Research for development impact – what did we learn?

Academics are increasingly called upon to provide ‘research that matters’ to underpin action on major global challenges. ESPA was an ambitious experiment to produce research that met academic standards of excellence and, at the same time, resulted in concrete improvements in the way that ecosystem services contribute to poverty alleviation.

Our key lessons are summarised below, and elaborated upon in our Working Paper “Research with Development Impact”:

1. Impact takes time: Achieving impact is a time-consuming process, and a long-term one – rarely seen within the timeframe of any one individual research project. Using a Theory of Change approach helps researchers keep sight of the long-term, and to achieve, measure and demonstrate progress towards development impact.

2. Impact depends crucially on relations with partners and stakeholders: Impact occurs in the elusive sweet spot where ‘demand’ for and ‘supply’ of evidence meet, making it crucial to establish relations with users of research. Sound knowledge of the local contexts, well-established working relations with research partners, and trust and respect relation with a variety of stakeholders, are all key enablers of impact.

3. ‘Impact’ is not simply an add-on – it challenges conventional research paradigms and academic culture: ESPA’s experience defies the idea of easy win-win solutions for both research excellence (as conventionally understood and measured in academia) and development impact (as defined by prevailing notion of aid effectiveness and value for money). In order for research to be ‘impactful’, its design and fundamental research questions may need to be rethought. This challenges research and funders to realistically consider of the conceptual and practical implications and trade-offs of ‘doing research differently’.

Read more about:
· Using a Theory of Change approach 
· Working across academic disciplines 
· Establishing equitable North/South research partnerships 
· Beyond projects - the value of a programme approach

Read about ESPA’s Impact stories

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PDF icon ESPA Impact Strategy860.54 KB