There is increasing attention on how to develop cutting edge research in close collaboration with those that are most likely to benefit from it. So I very much welcomed the recent exciting event and new publication focused on research-policy partnerships in international development.
The Power of Partnerships brought together UK and Southern partners – donors, researchers, policymakers – to exchange knowledge on how to collaborate effectively to enhance the impact of the UK’s investment in interdisciplinary research. The discussions drew on the just published Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Bulletin ‘Exploring Research–Policy Partnerships in International Development’, produced by the ESRC-DFID Impact Initiative.
The value of strong evidence for DFID
The important role of investment in R&D in ensuring global economic and societal success is well recognised. In the private sector, this is clearly correlated with growth, innovation, and enhanced performance. My organisation – the UK’s Department for International Development – has also long recognised that the deployment of advances in science, social science, technology, and innovation is a critical enabler for development progress. In our extensive work with partners in the UK and around the world, ensuring our collective approaches and action are built on a really strong foundation of evidence is essential.
DFID continues to invest strategically and substantially in research for development. Annually, we spend three per cent of our budget on research into pressing, complex problems. This research is all designed to lead, ultimately, to development impacts. The global public goods which result have delivered high returns, have saved millions of lives and, equally importantly, informed policy and delivery design by development actors on what works (and what does not).
Balancing political cycles with delivering social science research
While this relevance to policy and practice is an absolute priority for us, we are well aware of the challenges of ensuring research is useful and used. There are undoubtedly tensions between conducting rigorous research that can take five to ten years, and the change in policy direction brought on by often much shorter political cycles. But what we do know is that to achieve that success in research contributing to the mission and impact of an organisation like DFID requires clear and precise identification of the problem to be addressed, the potential impact that can be enabled by the (high-quality) research, and the step-by-step route to reaching those you seek to influence.
This is about well-thought-out design, establishing and nurturing the right relationships, and building in sufficient flexibility to adapt your approach as you go (given what you do not necessarily know at the outset).
The ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership has been successful in demonstrating what approaches are effective, being sharply focused on the combination of relevance and academic rigour with targeted, well-planned research uptake methods.
Exploring research to policy partnerships
The IDS Bulletin brings to life some of the successes and challenges of getting traction from research that has enabled key actors to make well-informed choices, based on a much more rigorous knowledge base. The articles take you on a journey through different sectors and partnerships and, in doing so, tease out common themes with the potential to help many others in their research design.
The issue also shows that donors themselves have a critical role to play in creating an enabling environment for interdisciplinary research designed and implemented in partnership with potential users and beneficiaries. It illustrates plainly that the most effective research-policy partnerships are built on common agendas, sustained interaction, and evidence sensibly and logically framed for decision-makers and practitioners.
The event went further in establishing how we can learn from the fruitful partnerships that seek, most effectively, to join up the supply of knowledge with the demand for it in Southern contexts. It actually went beyond that; to look at steps also to generate demand where it is lacking, and foster lasting and meaningful relationships between knowledge producers and users who can turn it into impact. This is where, too often, we stop short of the target.
This blog post was originally published by The Impact Initiative on 19 July 2019.