The International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) calls for partners – individuals/institutions from diverse professional backgrounds – to enable and catalyze the realization of development outcomes using astronomy (or science in general).
Partnerships can take various forms including
- Funding Partners,
- Conferences and Seminars Partners,
- Research, Technical and/or Development Partners, as well as
- Evaluation Partners.
The following background sections provide a brief description of the OAD and its Astronomy for Development mandate, followed by descriptions of the four example partnership areas mentioned above.
Background of the OAD
The OAD was formed in 2011 to champion and promote the use of astronomy in all its aspects to contribute towards the achievement of development outcomes. Guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the OAD has since its establishment disbursed close to 1 million Euros to provide seed funding to around 200 projects in over 100 countries across the world. Starting with its head office in Cape Town, the OAD has expanded by establishing 11 Regional Offices of Astronomy for Development (ROADS) across the globe, whose main purpose has been to advance the goals of the OAD within regional contexts, including but not limited to overseeing OAD funded projects within their regions. Based on this experience the OAD has established three flagship projects: Flagship 1 – Sustainable, local socio-economic development through Astronomy; Flagship 2 – Science diplomacy through Astronomy: Celebrating our Common Humanity; and Flagship 3 – Knowledge and Skills for Development.
What is Astronomy for Development?
The subject of astronomy has broad appeal. The beauty of the night sky and the fascination of the scale and mystery of the cosmos have a unique power to stimulate thoughts of ‘what is possible’ in the minds of people. Moreover, the night sky is accessible to everyone across the world, and has strong cultural value in many societies. Coupled with the transferable skills and cutting-edge techniques required for astronomical research, this makes astronomy an exciting potential pathway towards progress in socioeconomic development.
Potential Partnership Areas
The OAD has a fairly wide mandate and funds a diverse range of astronomy for development projects. The office is agile and is open to consider different partnership proposals as long as it relates to using astronomy for development. The following are some examples of potential partnership areas, although other possibilities are welcome.
OAD projects are selected through an annual Call for Proposals, evaluated by a reiew panel (selection panel) composed of dedicated professionals in the astronomy and development fields. In 2020, the OAD partnered with several organisations to fund special COVID-19 projects that used aspects of astronomy to address problems emanating from the effects of the pandemic. The OAD invites interested funding organizations to take advantage of the Call for Proposals and review process in order to channel seed grants to groups or organizations who demonstrate potential for improving conditions in their local communities using science/astronomy.
Conferences and Seminars
The OAD aims to host events such as conferences and research seminars. These are important in promoting networking, stimulating science for development discussions and fostering research collaborations. For example, the OAD hosted the Science for Development Conference (Sci4Dev) in Cape Town, South Africa in January 2020 in partnership with the International Science Council Regional Office for Africa. The OAD looks to organize and host different events such as the Sci4Dev and invites institutions who may be interested in partnering.
Research, Technical and/or Development Partners
Over the years, the OAD has leveraged partnerships with development and other organizations in the effort to translate astronomy into development outcomes. For example, through a partnership with Stellenbosch University’s Research on Social Economic Policy (RESEP), the OAD inspired the use of the Zooniverse platform (developed by astronomers and physicists for galaxy classification initially) to identify informal settlements and other land use types from Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery over Harare, Zimbabwe. Machine learning, image processing and other skills used by astronomers may have relevance in other disciplines or other technical areas. Partnering with development organizations or research units within universities is important in facilitating skills transfer and knowledge sharing across disciplines for the benefit of human development.
On an annual basis, the OAD requires evaluation of funded projects in order to, among other things, identify its funding impact, identify projects that can be rolled out as bigger scale flagships as well as document successes and failures to inform future activities. The collaborative work may also include analysis/research to wholly evaluate the impact of the OAD work since 2011. The OAD therefore invites partnerships with individuals or organizations with professional competencies or experience in evaluation, statistics, data science, research surveys, social science (in general) or any discipline that has an important qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation focus.
Benefits of Partnering with the OAD
Given the diverse work of the OAD and heterogeneity of potential partner organizations, partnership terms will be worked out on a case-by-case basis. Expected benefits of partnering with the OAD (depending on the form of partnership) may include:
- Taking advantage of OAD Call for Proposals infrastructure as well as the existence of a diverse pool of stakeholders who want to have a meaningful impact on society (for funding partnerships)
- Knowledge sharing and collaborative research, particularly on technical projects. Astronomy relies on cutting edge technology to make sense of worlds far away and adoption of some of them in other fields may have a boomerang impact.
- Subject to available resources and organizational needs, the OAD may provide volunteer, internship and fellowship opportunities to selected individuals from partner organizations from time to time and those selected in the past have benefitted immensely from the time spent at the OAD.
- The OAD can also leverage technical resources (such as computing facilities etc.) from partner organizations depending on availability and needs.
If you or your organization are interested in collaborating with the OAD on one or more of the partnership areas, or you require more details kindly send an email to kg[at]astro4dev.org.