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Drivers of impact in research and innovation for development

Our Global Challenges Research (GCFR) evaluation survey highlights four important drivers of impact in research and innovation investments. Download the report now.

The Global Challenges Research (GCFR) is a £1.5 billion fund designed to create knowledge and drive innovation to address poverty by growing the capacity of the UK and developing countries. Between 2021 and 2022, Itad evaluated six flagship investments funded by the GCRF to highlight lessons for future development of research and innovation (R&I) funds.

What is the Global Challenges Research Fund?

In 2021-22, Itad also conducted a fund-wide survey of all the award holders and partners in GCRF. The fund-wide survey aimed to capture how GCRF investments have been working (process) and what has been achieved (effectiveness) by collecting award holder and PO views on procedures, methods, activities and project results across the fund as a whole.

We surveyed 10,472 researchers around the world, from 2,699 GCRF projects. We also surveyed GCRF’s implementing Partner Organisations (POs) and consulting staff from 143 GCRF programmes.

Read the full survey report on how GCRF investments have been working (process) and what has been achieved (effectiveness)

Drivers of impact

Collaboration with non-academic partners in award design and implementation is an enabler of positive outcomes.

Collaborative awards including three or more non-academic partners were more likely to report a range of positive results, even when controlled for other factors. These results included positive research outputs and outcomes, effective capacity building, improved partnerships and networks, and success in obtaining additional funding.

Collaboration with, and inclusion of, non-academic partners in signature programmes is associated with increased reporting of positive outputs and outcomes. Despite this, the signature programmes themselves were less likely to be collaborative in design than other GCRF programmes.

Fairness in partnerships is strongly associated with positive outputs and outcomes.

The survey explored dimensions of fairness including fairness of opportunity (before research); fairness of process (during research implementation); and fairness of benefit sharing (after the award). We observed the following:

  1. Awards which respondents perceived as fair in terms of equitable partnerships were strongly associated with reporting three or more positive outputs and outcomes.
  2. Including three or more non-academic collaborators was strongly correlated with improved perceptions of fairness.
  3. All measures of fairness significantly increased the likelihood of reporting three or more positive outputs and outcomes.
  4. Measures of fairness likewise increased the likelihood of reporting three or more positive outputs, with fairness of benefit sharing showing the largest impact.

These findings highlight how ensuring fairness in all three dimensions is a driver of impact.

Specific management processes within awards can increase the probability of reporting outputs and outcomes.

Management processes that increased the probability of reporting positive outputs included:

  • A strategic framework
  • A Theory of Change (ToC)
  • A dissemination plan
  • A gender and inclusion plan.

Key processes that increased the likelihood of reporting positive outcomes included:

  • Undergoing an evaluation
  • Programmatic support to disseminate research products
  • Programmatic support to obtain additional funding.

From the regression analysis, we see that having specific structures in the award helps to promote outcomes, rather than adding bureaucracy. This may be because structures and processes are required to effectively mobilise multi-partner collaborations, especially strategic frameworks, evaluation processes, and support for next-stage funding.

The investment in these structures seems worthwhile as collaboration with multiple partners – particularly with non-academic partners – is strongly associated with impact.

Programmatic support adds significant impact value to the grant investment, justifying the deployment of programme management resources.

Strengthening capacities for ODA research has been a key objective of GCRF and is likely to be an important legacy of the fund in both low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and the UK.

Our regression analysis found that programme-level support received by award holders has had positive effects on key R&I capacities, including:

  • Improved capacity to write research proposals
  • Successful mobilisation of follow-on funding
  • Improved knowledge of the research landscape.

These findings highlight the importance of programmatic support for new types of capacity needed for partnered ODA R&I. Again, the signature investments were highlighted as providing more programmatic support than other types by design but the PO survey confirmed that many other programmes also provided support.

Read the full report