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The Role of Social Sciences and Sustainable Development in Asia


South and South East Asia have been a regional focus of GDN’ Doing Research global initiative since its inception in 2014.

During the pilot phase of the initiative, studies on the state of social science research systems in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia shed light on the challenges post-colonial legacies, the absence of a national research policy, the bureaucratic nature of academia and career promotions, as well as a limited integration of local researchers in national development policy debates.

A full Doing Research Assessment was carried out in 2019-21 in Indonesia and Myanmar, delivering in both countries first-in-their-kind analysis of the national research systems that spurred national policy discussions, as well as a number of high-quality academic publications and regional webinars.

In 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, GDN joined hands with the Asia Research Centre (ARC UI) at Universitas Indonesia to expand the initiative in the region. A first joint report, published in early 2022, brings together the insights of senior researchers in 11 countries in the region (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam) on the role social sciences played in COVID-19 responses. The volume urges policymakers to engage more closely with social scientists to be able to effectively respond to its social and economic impacts in the years to come. This call was also echoed by a blogpost on Asia Pathways, the blog of the Asian Development Bank Institute, by GDN’s Francesco Obino and IDRC’s Edgard Rodriguez.

  • “There is a need for an integrated framework to tackle the pandemic that can only be achieved through a multi-sector approach and the inclusion of social scientists in response and decision-making at the highest levels.” Sabina F. Rashid and Selima S, BRAC University, Bangladesh
  • “The pandemic has worsened social inequalities, which have been exacerbated by the inclusion of technocrats and the exclusion of critical social scientists within policymaking.” Panji Anugrah Permana and Inaya Rakhmani, Asia Research Center at Uniersitas Indonesia
  • “The government needs to enlist the help of social scientists as they have their ears on the ground and can offer advice on the best way to implement policies.” Azmil Tayeb, Universiti Sains Malaysia

More resources

See a dedicated presentation of the 11-country study at the 'Evidence for Development: What Works Global Summit 2021' | Watch interview with Dr. Inaya Rakhmani, the Asia Research Centre (ARC UI) at Universitas Indonesia | Watch the full "Science advice during Covid-19: What factors made the difference?" panel at #INGSA2021| Listen to this podcast on Myanmar in collaboration with Asia Research News, and read this feature on Bridging the Gap to Improve Development Policies. | Watch: Social Sciences and COVID-19 in Southeast Asia: (Non-)Role and (In)Significance (SEAJunction) | Watch: Boosting social science research in Myanmar | Watch: Bridging the research gap and improving development policies in Indonesia | READ: Social Science Missing from Asia’s COVID-19 Response (Asia Research News Magazine) | READ: Reproducing Academic Insularity in a Time of Neo-liberal Markets: The Case of Social Science Research in Indonesian State Universities (Journal of Contemporary Asia) | READ: Rebuilding social science research systems in Myanmar: The past informs the future (International Journal of Social Sciences) | READ: Linking Academic Research and Policymaking (Springer)

Watch this webinar recording

The future of social science’s contribution to sustainable development in Asia was discussed in a webinar on 28 April 2022, with top researchers and policy makers from the region. Find out more about the event, titled, ‘Putting people at the center: Why investing in social research will set Asia on the path towards sustainable development?’ and register here.


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To support this work, please contact Francesco Obino, Director of Research and Programs on