Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the
UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (Int Dev 22)


a. The UK Collaborative on Development Sciences was established in 2006 as a result of the Committee’s 2004 report The Use of Science in UK development policy. It brings together 13 key UK funders and stakeholders who provide support for research relevant to development:

· Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

· Department for International Development

· Economic and Social Research Council

· Department for Business Innovation and Skills

· Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

· Department of Energy and Climate Change

· Medical Research Council

· Foreign and Commonwealth Office

· Natural and Environment Research Council

· Scottish Government

· Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

· Department of Health

· Wellcome Trust

We work in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

b. Our vision is that UK research funding has maximum impact on international development outcomes and we aim to encourage and facilitate working relationships for effective research for development.

c. This submission has been drafted by the UKCDS secretariat. It has not been officially approved by UKCDS members since the tight timescale has not made it possible to draft the submission and get approval from 13 organisations. Many of the members will be making their own submissions, but the secretariat decided to submit directly given its role in managing a Research Capacity Strengthening Group (see under Q 5) and the overview we have.

d. It should be noted that this response focuses on strengthening research capacity in low income countries. We recognise that innovation capacity and the capacity of Government and the private sector to utilise S&T is very important, but have not focussed on those areas in our work.

1. How does the UK Government support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?

1.1. The UK Government supports the strengthening of scientific capacity in low income countries numerous ways. DFID is obviously the most active in this given its mandate and will provide the committee with details of the range of activities it supports.

1.2. DFID’s commitment to scientific capacity strengthening in low income countries has increased significantly since the Committee’s 2004 inquiry. We feel that DFID is constantly improving their activities and should be congratulated on the progress it has been making, in what is a very important part of the Research and Evidence Division’s remit. We hope that the increase in DFID’s budget over coming years (despite recent announcements that the rise will be less) will include increasing the resources that are invested in strengthening research capacity in low income countries.

1.3. However it is labelled, research and innovation capacity strengthening/ building/ development is complex and the terms themselves can be interpreted in numerous different ways and can cover a range of activities. One way to conceptualise capacity strengthening is as having three integrated and interrelated levels: the individual, the organisational and the enabling environment [1] .

Individual: involving the development of researchers and teams via training and scholarships, to design and undertake research, write up and publish research findings, influence policy makers, etc.

Organisational: developing the capacity of research departments in universities, research institutes, thinks tanks, etc, to fund, manage and sustain themselves and interact with society on a range of levels.

Enabling environment: changing, over time, the 'rules of the game' and addressing the incentive structures, the political and the regulatory context and the resource base in which research is undertaken and used by policy makers, service providers and the private sector.

1.4. Since DFID’s submission will provide information on their own activities, we have highlighted a few examples of activities across Government categorised under these headings below.

1.5. Individual

Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom (CSC) is responsible for managing Britain’s contribution to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), established in 1959, and supports around 700 awards annually. The Commission, which is funded by DFID, FCO, BIS and the Scottish Government supports studentships and fellowships – many of which are aimed at scholars from developing countries. Recently a large number of UK universities have agreed to provide joint scholarships, worth at least 20% of the tuition fee, to Commonwealth Scholars from developing countries. This extra revenue has enabled nearly 30 more Commonwealth Scholars to the UK this year. Many of the additional Scholars will be junior academic staff in developing country universities, whose studies in the UK will help develop capacity in their home institutions.

Joint schemes with ESRC, MRC, BBSRC and NERC

There are number of joint DFID – Research Council schemes (detailed in the RCUK submission) that are open to researchers from developing countries as Principle and Co- Investigators. DFID and the Research Councils are looking at how they can maximise the contribution theses scheme make to capacity building – however the nature of the scheme and that remit of the Research Councils means that capacity building will not be a primary objective.

1.6. Organisational

DFID has invested up to £3 million a year in Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE). The programme provides funding to support partnerships between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) working on collaborative activity linked to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The overall goal is to enable HEIs to act as catalysts for poverty reduction and sustainable development. DelPHE aims to achieve this by building and strengthening the capacity of HEIs to contribute towards the MDGs and promote science and technology related knowledge and skills. The programme runs for a seven year period from June 2006 to March 2013.

Darwin initiative

The Darwin Initiative, funded by Defra, assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions [2] through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise.

Darwin projects are diverse. Typically, they may address issues in the following areas:

· institutional capacity building

· training

· research

· work to implement the Biodiversity Convention

· environmental education or awareness

1.7. Enabling environment

The Wellcome Trust is working with DFID and the IDRC to enhance the capacity for new health research in Kenya and Malawi. The Health Research Capacity Strengthening (HRCS) initiative aims to strengthen the capacity for generating new health research knowledge within Kenya and Malawi, and to improve its use in evidence-based decision making, policy formulation and implementation. This will be achieved by strengthening key academic research and health policy-making institutions, and facilitating the collaborative engagement of national representatives. The Wellcome Trust and DFID committed £10 million each towards health research capacity strengthening in Africa. The International Development Research Centre, Canada (IDRC) joined the initiative as an implementing partner with experience in health research programmes in East Africa, and as a funder.

1.8. There is (inevitably) always more than can be done to improve the Government’s approach – but this needs to be balanced against other priorities. For example, for DFID to improve its support to organisational capacity and the enabling environment for science and innovation in low income countries it would need to build its own capacity to do this. This would require investment in recruiting and developing appropriate staff. Capacity strengthening is complex and long-term and requires significant support as well as funding, this includes staff that have and an understanding of the global science community as well as the skills to develop an organisation in areas other than in science (HR, finance, etc.) and the ability to negotiate challenging social and political contexts within and organisation and a country. Although some of this does not need to be managed directly by DFID it still must have the capacity to manage such programmes. This is in conflict with the Government’s priority to reduce size of the civil service.

2. What are the most effective models and mechanisms for supporting research capacity in developing countries?

2.1 There is not one model or mechanism that has been shown to be the most effective at supporting research capacity development. There is a lack of systematic evidence around capacity strengthening processes; but also, as capacity strengthening is very complex and often context dependant, it is appropriate that a diverse range of approaches is taken.

2.2 The type of model or mechanism used can also depend on the intention behind the scheme. For example, the schemes managed by the British Council on behalf of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (England-Africa Partnerships which has become Education Partnerships in Africa), have been aimed at developing institution capacity of higher education institutions in Africa, but also at developing and building on links between British and African institutions – therefore a scheme focussed on the institutions in Africa alone would not achieve one of the key objectives.

2.3 The main objectives of any initiative will help determine the most appropriate model – for example the primary aim may be to conduct excellent research and in the process develop capacity. Whilst doing high quality research is by no means separate from capacity building, the main focus and way in which a programmes outcome are evaluated are likely to influence how much effort is focussed on different activities. Capacity strengthening is likely to be most successful when it is the primary objective of a programme rather than a secondary requirement.

2.4 The UKCDS secretariat recently organised a workshop Research capacity strengthening: Learning from experience for UKCDS members, members of the research capacity strengthening group (see q 5) and others. The workshop considered lessons learnt from different schemes aimed at supporting individuals and research careers, organisational capacity and the enabling environment.

2.5 The workshop discussed a range of models and mechanisms. For example, within those programmes aimed at organisational (sometimes called institutional) capacity strengthening there are programmes that

- support North-South institutional partnerships (e.g. Royal Society Leverhulme Ghana- Tanzania Award [3] )

- develop Southern-led consortia (e.g. Wellcome Trust African Institutions Initiative [4] )

- focus on providing targeted support to specific organisations/universities (SIDA’s work with Makerere University [5] )

- develop centres of excellence (e.g. Next Einstein Initiative [6] )

2.6 It is not yet clear that any of these models is more effective than the others, but it is clear that certain principles should be adhered be to when developing and supporting these programmes to have increase the likelihood that they are effective. These include:

· Building on existing capacity – it is important to existing local capacity where possible and enabling local actors to undertake an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses and work in partnership to identify needs and gaps, rather than ignoring what exists or duplicating efforts.

· Long term commitment and persistence – Capacity strengthening is not easy and not something that can be wrapped up in a year. To seriously improve capacity in the long-terms requires a recognition that it can be high risk and is likely to suffer setbacks along the way. There are many factors that can affect a programme (political changes; social limitations; changing personnel; historical context, etc) and it need to be recognised that it is likely these will cause difficulties along the way.

· A considered approach to sustainability – Over the last few decades there have been numerous programmes aimed at developing capacity in a wide range of areas, including S&T. Unfortunately programmes can fail to leave much of a long-term impact once funding for the programme has ceased. Those involved in developing such programmes need to seriously consider, what will happen when funding is concluded and what plans can be put in place to enable a transition to a model which does not include being dependant on the donor/funder. Obviously research often requires a certain amount of funding ‘external’ to the organisation and often sustainability is considered in terms of whether the individual or organisation can continue to win funding from other donors. This is only part of the picture – it should be the aim of any programme focussed on an individual, team or organisation to develop them to be able to adapt and survive in a changing environment (part of which means able to win funding competitively from a range of sources), but it can also mean stimulating the local environment to continue to enable the person, team or organisation to thrive (e.g. providing an individual with PhD training for them to return to a department with no career support and no resources can be very limiting for that individual).

· Local ownership – It has long been known that for development interventions to be successful a degree of local ownership is required. Identifying and enabling local ownership is not easy and there may be a range of groups who could (and may be should) be engaged. The important thing is that the programme is not imposed on the ‘beneficiaries’ and that they have a strong say in the aims of the programme and how to get there.

· Avoiding using parallel processes - Where possible, it is important to try and strengthen local capabilities and mechanisms across all aspects of the programme. For example, directly funding African institutions (rather than sub-contracting through UK institutions) can help strengthen financial management in an institution. However, this can require time and support and can increase the scope of a programme.

3. How does the Government monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the scientific capacity building activities it supports? Is further assessment or oversight required?

3.1 Monitoring and evaluation research capacity strengthening activities is very difficult. The UKCDS secretariat organised a workshop in May 2009 on Monitoring and evaluating capacity strengthening initiatives – defining the questions, considering approaches [7] .This helped stakeholders involved in funding and managing capacity building activities to work through what they need to consider in developing their evaluations. Some of the main conclusions include:

· Developing a clear understanding of the change that an organisation or programme is hoping to contribute to, and the assumptions associated with this, will enable better design, execution of activities, and evaluation

· The vision of success for a programme represents the world view(s) of those who designed it. Involving groups at whom the programme is targeted at in developing and expressing the theory of change could improve the chances that the programme will support outcomes that are meaningful to those groups.

· The question of why are you evaluating and who is the evaluation for are fundamental questions that need to be addressed before designing an evaluation, (and preferably before designing a programme). Are you evaluating for accountability, to learn lessons for future, or to decide on future funding?

· Funders and programme managers need to be accountable, particularly when tax-payers money is involved. However, if the purpose of the programme is to support and strengthen ‘local’ capacity, then determining if the capacity strengthening is meaningful to the actors whose capacity is being supported should be a significant part of the evaluation.

· The imperative to demonstrate impact to funders or governing boards can result in a focus on success stories, neglecting the useful lessons that can be learn from failure.

3.2 It is crucial that there is capacity and political will within organisations to implement the lessons from evaluations or else there is limited utility in undertaking them. Encouragingly there seems to be, more than ever, an appetite within DFID for learning lessons from evaluations.

3.3 DFID, like many other funders, is continuing to develop its approach to monitoring and evaluating capacity strengthening activities. The complex nature of the initiatives and the range of approaches that are taken mean that there is unlikely to a simple template that can be applied to all activities. However, recent work is providing more support in this area. For example. ESSENCE, a group of international health research funders (including DFID and Wellcome Trust) involved in developing capacity in low income countries, have recently published Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for Capacity Strengthening in Health Research [8] .

3.4 Some funders have not made the evaluations of their programme publically available in the past. We would urge all funders to make their evaluations available so that everyone can learn from them. The Wellcome Trust has commissioned a significant learning and evaluation component as part of their African Institutions Initiative and this specifically highlights the need for the evaluation to identify and share lessons about capacity strengthening with other funders; something which we strongly support.

4. What role does DFID Chief Scientific Adviser plays in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building priorities?

4.1 The current DFID CSA has been instrumental in improving DFID’s approach to the funding and use of science and innovation over recent years. The CSA should play an important role in ensuring that capacity strengthening is a priority for RED and in articulating its importance, as well as its long-term and complex nature.

5. How are government activities co-ordinated with the private and voluntary sector?

5.1 The coordination of capacity strengthening is vital; whilst recognising that a diversity of approaches is required. Different stakeholders can bring different strengths to activities. For example, Learned Societies can work with scientists in their own country and low income countries in a bottom up, small scale approach – addressing particular niche needs and testing different approaches; whereas bilateral funders such as DFID can implement larger schemes and work more closely with other Governments.

5.2 It is difficult to completely coordinate every capacity strengthening initiative across all ‘donor’ countries. However, moves to improve information sharing and lesson learning can be a step towards ensuring better coordination. UKCDS was established to improve communication and coordination between research funders in the UK with an interest in development. It manages a ‘Research Capacity Strengthening Group’ which brings together UK stakeholders who have some interest or involvement in strengthening research capacity in low income countries. Members include:

· Association of Commonwealth Universities

· The British Academy

· The British Council

· CAAST-Net –an EU African International Cooperation Network led by the UK

· Department for International Development

· Economic and Social Research Council

· International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP)

· Medical Research Council

· Research Councils UK

· The Royal Academy of Engineering

· The Royal Society

· The Royal Society of Chemistry

· The Wellcome Trust [9] .

The aim of the group is to develop a better understanding and relationship between UK stakeholders and to encourage coordination of and collaboration on capacity strengthening issues.

5.3 A similar initiative on an international level is ESSENCE (as mentioned above) [10] which is focussed on health research capacity strengthening. This group is making important progress on improving coordination amongst funders at an international level.

5.4 Coordination, however, should ideally come from the institutions and actors within low income countries so that they have maximum input into what different funders can help them with or work together on, based on their needs. For example, Makerere University has been attempting to do this, led by their research and publications department. However, organisations do not always have the capacity to do this.


16 December 2011

[1] The terms and definitions have been a dapted from DFID’s ‘How to’ note on capacity building in research


[2] the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)







[9] Further details can be found here:


Prepared 22nd December 2011