Improving Community Resilience and Sustainability Through Operational Research Capacity Building in Southeast Asia (CREST-OR)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Kent Business School


Operational Research (OR) has significant potential to contribute to meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and disaster risk management (DRM) objectives of developing countries. However, most ODA countries lack the research capacity to develop and apply relevant OR methodologies.
The CREST-OR project is a collaboration between three of the UK's leading universities in the field of OR - Kent, Lancaster, and Southampton - and prominent universities in four Southeast Asian (SEA) countries - Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, and Cambodia. CREST-OR will establish a long-term UK-SEA partnership to build research capacity in OR methodologies, improve community resilience to natural disasters, and achieve national SDGs and DRM objectives. SEA partners will benefit from advancing their OR research capabilities, and the formation of new institutional links among project partners. UK partners will benefit from increasing knowledge in the application of OR to international development and disaster management challenges. The project will support longstanding initiatives in SEA countries through engagement of policy-makers and practitioners at national and local levels (e.g. emergency response agencies, local authorities, and development NGOs).

CREST-OR will build capacity in the use of OR for solving challenges in four focal areas: disaster management, food security, resilient transport infrastructure and smart cities. These areas were identified with the SEA partners based on existing collaborations within the UK researchers and, most importantly, on development priorities of their respective countries. In SEA countries, rapid economic growth and infrastructural development has not been supported by sufficiently robust planning. Social and environmental priorities have been regularly forfeited, while population growth has intensified development challenges. Climate change is now raising disaster risks and threatening to derail development achievements, with the greatest effect felt by the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society. OR offers a powerful set of tools to support more informed, evidence-based decision-making by government agencies and NGOs to address challenges related to disaster risk and its impact on food supplies, infrastructure and cities development. By building OR research capacity in these areas, CREST-OR will contribute to address several UN SDGs: SDG2 (Zero Hunger), SDG9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG13 (Climate Action) and Priority-2 (Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance) of the Sendai Framework.

The project will undertake the following capacity building activities:
- Capacity assessments to identify educational and research gaps in the knowledge and use of OR methodologies, especially in relation to the SDGs, and understand the policy landscape in which CREST-OR will operate.
- Three workshops, including: a Scoping Workshop to develop a prioritised list of relevant research projects, which will form the basis of CREST-OR research agenda; an Academic Workshop with specialised research training sessions for SEA researchers at different career stages; a Final Workshop to share developed research project proposals, receive end-user feedback and plan future research strategy.
- Secondment of SEA Early Career Researcher in UK partner universities to develop research proposals, take part in research activites, and receive training in advanced and contextualised OR methods (e.g. simulation, optimisation).
- Short visits of UK academics to SEA institutions to consolidate understanding of local context, run short training workshops, and support the development of OR curricula and research units.
- Attendance of SEA researchers to the UK OR Society annual conference to facilitate their engagement in international debates and integrate them into a wider research community.
- Development of a website for research networking and knowledge exchange.

Planned Impact

CREST-OR will build capacity in Operational Research (OR) in South East Asia (SEA) for solving practical challenges in four focal areas: disaster management, food security, resilient transport infrastructure and smart cities. Realising the full impact of capacity building in OR at community level, in terms of better development and disaster management interventions, and changed lives, will follow a multi-year collaboration between UK and the SEA university partners. The CREST-OR project, lasting one year, is the first and most vital of three steps on the pathway to that impact. The anticipated impact of CREST-OR includes the following.

Seven Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from four target countries will have capacity to research and develop OR methods for application to context-specific development challenges in four focal areas. Three UK universities (Kent, Lancaster, Southampton) will also have enhanced their OR research capacity, being able to integrate contextual information and data from SEA into mathematical models. The combined developed research capacity of the ECRs and UK universities will be shown by the quality and potential of seven research proposals developed by the ECRs with support from UK universities during the project.

Seven national universities in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos will have realistic strategies for integrating the new research capacity of their ECRs to address specific national development challenges, enabling them to impact on their communities beyond the lifetime of CREST-OR. Relevant government agencies in the four target countries will have a better understanding of how OR research can benefit them, demonstrating their willingness to cooperate by sharing relevant data and expertise. Development agencies, which will have been engaged at project workshops, including potential funders such as the Newton Fund in Vietnam and Indonesia, and international financing institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, the International Fund for Agriculture & Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, will demonstrate their stakeholder interest in the future role of OR by information-sharing for the development of the seven research proposals. National research capacity in OR and initial results from the ECR projects will enable these stakeholders to increase efficiency and effectiveness of their development interventions.

Existing national and international OR societies will benefit from their support to this new UK-SEA community of research practitioners. For example, the aims of the Asia-Pacific OR Society (APORS) include promotion of OR as a highly-valued discipline and profession; encouraging multi-country projects and initiatives; and assisting to set up national OR societies. The UK OR Society is a CREST-OR project partner, and the project's Advisory Board includes high-level representation from both APORS and the International Federation of OR Societies (IFORS).

Beyond the lifetime of the funding, in the second step along the pathway to impact, the seven research proposals will be realised, enabling research capacities to be applied and further improved, while OR demonstrates its effectiveness in context, with tangible impacts on SEA communities. Simultaneously, the seven universities will develop national OR courses.

In the third step, the strength of OR will be fully recognised by national government and development agencies, and research capacity will be harnessed to scale up the use of OR, in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG2 (Zero Hunger), SDG9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) and Priority-2 of the Sendai Framework (Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance). At this stage, research capacity in OR will be impacting local communities in SEA on a significant scale.


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