How do UK research funders foster completion, collaboration, and impact in international development research calls and programmes?
After a meeting with the UKCDS Advisory Board, we decided to explore best practice in fostering competition, collaboration, impact (CCI) in international research calls. What came out of that meeting was a need to understand current thinking around these concepts, what approaches funders use, what works well and what this means for future international development research call models. See summary report.
Why is it important?
With the recent rise in international development research funding in the UK, fostering 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.
We held a cross-funder workshop to explore 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. I think this 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.
I’ve unpacked some of the aims, outcomes, and challenges that research funders need to think about (they are all of these three things at the same time I think!) to demonstrate the complexity within these areas.
Fig.1: Key aims, outcomes and challenges in fostering CCI in international development research calls and programmes
What have I learned?
- Multiple approaches can be used by funders todesign international development research call schemes. Funders can embed a range of approaches at the pre-call, during call and post-award stage; as well invest in overarching post-funding models which foster CCI as a whole. We managed to explore a pick and mix of over 35 activities that research funders can use across a research call process (see fig.2).
Fig.2: CCI across the research call process
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
We would love to hear your thoughts on your experiences of designing research calls – what has worked or not for your organisation? Leave us a comment below.