A healthy democracy requires that citizens and their institutions have the necessary skills to generate, access and use evidence to make good decisions. K4DM is working with stakeholders across Myanmar to strengthen these capabilities and support the building of a robust system in which they can flourish.

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Democracy Needs Healthy Research Systems

There are many recognisable milestones on the road to a functioning democracy. One of them is a robust and diverse research system with the capacity and independence to shape a country’s democratic debate and inform its decision-making processes. 

The Global Development Network, with support from K4DM, is contributing to this scholarly journey with its ‘Doing Research Assessment’ project. The project, which began in 2018 in collaboration with local scholars from the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), examines the obstacles and opportunities to undertaking research in the country.  It does this by identifying three sets of factors that are necessary for the production of robust research, its diffusion into society and effective take-up of the evidence produced. 

The project’s pilot phase, which took place over three years between 2014-2017, involved nine social science research teams that studied the research systems of 11 countries. Based on this experience, GDN developed and tested a framework to systematically capture three dimensions of a country’s research landscape: production; diffusion; and uptake.  

By collecting and analysing each dimension, captured using 54 indicators, the team will be able to do three inter-related things: first, they will produce a ‘snapshot’ of the research landscape at one particular moment in time; second, they will begin to explain the factors that contribute to the relative health of that landscape, and to compare it with other countries; and third, use the same sets of indicators to track the evolution of the landscape over time. A second round of the study is planned for 2021 in Myanmar.

The work is important because it draws attention to the different factors that contribute to the health of the research system, thereby allowing different actors to isolate what interventions are necessary while supporting donors to provide more strategic support to the country’s efforts.

The methodology also allows data to be systematically gathered about the state of the research system in a country. This can catalyse and feed into national debates about, for example, the funding of social sciences, or research governance. “This is happening to a certain extent in one of the pilot countries”, says Francesco Obino, Head of Programmes for the Global Development Network (GDN) and lead of the ‘Doing Research’ project at the global level. “In Peru the research team has just organised a conference on how to start public funding for social science research in the country. At the core of the conference was the Doing Research study findings.” 

The project held a national consultation in Yangon March 27th 2019 to present the project methodology and early insights. One of GDN’s advisors on this project, Prof. Tin Maung Maung Than, Associate Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, Vice Chair of CESD and Francesco Obino from GDN, led the session. Preliminary results will be presented as part of the K4DM Knowledge Forum to be held in July in Yangon. The final study will include three main ‘chapters’ from the current work in Myanmar: a context analysis, a stakeholder mapping, and a framework populated with data on the three aspects of the research landscape. This will form part of a global data set on research systems – in which GDN propose to include all developing countries over time – which will then be freely accessible for data visualisation and further analysis.

There are three main audiences for the report, says Obino. “First, those academics and their institutions wanting to study research systems and to inform its reconstruction; second, governments and the science councils who need evidence to inform both policy and programming on research; and third the donors and philanthropists that fund research and research capacity strengthening projects.”

“The great potential of ‘Doing Research’ is that it allows us to put the debate on the barriers and opportunities; and the strengths and gaps of social research into local hands”, says Obino.

Positive changes underway in Myanmar’s ‘research ecosystem’ 

There are positive signs that the creation of such institutions and policies are on their way to being created in Myanmar. 

A number of factors are helping to shape this steady transformation. 

First, the Government of Myanmar is starting to implement reforms of the Higher Education sector with the assistance of the British Council. This is creating space for conversations across the different stakeholder groups to discuss and consider the role of research and universities more broadly. Discussions are underway to establish the first National Science Council in the country following a conference earlier in the year that brought together all universities from the country to discuss the issue. There are plans to organise regional scholarly events such as the Science Council of Asia Conference, hosted by the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science (MAAS) in Nay Pyi Taw in December 2019. 

Second, an unprecedented volume of international funding and domestic funding has become available to support the reforms in recent years, including EU EURO 200m for higher education for the period 2019-22, which was announced on March 22nd 2019. This follows a call for more foreign investment in IT and research made by the State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Third, there is growing demand from – and access to – policy actors who are calling for evidence to help them make strong decisions and a desire to collaborate with local universities.

And lastly, there are signs of both ‘bottom-up’ reform of the post-secondary education system unfolding across the country and exciting ‘start-ups’ such as the recently-formed Parami Institute that provides broad-based education in multiple disciplines to nurture and empower Myanmar’s future leaders and citizens.

IDRC’s Knowledge for Democracy programme (K4DM) is working in support of this positive change. By supporting and strengthening the knowledge economy, and specifically the role that universities and think tanks can play to inform the country’s development, it is helping to construct the foundations necessary for a healthy knowledge landscape.                                                                                                                                          

Knowledge forum in Myanmar promotes research for sustained reform

CDES attending the marketplace at the Think Tank Initiative Exchange in Bangkok, 2018
Moses C. Tehlo, research director of the Centre for Development and Ethnic Studies, in Myanmar, presenting research results at the Think Tank Exchange in Bangkok in November 2018.

More than 100 individuals from 30 institutions are attending the Knowledge Forum in Yangon, Myanmar, from July 4-12, 2019.

Organized by the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar (K4DM) program, the forum brings together people from universities, think tanks, institutes, and civil society organizations to learn from each other’s work on social and economic issues and to facilitate  democratic transition in the country.Read more

To Build Peace, you must first Know Conflict

The review was launched in April to a packed audience
The review was launched in April to a packed audience

An essential part of Myanmar’s peacebuilding process lies in monitoring and reporting on the nature and extent of violent incidents nationwide. The Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS) are playing a leading role in championing violence monitoring in the country through the production of a review, funded by IDRC under a joint project with The Asia Foundation, which they plan to publish annually. 

The Peace and Security Review provides an overview and analysis of Myanmar’s internal conflict and the efforts to achieve peace.  

The inaugural report was launched at a public event on 2nd April 2019 which was attended by members of the Myanmar military, civil society activists, international donors and the media. This is the first time that information of this sensitive nature has been discussed publicly, reflecting changing times in the country.

The audience of more than 200 people heard that there were 490 armed clashes during 2018, mostly involving incidents by the military, and 158 incidents involving mines or Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). An armed clash is defined as ‘a violent engagement wherein two or more organized groups use lethal weapons against other organized actors or civilians at a specific time and location’.  At least 50 townships were affected by one or more armed clashes between state security forces and non state actors and 14 townships were significantly affected by conflict, having experienced ten or more armed incidents in 2018.

Six of the ten most affected townships were in Shan State.

The review uses data from the Township-based Conflict Monitoring System (TCMS), a context-specific monitoring system developed by MIPS that consists of over 300 variables, including 75 acceleration and deceleration indicators of conflict dynamics nationwide. It merges this with information from other projects and provided by donors which, up until recently, has only been available to a small circle of government and international partners. In addition, the review draws on regular qualitative field research that is carried out as part of MIPS’ other projects focusing on the peace process, armed conflict, social media, political dynamics, and development issues. 

Dr. Min Zaw Oo, Executive Director of MIPS, talked at the launch event of the many challenges faced by the team in compiling the report including fake news, propaganda, disinformation, little or lack of official information on casualty figures, and difficulty in tracking IED or mine attacks on security forces.

“The review would not be possible without the rigorous efforts of the TCMS coding team, who monitor, verify and record hundreds of events each month in pursuit of a better understanding of Myanmar’s conflict and prospects for peace”, he said.

“Data analysis of incidents allow us to determine trends and causes of the long-term conflict in Myanmar”, said Min Zaw Oo.


1-3 July 2019: Association for Asian Studies AAS-in-Asia Conference 2019 takes place at The Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Bangkok and takes as its theme ‘Asia on the Rise?’ Keynote speakers include Myanmar medical doctor, writer, human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience, Ma Thida.

24-26 October 2019: The 2019 Conference of the Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Studies is being held at McGill University and University of Sherbrooke (Longueuil), in Montreal, Quebec with the theme ‘Power in Southeast Asia’.

News from  projects

Trading knowledge for future prosperity

Meeting with importers in Toronto, April 2019

Small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) hold great potential as drivers of Myanmar’s economic reform and development, and are an important source of employment. The Trade Facilitation Office (TFO) Canada is assisting SMEs in Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to look to export markets for their specialty agro-foods. Working closely with the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), the ‘Making Trade Work for development’ programme has produced a Market Entry Study, identified exportable products, held a series of 4 seminars on Canadian markets—2 of them in Yangon and Mandalay— and took eight Myanmar SMEs to Canada for a market familiarization mission to Canada in April 2019. 

Tackling Misinformation in Myanmar

There has never been greater need for well-reasoned, research-based policy recommendations for governments making decisions for its citizens and the world. IDRC are providing support to the Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention and their local counterpart, the Smile Education and Development Foundation (SEDF) to combat misinformation in Myanmar. The country is not alone in experiencing a dramatic and alarming rise in the prevalence of so-called ‘fake news’, but Myanmar is especially vulnerable because while information and communications technologies (ICTs) have become widely and rapidly available, the practices, protocols, and procedures that guide their responsible and orderly use in the country have not kept pace. 

The Sentinel Project has a history of working on issues related to misinformation in Myanmar through its Peaceful Truth project, which has so far focused primarily on the city of Mandalay. The new K4DM project will enable Peaceful Truth to build and support a network of 30 media and 10 local community organizations in 10 additional expansion areas beyond Mandalay to monitor, verify, and counter the spread of misinformation to larger audiences. The project will experiment with new media and communications channels for managing misinformation and amplify the voices of women and youth in the project.

New publications

Annual Peace and Security Review            

The first annual review of Myanmar’s internal conflict and the efforts to achieve peace is now publicly available online.  Produced by the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS), the  Peace and Security Review provides an overview and analysis of violence across the country. Data collected over time will help identify trends and causes of the long-term conflict.

Myanmar Transformed?                 

The fractures at the heart of Myanmar’s political system is the topic of a recent blog published on New Mandala, a website that focuses on the politics and societies of Southeast Asia . The blog draws insights from the publication, Myanmar Transformed? People, Places and Politics that was launched at a lively panel discussion  as part of an IDRC-supported event in November 2018. The book’s introductory chapter is now available for free download in English and Burmese via the blog article.

Democratic development in turbulent times

Poverty, food insecurity, and conflict pose significant challenges to democracy all over the world. IDRC’s efforts to support researchers and policymakers address the barriers to democracy specific to their own countries were outlined in a testimony to Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recently. Initiatives described included battling fake news in Kenya through support to the Sentinel Project and training and mentoring for aspiring leaders, independent think tanks, and research grants through the K4DM programme in Myanmar.

Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar 

Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar Initiative aims to build the capacity of leaders to carry out research and evidence-based policymaking with a focus on inclusive economic policies and democratic laws and standards. This five-year, $10.7 million initiative is funded by Canada through the IDRC and the Global Affairs Canada. Part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve the lives of people in the developing world.

Part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve the lives of people in the developing world. 

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The ‘Inclusive Myanmar’ newsletter covers stories and activities related to this initiative and other IDRC research activities involving Myanmar. myanmar@idrc.ca  Like   Tweet   Share   Forward