I’m inviting you to apply for a job whose highlights include:
- You get to exchange blogs with Martin Ravallion.
- You get to have the first citation in Joseph Stiglitz’s new book.
- You get to have Barack Obama misquote your work (min 4:25).
- You get to be on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, twice.
- You get to have films inspired by your work (with Russell Brand, but still).
- You get to write letters to The Economist and the Financial Times, and have them published.
- You get to be a kind of ghost speech writer for the head of the IMF
- And you get to be called the new Duncan Green for a couple of years (OK, that’s not a highlight).
Why? Because I’m heading back to Mexico to take over as Executive Director of Oxfam Mexico. Exciting move, but I’m acutely aware of what I’m leaving behind.
The Head of Research (HoR) covers four main areas of work: campaigns and advocacy; thought leadership; managing the research team and learning from our programmes.
Making sure Campaigns and Advocacy are evidence-based: The HoR is a kind of master of evidence within Oxfam – which can be a tricky position. In this role, you ensure that the organization uses the most up-to-date and credible sources (including academic literature and new databases and methods) in its communications and publications. There is often a tension between being rigorous and making a simple, strong point in campaigns and advocacy – the HoR has to get the balance right, i.e. that we can confidently back up what we say if challenged.
Top example: the trend analysis on the concentration of income and wealth presented at the last two World Economic Fora: Working for the Few and Wealth: Having it all and wanting more and the accompanying killer fact that the world’s 80 richest individuals now own as much as the bottom half of the population – 3.5 billion people (how many times have you heard that one?). For those papers, we used databases put together by respected academics – which was just as well, because we had to defend the results against some forensic scrutiny – including on the famous BBC programme More or Less.
Schmoozing lots of clever people Thought Leadership: The HoR is bombarded with invitations to present at seminars, conferences etc with policy makers, academics and students. These are opportunities to communicate research findings and the accompanying message, but also a great chance to float ideas, develop new arguments and meet some really smart people.
Managing the Team: The HoR often gets plenty of media or wonk glory (something Duncan recognized long ago
when he was in post!). But s/he also manages a small team of (seven) extremely talented and hard-working people who do most of the actual work. The managerial duties are an important part of the job and include representation in different Oxfam internal processes and, very importantly, connecting with other Oxfam researchers across the globe.
Learning from our programmes: One of the main research and learning assets of an organization like Oxfam is its presence in hundreds of communities around the world. This is a goldmine for those trying to understand what works and what doesn’t in international development. Our colleagues in Oxfam’s evaluation team (separate from the Research Team) carry out rigorous impact evaluations for some of Oxfam’s projects. Once the results of the quantitative evaluations are in, Oxfam’s researchers conduct follow-up qualitative analysis to better understand what is behind interesting or surprising project results (whether positive or negative). This is a new but expanding area of work: So far we have conducted follow-ups in Pakistan and Zimbabwe, but several more are in progress.
The job is great, a close-to-perfect mix of thinking and practice. Last week, I said it was one of the best jobs in international development. It wasn’t hyperbole.
To be honest, I’m really only leaving to get away from the British weather and food.