Making basic research visible in regions

Dr. Marieta Bañez Sumagaysay

“When I was interviewed by the executive director search committee in September 2015, they asked me about my plans. I only had one—make NRCP [National Research Council of the Philippines] visible in all regions, and make an army of scientists and artists in all the provinces of the country. I had my ‘hugot’ because I came from the province [Leyte] and NRCP was not known, as in, never heard, by most in the academe.”

Dr. Marieta Baňez Sumagaysay, immediate former executive director of the NRCP and current Professor 12 of Economics at University of the Philippines (UP) Visayas Tacloban College, made the statement when she was asked how NRCP was able to leap significantly in terms of membership, research and development (R&D) outputs and visibility under her leadership.

NRCP is a collegial and basic research advisory body attached to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST),

An army of researchers

Through increased funding for basic R&D all over the country, by way of storytelling, digitization and digitalization the presence of basic researches were felt in all regions under her helm at the NRCP.

In 2017, Sumagaysay’s idea of National Science and Technology Experts Pool (NStep) and Basic Research Information Translation for Empowerment in the Regions (Briter) program were well received by the  NRCP Secretariat.

NStep and Briter projects are under the program, “Support for the promotion of a science culture in the regions for global competitiveness,” which got a three-year DOST-Grants-in-Aid (GIA) funding in 2020.

Being the council’s head, Sumagaysay wanted all her units to have their budgets to be able to meet their targets.

“They cannot give what they don’t have. So provide a good budget, and expect impactful outputs,” she pointed out.

The small budget from the General Appropriations Act that they received was inadequate to support the council’s projects.

NStep, which was instrumental in the realization of her goal—to build an army of researchers, scientists and artists in all parts of the country—has five components: membership promotion; experts’ engagement; small R&D grants for starters and budding researchers; professional development; and awards.

The project was able to distribute R&D spending equitably, particularly to those who have less or no access to funding.

It made R&D more inclusive, because while national priorities are important, regional priorities may be unique and must likewise be addressed through research. The project succeeded in improving the scientific productivity in the regions.

Briter, on the other hand, has three components: basic research for informed policymaking; enhancing science culture for all; and research dissemination in local and international platforms.

It translated scientific research results into various formats dove-tailed to various audiences.

It is intended to influence policy and decision making by using science and evidence, and encourage the young generation to appreciate science through their exposure to knowledge products that are laymanized, popular and relatable to their lived experiences.

The project also advocates for the fusion of science and the arts through research-based knowledge products.

Both NStep and Briter, plus the R&D Leadership Program under the DOST’s Science for Change Program, redefined NRCP, engaged its members both as mentors and influencers, and heightened the importance of basic research in the country.

Using technology to achieve goals

NRCP’s digitization and digitalization were started in 2018. By 2022 they had various sub-systems under the Scientific Knowledge Management System.

Among their “firsts” were online applications in the following areas: nomination and election of NRCP Division Chairs and Regular members in 2019; application for membership; submission and review of manuscripts for the NRCP Research Journal; generation of membership data/profile; application for thesis/manuscript grants; requests for NRCP members’ engagement; and submission of research proposals.

The digitization of library materials, which were uploaded in the council’s Library Management System, and a dedicated portal, enabled the executive committee to readily generate data were also achieved.

Despite these technological developments in the council’s products and processes, Sumagaysay admitted that more still need to be done.

Its unfinished businesses that are currently in progress are the online recruitment and hiring process, and submission and evaluation of Support to Research Dissemination in Local and International Platforms applications; processes for the accounting, budget and supply; and one for Governing Board Resolutions and important documents.

Fusion of arts and science

The NRCP leader knew from the start that DOST’s mandate and practice are in favor of the natural/physical sciences.

“That is a given. Being an economist, I always work on givens and constraints, and find ways to maximize the results of whatever is the available resource. The efforts were not all mine. It took the secretariat’s efforts, too, and later on, the support from the higher NRCP and DOST management for the science and arts fusion to happen,” she explained.

She admitted that it was hard at first to put forward the science-arts fusion perspective. This was similar with her gender and development (GAD) in science advocacy, where she would hear remarks said in Filipino like “social science is not science” or “arts will not get funding.”

When GAD became a big DOST program, she saw it as an opportunity to synthesize social science, arts and natural/physical sciences.

Her experience during the Super Typhoon Yolanda that wrecked havoc in Tacloban in Leyte in November 2013, this Leyte native strengthened her resolve to contribute to integrating technology, social science and the arts.

“Cultural nuances matter a lot for the success in the implementation of projects,” she pointed out.

While doing research, Sumagaysay felt uncomfortable seeing farmers and fishermen not using the equipment provided by government because it did not fit their needs. They were never consulted. Is it like a “one technology fits all?”

The economic sectors’ productivity is not improving because of the mismatch of needs and technologies. More so, the technologies are not coupled with other enabling mechanisms, like access to markets and access to financing, or are not coupled with studies on the new technologies’ acceptability and people’s willingness to pay for shared facilities.

The social sciences (governance, politics, economics, sociology, psychology) and the arts should provided a platform for delivering messages suited to the communities’ needs. They were among the solutions that enabled her to bridge the gap of mismatched needs.

Storytelling in science

Back when she was the director of the Leyte-Samar Heritage Center of UP Tacloban, Sumagaysay gathered young faculty members and published a book, “Hira Manding Karya,” a collection of local legends and tales of Eastern Visayas that were gathered from the source in the mother tongue.

They used the book in story-telling sessions with selected public elementary-school pupils. The storyteller (i.e., Manding Karya, á la the popular Lola Basyang) wears a costume. Story tellers, from both the faculty and students, were trained.

“When I entered NRCP, I knew that I wanted to do the same. But this time the material would be about the journey/lived experience of scientists and artists, particularly the NRCP Achievement Awardees. It was part of Briter, being another platform to inspire the young to become achievers as scientists and artists. iShare became [the council’s] brand of digital storytelling,” the director narrated.

Storytelling in government communication may have been happening in more economically progressive countries, but not quite in the Philippines.

She noted that NRCP’s use of storytelling in sharing basic R&D results and researchers’ career journey is making S&T more relatable.

After NRCP, advocacy continues

After her stint at NRCP, Sumagaysay joined UP Tacloban, although currently on sabbatical. She’s busy in her GAD advocacies, such as organizing a webinar on “Women and girls in science for the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].”

She now serves as chairman of the Asian Fisheries Social Science Research Network (until 2024). She leads in national and international conferences to mainstream social sciences and gender in fisheries technologies, curriculum and scientific research.

Her advise to young Filipinos who want to become a scientist and a leader in the future: “Have a pen and paper even at your bedside table, or better still, have your mobile phone always ready. Write immediately the ideas [crazy as they may be] that excite you, each time they pop up in your mind. Get back to it when you wake up. Enjoy the ride. Have time to dance and sing. Always ask: what’s new?”

Image credits: NRCP


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