What works for rapid evidence commissioning and uptake?

Published on 1 September 2021

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Neringa Collier

Research Uptake Manager

The UK Aid sector has faced unprecedented challenges over the last 18 months due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, reduction in funding, and shake up of the politics and policy driving development.

Constant throughout all the debates and changes has been the importance of timely, quality evidence and learning to enhance development impact, often at short notice.

This is the fourth blog in a series that examines how an organisation like the UK Government Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) can successfully use evidence and learning to increase development impact, drawing on the experience of the IDS-led Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development programme (K4D).

Other blogs in this series:

Seven steps for timely, relevant evidence

So what has worked? The K4D rapid evidence review helpdesk, and its previous iterations, has for the past twenty years been providing the UK Government – specifically the FCDO – quick access to timely evidence and analysis on development policy and programme questions. Drawing on the K4D Helpdesk experience, here are seven steps to do this well:

  1. Start with a focused research question

The rapid evidence review is based on a research question which defines the thematic and geographical scope of the work. Taking time to think through the question is really important. A focused and well-defined question enables sufficient depth of evidence on the relevant topic.

  1. Clarify the request during a scoping call

An initial call between the researcher and commissioner is essential to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what is expected. It clarifies the request, agrees the scope, defines key focus areas and discusses the nature of the evidence to be included.

  1. Clearly define the aims and expectations on how the evidence will be used

Researchers have limited time available to deliver rapid reports. By focusing on what is most needed for decision making, they can present the most relevant information. A rapid report provides the commissioner with relevant information to make more informed judgements, but does not provide recommendations on what decisions would be most appropriate.

  1. Ground the report in the literature

The helpdesk report is grounded on the available evidence. The level of detail that is covered in the report will be dependent on the information that is available. During the initial phase it is important to consider the extent to which the question can be answered through the literature.

  1. Give an unbiased overview of the evidence

Researchers are aiming to provide an unbiased overview of the literature. The questions should not be leading to a particular answer and it is important to consider that the evidence might not support a particular argument. The role of the researcher is to outline different sides of the debate, but they are not able to include or exclude particular sources of evidence relevant to the request.

  1. Provide a starting point for broader learning

Helpdesk reports often provide a starting point for larger and more substantial pieces of work. They often give an evidence base to inform the design and scoping phase of longer term learning processes to enhance understanding and application.

  1. Ensure learning about the Helpdesk process is captured and built upon

Each Helpdesk report has a unique survey to capture data on performance and use. By working with FCDO for example we have increased response rates to around 30 per cent. These inform quarterly in-depth conversations with a handful of commissioners to develop impact stories around use and as part of ongoing development of the service. In this way we have seen that Helpdesk reports are feeding into business case designs, policy briefs, workshop presentations, programming and diplomatic telegrams, as well as K4D’s own broader learning activities.

All published K4D Helpdesk and Emerging Issues Reports are available in the K4D Collection within the Institute of Development Studies Research Repository


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