Impact in International Development Research Funding Calls & Programmes

  • 27th January 2017
  • by secretary

Striking the Balance: Between Competition, Collaboration & Impact in International Development Research Funding Calls and Programmes

2017 © UK Collaborative on Development Sciences, 2017. 18 pages

With the recent rise in international development research funding in the UK, fostering competition, collaboration, impact (CCI) in a global challenge-led context are now increasingly important issues for UK research funders. A competitive environment for research funding among academics is essential to drive excellence, and collaboration and impact are vital to solve complex global issues and ensure benefits on the ground in developing countries. Striking the balance between these three components is at the heart of research call and programme design in international development.

A cross-funder workshop explored approaches used by six Research Councils in the UK (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC) Research Councils UK, DFID and the Wellcome Trust; and have brought this together into an output that offers advice, tips and reflections on designing international development research calls.

  1. Competition is built into the process through standardised assessment of proposals and peer review, but more dynamic approaches can be used such as competitive interviews, “project pitch-to-peers”, workshops and sandpits to sharpen or focus competition.
  2. Collaboration (internationally or disciplinary) can be enforced in a call specification or encouraged and supported through additional and staged funding, online partnership brokering services, online webinars, international workshops, matchmaking and funding for researchers to adapt proposals or collaborate. 
  3. Impact can be fostered through post-award funding, activities and workshops; scoping workshops/expert advisory groups, embedding expert knowledge brokers in-country, holding back money for programme integration and catalyst grants to enable innovation.

Each of these approaches has their strengths, weaknesses and lessons learned which you can find out more about in the report. Finally, what recommendations could funders consider for future research calls? For example, the report outlines that research funders need to be aware of how to support interdisciplinarity, improve online webinar approaches, and address tensions between research impact and excellence.

This report provides insights from UK research funders in international development and a menu of activities to pick and choose from to maximise CCI. It will be of particular interest to those who manage or who are new to managing international development research funds, calls and programmes, either in the UK or internationally.

The report is aimed at staff in research funder organisations, particularly those working in a practical role in research call and programme design and delivery in international development.

Policy brief. Five trends driving change in research for development (October 2016, 4 pages)

The trends UKCDS has identified are as follows:

  1. A new global development landscape with a commitment to science and technology at its heart but a need for a clear global research agenda to deliver on the ambition.
  2. Uneven, but rising global investment to research and innovation leading to changing geographies of partnership and driving calls for southern-led agendas and research management.
  3. A fragmented and rapidly changing development landscape with rapid economic development, rising inequality or increasing fragility occurring in different countries that could lead to tensions in the focus of development research agendas.
  4. The potential for transformative innovation through social and technological ideas may drive funding, butavoiding hype and scaling successful ideas are imperatives.
  5. ‘Wicked’ problems and interdisciplinary research driving the need for new cultures but also challenging incentives around excellence and impact.