Skip to content


Evaluation of the Global Challenges Research Fund

We are assessing how successfully the Global Challenges Research Fund is achieving its aims, delivering impact and achieving value for money


What is the Global Challenges Research Fund?

The Global Challenges Research (GCFR) is a £1.5 billion fund designed to create knowledge and drive innovation to address poverty.

It seeks to advance cutting-edge, world-class research that promotes social inclusion, economic growth and environmental sustainability in partner countries.

The Fund achieves this by supporting challenge-led, interdisciplinary research and by growing the research and innovation capacity of the UK and developing countries in a range of disciplines, including:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Inclusive and equitable education
  • Resilient food systems
  • Sustainable energy

Funds are allocated through the UK’s existing research system, including UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the research councils, academies, higher education funding councils and the UK Space Agency.

The GCRF supports research in a range of disciplines, including resilient food systems

Our role

We have supported the GCRF since its foundation stage, and are now leading a consortium to provide evidence and lessons on whether GCRF is relevant, fair, well-targeted and well-managed.

Our role is broken down into two core contracts:

  1. Foundational Stage, including: theory of change (ToC), process evaluation and evaluation strategy and framework
  2. Five-year impact evaluation

Project: Developing indicators for the UK aid spend on research and innovation (GCRF and Newton Fund)

Our approach

Foundational stage

We built on an original ToC developed by BEIS and delivery partners to:

  • Provide a framework for assessing progress and achievements
  • Map the causal chain of events and assumptions that underpin GCRF
  • Ensure that DPs share a common understanding of GCRF’s intended logic, aims and objectives.
  • Underpin the evaluation strategy and framework

We also conducted a process evaluation of GCRF’s initial activities to examine how its priorities had progressed and gather lessons to feed into the evolution of GCRF policy and design.

Following this, we designed an overarching evaluation strategy which sets out an approach for a robust, feasible and proportionate evaluation that will establish the extent to which the goal of GCRF has been achieved. The strategy also helps guide date collection and assessment.

This work was completed in partnership with Technopolis and the Policy Institute of Kings College London.

Five-year evaluation

We are currently leading a consortium to undertake a five-year assessment of GCRF using the strategy developed previously.

Our evaluation aims to:

  • Provide evidence and lessons on whether the GCFR is relevant, fair, well-targeted and well-managed
  • Consider the extent to which over 2,000 research awards and signature initiatives (HubsFuture LeadersFLAIR Fellowships, etc) have contribute to the UK and partner countries’ ability to deliver cutting edge research on global challenges.

The mixed-method, theory-based evaluation deploys innovative techniques including data science.

Read the full synthesis of the evaluation of GCRF programmes

This report combines evidence and analysis from the individual programme evaluations and a fund-wide survey.

Our consortium partners are: RAND Europe, AFIDEP (African Institute for Development Policy) in Kenya, Athena Infonomics in India, and Digital Science in the UK.

GCRF fund-wide survey

Alongside these evaluations, 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), consulting staff from 143 GCRF programmes.

Read the full survey report

Overall findings: GCRF’s impact

Use and adoption of GCRF-supported research-based solutions and technological innovations in specific countries, locations and/or sectors enables stakeholders in LMICs to make progress in their settings towards addressing complex development challenges.

These efforts will contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, enhancing people’s well-being, improving equality for people of all genders and promoting social inclusion, economic development and environmental sustainability in developing countries. These improvements will be sustained into the future by enduring equitable research and innovation partnerships between the UK and LMICs, in specific countries, contexts and sectors, supporting enhanced capabilities for challenge-oriented research and innovation in all regions.


Covid-19 and budget restrictions

Major contextual shifts due to Covid-19 and Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget reductions may constrain GCRF’s ultimate impact 

Evidence from the first two stages of GCRF’s evaluation suggests that GCRF’s impact still has validity and potential to emerge, even if the fullest funding aspirations may not be achieved.

Good evidence from both Stage 1a and Stage 1b highlights that the foundations for partnerships, capacities and R&I infrastructure systems are in place, with potential for durability.

GCRF’s ToC was reviewed in March and August of 2022 in light of the evaluation evidence to date.

Read GCRF theory of change

GCRF’s stakeholders (both DSIT and the implementing Partner Organisations) agreed that the overall trajectory and ambition of the ToC should remain the same while recognising that the potential for development impact at scale has become constrained due to the changes in the policy context.

So, while the shorter-term outcomes have good potential to emerge as anticipated, the medium and longer-term outcomes and ultimate progress towards addressing SDG-level impact may only emerge in limited ways in certain places, sectors and countries. They are unlikely to emerge at scale or create the tangible contributions in LMICs as originally set out in GCRF’s vision and ambition.

Impact of the flagship programmes

The assessment of GCRF’s flagship programmes has found that these programmes have transformative potential. Many examples of strong and effective practice show that the portfolio is well positioned to achieve tangible and durable development outcomes envisioned in its strategy and ToC.

However, the original ToC anticipated some coordination of portfolios and mobilisation towards impact, through structures such as the Challenge Leaders and impact-oriented activities in the final years of the fund.

The evidence from the first two stages of the evaluation highlights that Challenge Leaders were not fully effective, while the rapid tailing off of GCRF funding will mean that activities to mobilise portfolios will not take place to the level anticipated. There is a risk that GCRF may not reach the aggregate scale, depth and breadth of contributions to the SDGs originally envisioned in the ToC.

Discover more about the flagship programmes in our downloads.