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Setting the Scene: Situating DFID’s Research Funding Policy and Practice in an International Comparative Perspective

DFID's Central Research Department is currently in the process of developing a new five-year research strategy that is to be set against a twenty-year vision of where DFID would like to see global and developing country research environments contributing to poverty reduction beyond the Millennium Development Goals. As an initial step in this process, the Central Research Department commissioned a review of key international research funding policy and processes.

The review was carried out by ODI staff lead by Nicola Jones and John Young in early 2007, and was a multi-stage process consisting of:

  • A web-based literature review of major funding policy drawing on UN, IFI, DAC, EU and other Multilateral and Bilateral sources as well as material provided by CRD.
  • A brainstorm of senior researchers in ODI and CRD staff to identify 30-40 of the key development research funders.
  • Web-based research and telephone interviews to gather information about them including history, objectives (including key target audiences and end users), funding, main programmes, recent evaluations, and future plans etc.
  • Preparation of a draft paper.
  • An electronic discussion of this paper by members of ODI’s networks.
  • A one-day workshop for peer review of the draft paper by experts which included CSO leaders from around the UK, UK Funding Organisations and by telephone or correspondence, experts from universities and CSOs outside the UK, as well as the heads of key southern Think Tanks.

Ultimately, the review :

  • identified the top 20 major funders in international development research (see Table 1 below)
  • identified areas of duplication, overlap and donor “crowding” in relation to need, and by extension provided an assessment of areas of omission
  • suggested where DFID can “add value” (i.e. sectorally, in relation to research/policy impact, leveraging funds etc.) and therefore develop further a distinct comparative advantage
  • described major regional/continental research policies processes with which DFID’s strategy should engage
  • identified new partnerships which could increase the impact of development research or where there would be significant efficiency gains for DFID research management
  • identified key funders of northern research which has application for developing countries

A few of the key findings include:

  • Top 20 Donors: see Table 1 at right.
  • Duplication, and omission: Geographical and thematic overcrowding does not seem to be a major problem, and there was no consensus among informants about thematic omissions. There is good coverage of Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-East Asia, Latin America and the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA), but relatively little in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and Oceania.
  • Where DFID can add value: DFID research in the Health Sector is held in high regard, as is DFID’s willingness to support research which explores countervailing ideas. The literature and key informant interviews suggest a range of other mechanisms to add value including research on research itself, getting research-based knowledge into use through support to broader innovation systems and evidence-based policy, flexible funding systems and research capacity-building – in the north as well as the south, and with research users as well as suppliers.
  • Regional research processes: A number of regional networks and research processes were identified including the International Science Programme (ISP), the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN).
  • New partnerships: Potential for enhanced partnerships exist with southern research organisations (through Research Programme Consortia), the multilateral organisations (CGIAR etc), “quality” donors (e.g. IDRC and the Wellcome Trust) – though it is Setting The Scene: DFID’s Research Funding in an International Comparative Perspective important to ensure that the objectives of collaborative work are closely aligned - and North-South partnerships. The value of investment in Networks was contentious, while there appears to be scope for more PPPs.
  • Key northern research organisations: A number of high quality northern research institutes with an interest in development issues or valuable for southern research were identified (e.g. Nuffield, Rowntree, Leverhulme etc).


John Young