Knowing your audience

Webinar Summary: A Cup of Tea with Yaso Kunaratnam

By 3 March 2017

On Thursday 23rd of February R2A held the second webinar in the ‘Cup of Tea’ series, with an interview between Saskia Gent and Yaso Kunaratnam.

Did you miss the webinar? Don’t worry, you can view the webinar slides and the suggested further resources on Slideshare. Or you watch the webinar recording on R2A’s Vimeo and Youtube channel (coming soon).

Below we have provided a summary of the discussion, questions covered and published the results of the poll about how well development funders and donors promote uptake and impact.

Introduction

Saskia Gent, Director of Insights for Impact began by introducing the topic of the webinar. She described the rather unusual angle that the discussion would take on the topic of ‘stakeholder engagement’, by presenting the perspective of research funders and global development donors around how to engage better and work together to promote research uptake and impact.

Next, Yaso Kunaratnam, Research & Policy Officer at the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) introduced herself and explained how she became interested in research uptake. She noted that she has always been interested in knowledge, evidence and international development, having begun her career at Book Aid International then subsequently, moving to the Institute of Development Studies where she worked with intermediaries to build capacity around evidence-informed policy and practice.

Yaso also introduced UKCDS and its role working across 14 UK government departments and research funders involved in international development, with the aim of maximising the UK research investments in international development.

UKCDS report

The springboard for the webinar discussion was the recent UKCDS report ‘Striking the balance: between competition, collaboration and impact (CCI) in international development funding calls & programmes’ authored by Yaso. Who went on to describe how the report had developed out of a UKCDS Advisory Group meeting where there was interest from funders to explore best practice in CCI.

The report was situated within the current context of an increase in ODA (Official Development Assistance) research funding in the UK, distributed across different government actors. Yaso listed the Global Challenges Research Fund, the Ross Fund and the Newton Fund, amongst other jointly funded programme calls around particular international development research topics, as examples of the increase in funding. The report aimed to synthesise what worked to foster CCI between funders, as well as highlight areas that need improvement.

Yaso described the three key themes of the report: competition, collaboration and impact. Competition drives research excellence and is a powerful mechanism that prompts researchers to want to do better. Collaboration is essential to help solve complex, global issues which necessitate an interdisciplinary approach, equitable partnerships and a focused engagement on the ground in developing countries. Whilst impact can be seen at different levels by funders: to improve policy and practice, strengthen research capacity and create long lasting, transformative collaborations in the ever-busier international development landscape.

Saskia asked about the focus of the report and if it considered collaboration with non-academic partners who are becoming increasingly important. Yaso replied that the report did not focus on that aspect as such but sandpits and scientific scoping studies were ways to involve other players in the process, and can support innovation.

Findings:

  • Research is central to drive international development impact.
  • There is an increasing pressure for funders to account for the impact of international development research and to evidence value for money.
  • Researchers are having to demonstrate both research excellence and the benefits of research on the ground in developing countries.

Funder activities to support research uptake and impact:

  • Pre-award activities might include: mandating Theories of Change and Pathways to Impact in the call specification, holding scoping workshops or using expert advisory groups to determine scientific scope with impact, and holding back money for integration between outline bids and full proposals to improve programme coherence.
  • Post-award activities might include: embedding knowledge brokers in research/funder organisations and in-country, commissioning programme level evaluation teams to evaluate the research fund and exploring follow on funding.
  • Post-funding  activities include the overarching aspects of competition, collaboration and impact such as a directorate model clustering grants together or research programme consortia (RPCs) looking at research generation, uptake and capacity.

How funders can support better research uptake and impact:

  • Hold back money for post-award activities,
  • Look at linking multiple calls to maximise impact,
  • Shift to a demand led approach by scoping country needs first and being aware of the political context of the specific research topic,
  • Provide targeted support for independent knowledge brokers to look across bodies of evidence,
  • Support interdisciplinary research,
  • Provide better guidance on capacity building.

Saskia asked which one of the tactics would most likely gain traction with funders, to which Yaso answered that holding back money is a tactic already in use and that two areas where there is also work currently underway by UKCDS are funder support for interdisciplinary research and guidance on research capacity strengthening.

Saskia noted that there is a really interesting problem of providing funding and accounting for the importance of relationship building, due to the time it can take. Yaso agreed and pointed out that there are research calls that now offer additional and staged funding to allow for the partnership building process.

In relation to a question about what researchers should do to maximise their chances of success when applying for these research funds, Yaso highlighted the importance of: peer to peer learning, utilising institutional expertise e.g. in research capacity strengthening or open knowledge, as well as recommending Mark Reed’s tips on writing a fundable GCRF proposal and the MRC’s 12 top tips for writing a grant application.

Closing remarks

Yaso finished her discussion of the report’s findings by recommending other resources for those interesting in accessing further support, which included the UKCDS commissioned analysis of the REF Pathways to Impact and the purpose built Researcher Hub.

Other questions asked 

The questions raised by participants were varied in their scope and specificity. We will explore some of the questions in future webinars, if you have any ideas or previous experiences that might help answer the questions raised then please leave a comment in the section below.

Q) Would it not be DFID’s responsibility or Innovate UK where applicable to fund follow-on funds for RCUK funded ODA research?

A) Yaso replied no, that it is the responsibility of whoever is leading allocated funds to determine how best to spend it – this could involve providing follow on funds.

Q) Do you have any ideas on how best to incentivise researchers to prioritise the uptake of their research? Traditional academic incentives may focus more on publishing, rather than seeking uptake of the research.

A) Saskia drew on her experiences as Head of Research Impact and Quality at the University of Sussex, and spoke about looking at a variety of incentives such as: working models, promotions criteria, leave for research or uptake activities and using impact champions. She stated that structural changes need to begin to be put into place.

A) Yaso drew on her experiences working on the funding of development research, noting that the peer review process looks at and judges plans for impact and uptake. She also indicated that funders will spot opportunities between the outline bid and the proposal stage to strengthen research and impact plans.

Q) How does UKCDS get involved in preventing duplication of projects across different funders? With so much ODA money and actors involved is it worth UKCDS members taken a more portfolio approach?

A) Yaso answered that UKCDS was set up in 2007 to encourage collaboration between international development funders. Since then there has been more joint funding calls. UKCDS convenes different groups around for example, health funding and also, conducts mapping around certain research topics to scope out the best areas for future investment.

Poll results:

 

 

Register for next month’s webinar exploring capacity building over a cup of tea with Diana Coates, Managing Director of Organisation Systems Design on Thursday 30th March at 14:00 GMT.

Find more details and sign up on GoToWebinar.