Making Basic research visible in all regions through funding, technology, and storytelling

Posted on 03/15/2023 08:30 am
Making Basic research visible in all regions through funding, technology, and storytelling image

"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 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.” 

This was shared by Marieta Ba?ez Sumagaysay (MBS), former director of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) and currently Professor 12 of Economics, UP Visayas Tacloban College, when she was asked how NRCP was able to leap significantly in terms of membership,  R&D outputs, and visibility under her leadership. 

MBS (like BTS) has an army, an army of researchers

Through increased funding for basic R&D of researchers all over the country, storytelling, digitization, and digitalization, the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP), under the leadership of MBS was able to make the presence of basic research felt in all regions.

In 2017, MBS brought up the idea of National S&T Experts Pool (NSTEP) and Basic Research Information Translation for Empowerment in the Regions (BRITER) program before the NRCP Secretariat, and she was grateful that these ideas were well received. 

NSTEP and BRITER projects are under a program titled, “Support for the promotion of a science culture in the regions for global competitiveness” which, in 2020, got a 3-year DOST-GIA funding. 

Being the council’s head, MBS wanted all her units to have its own budget to meet its targets. 

“They cannot give what they don’t have in them to give. So, provide a good budget, and expect impactful outputs,” she thought.

The small General Appropriations Act (GAA) or budget was inadequate to support the council’s projects. NSTEP was handled by the Technical Capacity Development Section (TCDS), and BRITER was managed by the Research Information Dissemination Division (RIDD).

NSTEP project, 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.

NSTEP 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; and 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. BRITER 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 younger generation to appreciate science through their exposure to knowledge products that are laymanized, popular and relatable to their lived experiences. The project also advocates the fusion of science and the arts through research-based knowledge products.

Both NSTEP and BRITER plus the RDLead program under the DOST’s Science for Change Program (S4CP) 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, thanks to RIDD (and Andrew of MIS), was started in 2018 and by 2022 they had various sub-systems under the Scientific Knowledge Management System (SKMS). Among their “firsts” include: online nomination and election of Division Chairs and Regular members in 2019 even before the pandemic; online application for membership; online submission and review of manuscripts for the NRCP Research Journal; online generation of membership data/profile; online application for thesis/manuscript grants; online requests for NRCP members’ engagement (NEEP); 

online submission of research proposals; digitization of library materials which are uploaded in the LMS, and a dedicated portal which enable the executive committee to readily generate data.

Despite these technological developments in the council’s products and processes, MBS admitted that more still needs to be done. These unfinished businesses that are now in progress are the following: online recruitment and hiring process; online submission and evaluation of Support to Research Dissemination in Local and International Platforms (RDLIP) applications; processes for the Accounting, Budget, and Supply; and one for Governing Board Resolutions and important documents.

Pitching fusion of arts and science, a difficult move that worked

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

“That is a given, and 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.”

MBS admitted that it was hard at first to put forward the science-arts fusion perspective. This was similarly the case with her gender and development (GAD) in science advocacy. Initially, she would even hear remarks like “gender na naman yan” or “hindi yan science ang social science” or “hindi yan mapopondohan ang arts.” 

When GAD became one big DOST program, she saw this as an opportunity to synthesize social science, arts and natural/physical sciences since the government is mandated to have GAD in S&T. MBS accepted invitations (many times, volunteered) to talk on engendering S&T.

Since her student days, she wondered how to make the arts and science co-mingle into one for economic development. Although she didn’t know the answer then, as an Economics student she felt there must be answers somewhere.

Her [typhoon] Yolanda experience strengthened her resolve to contribute to integrating technology, social science, and the arts. She believes that rebuilding and building back better is not all about scientific technologies and scientific innovations. 

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

When MBS started doing research, she felt uncomfortable with what she observed in the field, seeing the men and women in farming and fishing communities who were 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. 

Projects are being conducted in silos. Conceptualization of projects are detached from the users of the output. And project proposal preparation is non-inclusive. 

The social sciences (governance, politics, economics, sociology, psychology) and the arts provided a platform for delivering messages in a way suited to the communities’ needs and was one of the solutions that l bridge the gap of mismatched needs. 

Storytelling in science

Back when she was the Director of the Leyte-Samar Heritage Center of UP Tacloban, MBS gathered young faculty members and they published a book, “Hira Manding Karya,” a collection of local legends and tales of Eastern Visayas, all gathered from the source in the mother tongue. They used the book in their story telling sessions with selected public elementary school pupils. The story teller (i.e., Manding Karya who is a-la Lola Basyang) wears a costume. Story tellers, both faculty and students, were trained.

“When I entered NRCP, I knew that I wanted to do the same, but this time the material will be about the journey/lived experience of scientists and artists, particularly the NRCP Achievement Awardees. This is part of BRITER, being another platform to inspire the 

young to become achievers --- scientists and artists. iShare (thanks to Renz who came up with the title) becomes NRCP’s brand of digital storytelling,” MBS narrated how iShare began.

Storytelling in government communication may have been happening for quite some time in more economically progressive countries, but not quite in this country and NRCP’s use of storytelling in sharing basic R&D results and researchers’ career journey made S&T more relatable.

MBS recounted how, in the province, stories are narrated to kids by grandparents on many occasions such as to send kids to sleep during siesta time (after lunch), before going to bed at night, or just at any time of the day when kids are gathered in the house specially during rainy days when kids cannot play outside the house. The stories had moral lessons. Her grandparents (and parents, too) have this story telling format:

  1. Who has heard about …….
  2. Who would like to listen to my story about ..….
  3. [The story]
  4. Who among the characters would you like to be? Why?
  5. Who among the characters you wouldn’t want to be? Why not?
  6. Did you like the story?
  7. Tomorrow, I will tell you another story about …., or what story would you like to hear?
  8. [The following day, there will be a short review of the previous day’s story….]

She imitated this storytelling “format” when she became a mother. But her husband, according to her, was the better bedtime storyteller because he had lots of imagined characters (with uniquely coined names) that surprisingly figures out in a rather common story which their three kids enjoyed, taking part in building the fictitious characters. 

After NRCP, advocacy continues

After her stint at NRCP, MBS went on sabbatical at UP Tacloban. But she’s still currently busy in her GAD advocacies, such as organizing UP webinar on “Women and girls in science for the SDGs (WAGSS)” where she invited the NRCP scientists: NS Lourdes Cruz, Dr Doralyn Dalisay (a Balik Scientist), and Dr Rosalinda Torres (one of the eight Filipino scientists in Asia’s top 100 scientists). They also had Ms Hillary Andales the PSHS-Eastern Visayas winner of the Junior Challenge who is now finishing her master’s degree in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The speakers talked and narrated their stories about challenges as women scientists, and how their scientific findings contribute to sustainable development goals. Her speakers all mentioned the importance of the social sciences in what they do.

MBS now serves as Chair of the Asian Fisheries Social Science Research Network (AFSSRN, until 2024), where she leads the members to host panel sessions in national and international conferences. These are efforts to mainstream social sciences and gender in fisheries technologies, curriculum, and scientific research. These are just a few of her numerous activities as a woman scientist and gender advocate. 

MBS’ advise to the young Filipinos who want to become a scientist and a leader in the future is, “Have a pen and paper even at your bedside table, or better still, your mobile phone. 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?” (Geraldine Bulaon-Ducusin, S&T Media Service)