A Student Responds: Foreign Aid and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Zenobia Goodman
August 14th, 2020

Chapter Six of “Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations” on Foreign Aid immediately captured my attention as a student interested in pursuing a career in International Development after graduating from William & Mary. Understanding foreign aid has become increasingly important due to the complexity of the topic caused by differentiating agendas between researchers and practitioners/ policymakers.

According to Christina Schneider, the Chapter’s author, there is a greater demand for linkages between scholars and the policy community in the international development community compared to other international relations subfields. Using TRIP survey data of IR Scholars, the table below shows the high demand for more research that is policy-relevant and related to major world events.

Table6.1

So how do we fill this gap?

Chapter Six touches on the different approaches between scholars and researchers in the field of Foreign Aid. Here are the three main takeaways from Chapter Six.

    • Though both quantitative and qualitative methods are valued by IR scholars, overwhelming, more IR scholars employ qualitative analysis.  The TRIP survey found that scholars are more likely to employ qualitative research methods over quantitative research methods for policy purposes.  The table below shows the distribution of methodological approaches used by IR scholars.  But more information is needed to understand the type of methodological approaches practitioners are in need of.

 

    • Increasing linkages between scholars and practitioners is not impossible! Schneider notes that policy practitioners and IR scholars do use the same methodological approaches. Improving transparency can help “increase the usability of academic research for Policy purposes” (92). An example of this is AidData: AidData employs both academic and policy workers to collaborate surrounding the behavior of development projects in areas such as China and India. Transparency seems to foster a relationship of trust and ease between different fields.

Table6.2

  • Differences in incentive structures are still an obstacle. Academics research doesn’t always line up with current events that need immediate attention. In addition, developing a research plan and implementing it can take up to 2-5 years, when policymakers may need it in less than a year to address current problems.

Chapter Six of the book was very interesting and insightful for understanding the application of research in developing foreign aid policy. There has been a lot of progress in reducing the gap over the years, however, work still needs to be done. The Chapter opened up my perspective on the needs of the international development community, and how my education at William and Mary and my experience at TRIP can help better understand the relationship between the academic and the policy worlds. 

Check out my tweet thread summary of Chapter Six on Foreign Aid on our Twitter: @trip_irsurvey 

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: bit.ly/Bridging-G

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in the human rights violations and global development issues.