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Supporting better research partnerships

At Christian Aid, partnership is one of our core values. Making sure that our research activities reflect this value is an important part of the work of our Centre for Excellence in Research, Evidence and Learning (REL).

Last week, we published a new set of resources on fair and equitable research partnerships. The setan introduction, six modules and nine written and audio case studies – is designed to help the different stakeholders involved in collaborative international development research put eight principles for fair and equitable research partnerships into practice.

Why do we need to think about fair and equitable research collaborations?

In recent years the UK government has invested highly in international development research, including through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries; and a £735 million match-funding stream, the Newton Fund, focused on tackling development challenges through science and innovation.

Both funds have partnership at their heart, based on a conviction that understanding and building solutions for today’s complex development challenges requires a mix of different types of expertise. This builds on a wider UK trend of believing that collaborative research is more likely to be accessible and useful.

This means that academics based in universities in the global North are not only partnering with academics based in other institutions and countries, but also with actors from civil society, government and the private sector based in the global North and global South.

While the rhetoric of partnership sounds good, our experience in Christian Aid has been that these partnerships are often quite challenging and unequal, with UK-based academics driving their own agendas, and civil society partners playing the role of a source of data, rather than an active co-creator of the research and the knowledge it generates.

Last year, we had discussions with others who had similar concerns and in early 2018 we came together with INTRAC, the Open University, Praxis and PRIA to form the Rethinking Research Collaborative, an informal international network of individuals and organisations committed to working together to encourage more inclusive, responsive collaborations to produce useful and accessible development research.

Essential reading

UK Research and Innovation, the key UK research funding coordination body, commissioned the Rethinking Research Collaborative to carry out a short study to gather the perspectives of different kinds of research partners on these global research collaborations. Through interviews, focus group discussions and a round-table event, the collaborative developed eight principles for fair and equitable partnerships:

  1. Put poverty first

  2. Critically engage with context.

  3. Challenge assumptions about evidence.

  4. Adapt and respond.

  5. Respect diversity

  6. Commit to transparency.

  7. Invest in the relationship.

  8. Keep learning.

The modules are designed to help put these principles into practice. Each is targeted at helping a particular stakeholder group – UK-based research funders, UK-based academics, academics based in the global South, international NGOs, civil society organisations based in the global South and research broker organisations – to develop more fair and equitable partnerships.

The case studies feature people from each stakeholder group discussing real examples of research partnerships, and the challenges and opportunities they offer.

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI Executive Champion for International, said that the research report and learning resources “offer valuable insights about how UKRI and other funders can make further progress towards realising the ambition of investing in excellent research that is jointly created and undertaken by researchers from across the globe”.

 

Essential reading for those involved in GCRF

Professor Charles Forsdick, Liverpool University

Are you involved in research partnerships?

We are keen to have further discussions about experiences of working in research partnerships. We would love to hear from you if you have worked in a research partnership spanning global North and South, or hope to do so in the future – contact us at RELhub@christian-aid.org.

Download the resources from our Centre for Excellence in Research, Evidence and Learning