Making science work for development

Understanding the trends that will affect research for development

Dr Jennie Dodson explains our recent project to identify key trends that will drive change in research for development.

Dr Jennie Dodson
21 October 2016

Last year was a pivotal time for global development. With several agreements relevant to sustainable development and a changing funding landscape in the UK, I wanted to understand how these may affect the sector. So over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to speak to thought-leaders around the world to explore what changes will affect research for development over the coming decade.

These fascinating discussions have led to the launch of our briefing today ’Five trends driving change in research for development’, exploring the key drivers of change and challenges that lie ahead:

  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.

In the UK, new funding sources such as the Global Challenges Research Fund, Ross Fund and expansion of the Newton Fund demonstrate a desire to invest in ‘global public goods’ and support excellent research that has impact with partners around the world. It is an opportunity to conduct transformative research around difficult to untangle ‘nexus’ topics. But, it will require careful effort to respond to these drivers.

What have we learned?

We need better analysis and join-up of existing research funding in low- and middle-income countries. We need a deeper understanding of different models and pathways to ‘healthy’ research & innovation systems for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development to support the best investments by low-, middle- and high-income countries. We need to look at the incentives in funding, publishing and career progression to enable different types of impactful research to flourish. We need to identify the key areas where research can add value around ‘wicked problems’ or nexus topics. We need to improve practice in the scaling, translation and implementation of research & innovation in different contexts.

This is no small task! Over the next year the UKCDS Secretariat will be focusing our efforts on projects around some of these themes. Do leave comments below as we’re keen to hear how you are responding to these trends and if you think there are others we’ve missed. 


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  • Jennie Dodson