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

Research report

Written by Nicola Jones, John Young

Research report

This report aims to situate the Department for International Development (DFID)’s role as a donor of international research in a comparative international perspective in order to inform the development of the Central Research Department’s next 5-year research strategy and 20-year Vision of development for poverty reduction. The study included a desktop/web review of published information and key informant interviews with development researchers and practitioners. The objectives of the study were to i) identify the top 10-15 research donors, ii) identify areas of duplication, and omission, iii) suggest where DFID can add value, iv) identify regional research processes, and vi) new partnerships with which DFID can engage, and vii) identify key northern research organisations of value for developing countries. Outputs include answers to these questions in this report (summarised below), and a series of databases containing detailed information about research donor spending, their programmes (themes, geographical focus, and approaches to capacity development), and regional research networks.

Key findings

Key findings relating to each of the six questions are:

    * Definitions and data constraints: The absence of comparable published data, a broad diversity of definitions of research, research themes, and research processes,

      themselves indicative of limited information sharing, cooperation and collaboration between research funders has made this study extremely difficult.

    * Top 10 donors: Based on highly varied (and possibly unreliable) budget data alone, the top 20 research funders in 2005/06 were the Gates Foundation - $450m, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) - $282m, the European Union (EU) - $254m, Research Institute for France (IRD) - $220m, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) - $174m, Wellcome Trust (UK) - $143m, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) - $135m, Medical Research Council (UK) - £120-140m, the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) - $110m and the World Bank – c.$100m. Key criteria of quality research donorship included: clarity of mandate, visibility and quality of processes, supporting innovation and stimulating demand. IDRC was the only donor universally highly regarded, though many others scored highly in specific themes.

    * Duplication, and omission: This was even more difficult, but 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).

Key Recommendations

The study makes recommendations in six areas:

    * Improved knowledge and harmonisation of development research programmes: DFID could play an important role in supporting international efforts to improve knowledge of what’s going on and harmonisation of development research programmes. This could include work to encourage the use of common definitions, the development of a database of development research programmes, work on quantitative and qualitative indicators, establishing an institutional home - possibly Development Assistance Committee (DAC) or the International Forum of Research Donors (IFORD), fostering greater information sharing, and promoting “good development research donorship”.

    * Improved research donor practice: There are a number of opportunities for DFID to put good development research donorship into practice itself. These could include: better ommunication of it’s own research mandate internally and externally, enhanced investment in research communication, establishment of good research management processes (e.g. knowledge management and funding mechanisms), mechanisms to support innovative research (e.g. diversity of funding mechanisms, a balance between thematic and opportunistic research, long and short term funding streams etc), and more work on stimulating demand (e.g. through support to policy makers and civil society groups).

    * Improved positioning to add value: In a rapidly changing environment more and on-going work will be needed to identify the key research themes (e.g. through horizon scanning, meta-analysis, and consultations), and greater emphasis on research on policy implementation, and learning about research itself.

    * Capacity building: Capacity building for research suppliers and research users emerged as a clear priority from the literature, the donor mapping and informants. Greater financial and human investment is needed in M&E, balancing research and capacitybuilding, expert training, north-south partnerships and networks.

    * Partnerships and regional processes: There are a number of opportunities for partnership: with other research donors working on similar themes, with other donors with an emphasis on research into use and capacity building (eg IDRC), with UK Research Funders with an interest in development issues (e.g. Leverhulme) and/or expertise in policy-relevant research and policy engagement (e.g. Rowntree, Nuffield), with regional networks (e.g. AERC), with Public Private Partnerships (eg Climate Change), and with European Donors and their networks (e.g. the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education NUFFIC).

    * Further investigations: Given the absence of comparable published information and definitional inexactitude that has complicated this study, further work would be useful to inform the new strategy. This could include verification of the data in this report, interviews with research managers in the other major research funders, interviews with a wider range of southern research users and suppliers and a meeting of the major donors to discuss the results and explore opportunities for improved information sharing.

Nicola Jones and John Young