Blog: Brace for impact

Nov 2015

James Georgalakis is the Director of Communications and Impact at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and the Director of the Impact Initiative. Here James explains how the programme aims to increase research uptake and impact across eight key development research themes.

 
November, 2015: A new collaboration between IDS and the University of Cambridge’s Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre in the Faculty of Education is designed to increase the uptake and impact of two programmes of research funded through the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership. These are: (i) The Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation, and (ii) The Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems programme. This sizable portfolio of social science research includes over 150 projects in 70 countries on issues ranging from secure livelihoods, disability, inequality in education, health system reform, climate adaptation and much more besides.

You can explore the research via an interactive map, by theme or by country. It is hoped that longer term this strategic approach to supporting programme level communications, engagement and impact, and the learning arising from it, could be applied to other research programmes beyond those the Initiative is currently focused on. I will explain here how the Impact Initiative will try and address some of the perceived barriers to research uptake and impact.

There’s life beyond the end of a research grant

IDS and Cambridge’s enthusiasm for taking on this ambitious programme level model of supporting research uptake and learning is perhaps best explained by our common approaches to achieving and evaluating impact, which value broad based impacts that have a life beyond the end of a project. Impact is not only about producing specific pieces of evidence for policy and practice or strengthening individual’s skills, it also needs to try and embed the behaviours and strengthen the relationships that will enable ongoing development and impact. This supports the view emerging from a number of key development research funders, including ESRC and DFID themselves, that researchers need to be supported to become better connected, have stronger evidence access, appraisal and communication skills and operate in more enabling institutional environments for research uptake and impact. We believe this can result in pathways of change and transformation and in new ways of thinking and collaborating on urgent development challenges that respond to diverse socio economic contexts.

So when designing the Impact Initiative we explored the critical barriers most often identified to uptake and impact. When you talk to researchers and those that fund them, you hear again and again about: Weak networks and relationships connecting researchers to policy spaces; Insufficient mutual learning opportunities for researchers and knowledge intermediaries to engage with one another; And lack of time and resources for researchers to engage in critical policy spaces or with practitioners – both whilst delivering the project and once grants are closed. Hence, with such a large constituency of researchers and their partners to support, our response is focused on strengthening linkages between groups of grantees and intermediaries, promoting critical bodies of knowledge and learning and addressing shared capacity issues.

 What success looks like

If the Impact Initiative is successful we’d expect to be able to provide examples over the next four years of areas where we have helped bridge academic and policy discourse, of the increased capacity of grantees to respond to demand for their knowledge and of increases in the accessibility and availability of the research to non-academic audiences. Furthermore, I’d be very happy if we can make a modest but meaningful contribution to the knowledge around how the ESRC DFID strategic partnership is contributing to social and economic change.

We have now mobilised a technical pool of communications and knowledge specialists from across IDS. This pool of staff includes those with expertise in developing and delivering a range of tailored communications products for specific audiences and thematic specialists able to support networking and engagement activities in relation to specific research areas. The Initiative is also supported by a group of highly respected Cambridge and IDS academics who between them have led research on every major theme covered by the two programmes. They will be providing expert advice, and identifying emerging policy themes, key networks and programme-level policy engagement opportunities.

Our main areas of work

Our biggest areas of work will be focused on pursuing knowledge exchange and policy engagement opportunities with grantees individually and collectively. The purpose of the planned range of in-country events, conference panels, workshops and high level policy forums, will be mainly to strengthening linkages between grantees and policy and practitioner networks. They will also foster learning between grantees and help profile their research in key spaces. The second work stream, focused on capacity building, will comprise of activities designed to foster mutual learning and provide expert advice and guidance to grantees around research communications and impact strategies. The third area, on research communications, will focus on the supply side, helping to increase the availability and accessibility of the research emerging from the two programmes. The final work stream on evidencing impact, will share understandings of how social science research is contributing to social and economic impacts.

The first major in-country event will be a celebration of ten years of the Fund for Poverty Alleviation, to be held in South Africa next February, attended by researchers, policy makers, funders and civil society organisations all committed to sustained investment in social science research for development. In the next few months we’ll be convening working groups on research into disability and ICTs for development in order leverage awareness of the evidence available around these important issues. We will be sponsoring ESRC DFID funded researchers to attend high level policy forums and conferences to discuss their research and it implications for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. There will be a flagship event in India, the most researched country in the portfolio, and a special collection of journal articles exploring learning around effective knowledge mobilisation. We’ll shortly start producing research synthesis products including reports on the evidence generated by the two programmes on children and youth, gender, health and learning around research methods. Meanwhile, by commissioning rapid response briefings from researchers whose grants may have closed but whose knowledge is pertinent to the most pressing development challenges, we hope to promote this body of knowledge in a way only possible through this innovative programme level approach to supporting uptake.

The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and DFID: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or DFID.

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