What did we learn?

The Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme was established in 2009 with the aim of investigating how ecosystem services can support - or undermine - poverty alleviation efforts and communities’ wellbeing in developing countries, and provide relevant evidence to inform policy and practice.

Jointly funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), ESPA represented an ambitious attempt to produce research that not only met standards of academic excellence, but was also relevant and usable.

At the time when the programme was designed, the concept of ‘impact’ as an indicator of research performance was just starting to emerge in the UK. Over nearly a decade of ESPA’s lifespan, the ‘impact agenda’ has grown exponentially. Pressure has mounted for academics to provide ‘research that matters’ to underpin action on major global challenges such as poverty, climate change and environmental degradation.

As recognised by its independent evaluators, ESPA has acted as a “useful testing ground for understanding how to meet these new requirements and adapt to a paradigm shift in research funding and evaluation”. As an integral part of its legacy, ESPA aims at sharing the lessons in a way that can be relevant for funders and managers of programmes with a similar focus and ambition.

We have published two short Policy and Practice Briefs and a Working Paper summarising key lessons from the ESPA programme: