDE to enhance and strengthen the community of knowledge-sharing and to continue facilitating knowledge brokering between different stakeholders:
“This is truly an art in itself, which takes a lot of time to master; to connect different parties (academics, policy makers, practitioners) with different interests. To create a dialogue between those different parties is difficult and asks for perseverance, but if you can create a common understanding, this can lead to valuable insights.”