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Rethinking research partnerships: discussion guide and toolkit

This discussion guide and toolkit provides ideas and approaches to enable you to think through your research partnerships; to encourage you to critically engage with issues such as the roles different actors play in partnership; and what types of evidence are valued, used and produced. We intend that it will open up space for more voices, perspectives and knowledge to inform research design, implementation and communication.

Christian Aid co-led with the Open University on the production of this resource, drawing from a seminar series that brought together academics and NGO staff to reflect on their experiences of research partnerships. This consortium engaged with questions of participation and the politics of evidence in academic-NGO research partnerships. It was funded by the ESRC and this publication is one of the outputs of the series.

We don’t expect you to work your way through the guide, but to dip in and out, using the sections that seem relevant and useful to you. It includes some discussion, insights from that emerged from participants in the consortium / seminar series and participatory tools.

Please do get in touch with our research, evidence and learning team if you have questions, suggestions or would like to share how you have used the material.

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Rethinking research Credit: Christian Aid
Rethinking research


In recent years, there has been a drive towards research collaboration between academics and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). These new partnerships offer exciting opportunities to improve learning and practice in international development, leading to innovation and deepened understandings of the world and, ultimately, a better impact on poverty eradication.

However, they also present considerable challenges. How do organisations with different structures, goals and interests collaborate?

Can they work together productively around these differences? What tensions exist and what is the impact of these? How is power distributed and which voices are amplified or lost in the process?

This guide does not seek to answer these questions, but offers a way of exploring them. It is aimed at people and organisations that are considering embarking on a research collaboration, or are already working in partnership. It introduces some of the key issues that arise when working collaboratively, and suggests tools and activities to help you to critically reflect on them. The guide is aimed at those at the forefront of these partnerships – academics, INGO staff and their respective institutions.

However, the content will also be of relevance to funders and others seeking to support or encourage collaborative research approaches.

This guide is a toolkit for critical reflection, rooted in the idea that research partnerships must be entered into with care. Attention needs to be given to contexts, power relations and the different interests involved in order to successfully deliver truly collaborative knowledge generation that serves everyone’s interests.

The risks are real – partnerships without serious considerations of the power dynamics risk reaffirming certain interests and voices and marginalising others, particularly those already experiencing structural disadvantage, undermining the real benefit that these partnerships can bring. In addition, they can end up placing unfunded and unsupported burdens on particular individuals or organisations, and reinforce existing structures that constrain the intended learning and growth.