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New evidence highlights pre-conditions for development research impact

New insights from Itad demonstrate how evaluative methods can be used at earlier stages of development research programmes to increase the likelihood of impact.


The impact of research for development (R4D) can take years to emerge, and often through complex and iterative pathways. Evidence of impact typically comes too late to be useful for researcher managers and researchers. A new article in the European Journal of Development Research, highlights the potential to gather evidence much earlier in the research process – and in doing so, how this evidence can be used to increase the likelihood of impact.

The article draws on evidence from an Itad-led evaluation of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – a large and complex fund that supported cutting-edge research and innovation to address challenges faced by developing countries. GCRF was a major UK government investment in development research and a significant commitment to overseas development assistance.

The article’s authors, Isabel Vogel (Itad associate and team leader of the GCRF evaluation) and Chris Barnett (Itad Partner), identify a number of building blocks for research for development (R4D), and demonstrate how these ‘pre-conditions’ for success can be used to gather evidence and better position research for use.

Chris Barnett, said:

“In the GCRF evaluation, we have seen how those research grants that are intentional about who they engage and their ways of workings can improve their chances of having an impact – and importantly, by focusing on these building blocks of success, we as evaluators can usefully support them along the way”.

Drawing on the GCRF theory of change and the literature, the authors suggest four key building blocks:

  1. Scoping and deliberating development issues with stakeholders on the ground
  2. Working through fair and equitable partnerships between those in the global North and South
  3. Prioritising gender, social inclusion and poverty through policies and implementing the research
  4. Early and ongoing stakeholder engagement in low- and middle-income countries that supports positioning for use.

Read the article: ‘Laying the Foundations for Impact: Lessons from the GCRF Evaluation’.

The article was part of a special issue: ‘Evaluating Complex Research for Development Programmes’, co-edited by members of the Centre for Development Impact of which Itad is a partner.

Watch the launch event in which the special issue authors reflect on their experiences with methodological innovations for complexity-aware approaches to evaluation: