On 2 September 2011, the SUMERNET Steering Committee (SSC) gathered in Bangkok to review current strategies and programmes as well as examine options for SUMERNET’s future, and the conclusion of the current round of projects in 2012.
The seven members generally agreed that work is proceeding apace. The committee was pleased with how the more hands-on and extended project application process appears to be leading to more structured and detailed proposals. Of particular value has been the way the Secretariat has expanded full-proposal preparation and training by bringing project mentors and external experts to provide feedback to candidate research teams, helping them to understand research gaps or potentially weak methodologies, thus developing much stronger proposals. Moreover, the addition of more stringent monitoring and evaluation programmes as compared to Sumernet Phase 1 will help to assure this quality is carried forward to the final research products, and help to further elevate the level of research practices undertaken in the region.
Members felt it has been challenging recruiting qualified research applications from China. As such, the current tranche of projects lacks projects from China. As a key requirement for current SUMERNET funding has been transboundary research partnerships, it’s been difficult to identify potential Chinese partners interested in addressing GMS issues beyond China’s borders. To this extent, if this requirement is to continue, the SSC will need to address recruitment strategies for engaging Chinese research partners.
Additional questions regarding SUMERNET’s post-2012 future that were also discussed include the role and authority of the SSC, funding opportunities as well as the requirements of the Secretariat. The members felt as the network evolves there should be more clear articulation of the SSC’s role as advisorv and decision-maker. In advance of preparing future funding proposals, it was felt that some feedback should be sought from stakeholders in the region, particularly those who are not yet, but possibly should consider, becoming more actively involved in SUMERNET as to what they see as the network’s strengths, weaknesses and value. Additionally, the SSC needs to decide the specific qualifications of the future Secretariat. While it was generally agreed that an international organization, such as SEI, should continue to serve in this capacity, there may be benefits to rotating the Secretariat to a similar organization of research institution in the region.
Members agreed to take up these and other matters further when they come together for the next SSC meeting, scheduled to be during the SUMERNET Week from 9-11 November 2011 in Bangkok. They also addressed other specifics including plans for the annual Policy Forum where they hope to secure funding or other mechanisms to aid some twenty key policy makers in the Mekong Region to attend.