Five years of ESPA science

Paul van Gardingen, ESPA Director
November 10, 2015

In early October 2010, the ESPA science community came together for the first time as they discussed ESPA’s first two sets of research projects, the ESPA Programme Framework Grants and ESPA-2011 rounds.  That first ESPA meeting was a time to explore new questions, new ways of working and to build new partnerships.  There was a great amount of enthusiasm and excitement at that first meeting, but also a realisation of the scale of the challenge the programme was trying to address.  Looking back now, as we approach ESPA’s 2015 Annual Science Conference in London on November 25th and 26th I feel that the programme has managed to exceed both the expectations and hopes expressed five years ago.

If you are joining the Annual Science Conference you will be able to hear some of the results emerging from ESPA’s research, which now includes over 100 projects working in 52 countries.  Even if you can’t join in person, just like in 2010 you can watch our sessions via a webstream feed (available at during the conference) or download these from the ESPA website after the event.

The impact of ESPA research is also growing.  ESPA’s research is having positive impacts on the lives of poor people in a growing number of locations around the world.  I have described the impact of the ESPA Swahili Seas project previously, with local communities benefiting from one of the world’s first carbon payments schemes linked to mangroves.  This project was also highlighted as an impact case study during the UK’s 2015 Research Excellence Framework exercise.  This case study was selected by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences in a selection of their “Top 20” development impact case studies and I was really pleased to hear that the Swahili Seas example had the highest number of page views on the ESPA website.  ESPA’s research continues to have significant academic impact.  If you visit our publications page on the website you can see the total number of ISI citations of ESPA research which is 1828 as I write this.  I expect the programme to reach the milestone of 2000 citations by early 2016 which again far exceeds our original expectations when the main research component of the programme commenced in 2010.

Building the impact of ESPA research continues to be a key priority for both the Directorate and individual projects.  In this newsletter, the Directorate’s Impact Officer Becky Murray introduces her work to revise the programme’s Impact Strategy and is asking for contributions from projects and their partners into this process.  Our full impact team will be present at the Annual Science Conference and would welcome the chance to talk about impact.  ESPA’s Regional Evidence Advisors for South Asia (Raj Patra) and Africa (Sam Mwangi) will also be at the meeting and I know that they are very keen to use the opportunity to meet projects. Sam has recently joined the Directorate and is based in Nairobi. Sam introduces himself later in this newsletter.

I am looking forward to meeting participants at our Science Conference and hearing more about ESPA science.  These major events organised by the programme are a highlight of the year for me.  For this reason I am pleased that this newsletter also contains news about the first ESPA Summer School which will be held from 10-16 April 2016.  Applications are now open and there are a number of scholarships available for the event.

Five years on from ESPA’s first science meeting, I am delighted with the progress that has been made.  I have just completed a series of discussions with our current projects where I heard about the research results that are currently being prepared for publication and the linked opportunities for development impact.  I can confidently say that the next five years will even further exceed our hopes in the way that ESPA science changes the way we view the world and the way that ecosystem services alleviate poverty.