The key elements of this modality are threefold:
First, small grants are offered to groups of individuals drawn from academia, policy institutions, and government to conduct research on a number of pertinent themes. The current five thematic areas are:
- Poverty, Income Distribution and Food Security
- Macroeconomic Policies, Investment and Growth
- Finance and Resource Mobilization
- Trade and Regional Integration
- Political Economy, Natural Resource Management and Agricultural Policy issues
This set of themes have evolved over time from a consolidation of macroeconomic and trade issues to make room for the introduction of the theme on poverty and labor markets and now the incorporation of issues on natural resource management, agricultural policy issues and food security. AERC encourages research through grants to small informally constituted teams of researchers, drawn from professionals in academia, policy institutions and government. Teams working in thematic area in different countries constitute a research network and are linked to each other through periodic professional workshops and other exchanges.
Before being presented at the Biannual Research Workshop new proposal undergo a review process. The research proposals are first assessed externally with the assistance of external reviewers. Proposals which are accepted at this level are than formally reviewed at the biannual research workshop, where they are presented and assessed by peers and a panel of professional economists, drawn worldwide and who serve as resource persons. Proposals may be accepted with or without revision, resubmitted to another workshop and panel review, or withdrawn.
The number of grants awarded per year depends on the funds available and AERC's capacity to monitor ongoing research. Once a grant has been approved, researchers are expected to report regularly on their work to sessions of the relevant network during the biannual research workshops held each year at the end of May/beginning of June and at the end of November/beginning of December.
Second, a support system is established through peer review, methodology workshops and literature. The Consortium has a solid library and is linked to several other resource centers worldwide. Resource persons drawn worldwide enrich the technical base and the variety of relevant experiences. Methodology workshops are organized to sharpen research skills and expose the network to relevant developments.
Third, the biannual thematic research workshops provide a way to monitor progress and the quality of research on a continuous basis. These workshops allow for effective peer pressure while fostering interaction among the researchers themselves and with the resource persons.
The regularity of the workshops enforces scheduled delivery of reports. The workshops provide opportunities for feedback on the design and implementation of AERC's programme; this whole process has been central in developing a sense of ownership of AERC activities by participating researchers and institutions.
The Plenary sessions of the biannual workshops serve as platforms for presenting commissioned papers on a designated set of topics, in order to explore new themes and methodological approaches. Renowned specialists in their fields review the state of the art in a particular area of research. Their papers help the network to keep abreast of new research or may look more deeply at existing issues within the thematic focus.