Impact Story

Shaping UK international development policy

Published on 30 September 2020

The IDS-led Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development Programme (K4D) has supported the learning of thousands of UK government staff and global partners to more effectively innovate and respond to rapidly changing and complex development challenges. By fostering a greater understanding of the issues, K4D has helped shape the UK’s Africa strategy, informed mental health programming in the Middle East, and fostered cross-sector learning on climate change education.

The IDS-led Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development Programme (K4D) has supported the learning of thousands of UK government staff and global partners to more effectively innovate and respond to rapidly changing and complex development challenges.

Since its launch in 2016 with funding from UK Aid, K4D has worked with policymakers and programme staff across government ministries, in the UK and in country offices, to assist learning on a wide range of development issues and processes. The ultimate intended impact of this partnership is improved development interventions.

Tracking the causal links between learning and potential impacts is notoriously challenging. However, K4D is demonstrating some notable contributions to impact across programming, policy improvement, learning and capability.

Enhancing strategies for population and approaches to mental health

As part of its evidence and learning services, the programme provides a research helpdesk for rapid response and complex emerging issues reports, facilitated learning journeys, and learning products to enhance learning and evidence uptake among civil servants.

To date the programme has delivered more than 900 helpdesk reports in response to requests from government advisers on a range of topics, and undertaken 30 learning journeys on cutting-edge global themes, including climate change and infrastructure, Covid-19, education, gender, health systems, scaling up complex social change programmes, and delivering essential services in protracted crises.

One learning journey, in 2019, involved supporting UK Department for International Development (DFID) staff to understand the impact of population dynamics on development, and has been instrumental in shaping a new Africa strategy, introducing revised, country-based diagnostic approaches, and in informing a new fertility and population strategy.

In partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, K4D provided learning support to equip DFID staff to respond to the inclusion of mental health in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Activities involved training, ‘expert surgeries’ and roundtable discussions. It led to a joint guidance note for humanitarian advisors from the World Health Organization and DFID, as well as DFID offices in Syria and Yemen identifying new approaches and partners for integrating mental health into their work.

Promoting cross-sector learning and collaboration

Key to K4D’s success, is an emphasis on facilitating collaborative learning across disciplines and sectors to help to link learning to implementation. For example, a learning journey on water security fostered collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO’s) water community of practice – a group of people drawn from across FCDO and other government departments with a professional interest in water – drawing on expertise from leading water and climate organisations to support learning activities and feed into helpdesk reports on key issues. The learning journey is helping to increase knowledge and understanding across the FCDO and other government departments around the links between water security and climate change and the importance of water security for pandemic preparedness and resilience. These activities have communicated the urgency of the global water crisis to policy-makers and fed into debates at the policy level.

In August 2020, K4D facilitated the UK government’s session at World Water Week at Home as part of the water security learning journey. The UK Government’s session focused on how to accelerate action on water and climate in the run-up to COP26. Minister Zac Goldsmith’s speech partly focused on the potential for nature-based solutions and drew on evidence from the learning journey’s helpdesk reports. A new K4D report, co-authored with Dr John H Matthews from AGWA, on water finance and nature-based solutions was also launched during the meeting. The event’s reach has spread beyond the initial meeting participants who joined it live online; the event has since been shared through policy and practitioner newsletters and blogs, gathering over 400 views by the end of August 2020. It also spawned a new social media hashtag, #WaterAtCOP26, which partners are using to highlight work in the run-up to the climate negotiations in Glasgow in 2021.

Bringing global perspectives to complex development challenges

The K4D model and range of partners has enabled a much broader impact than a single organisation may have achieved individually, providing UK government with access to a global network of organisations and an extensive pool of expertise informed by diverse perspectives.

K4D is delivered by a consortium of leading knowledge institutions led by the Institute of Development Studies, along with University of Birmingham International Development Department, University of Leeds Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Manchester Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, Education Development Trust, and Itad.

The seven core partners bring complementary skills and expertise, covering a wide range of themes including governance, conflict; education, health, impact evaluation and organisational learning. Each has experience of providing rapid response research and supporting government to better understand complex development changes and emerging issues and how that translates to policy and programming, and day to day working for staff.

The K4D programme is funded until 2021. Until then, the K4D network will continue to help provide to the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure UK government makes the best use of their international investment and contribution to tackling global challenges.


About this opinion

Related content