How can research better inform development policy and practice? Insights on interdisciplinary approaches

Valeria Izzi and Laura Meagher
February 12, 2018

How can research better inform development policy and practice? As interdisciplinary approach is widely seen as essential to ensure that research crosses the walls of academia and provides relevant evidence to underpin action to tackle the complex and multifaceted challenge of our times.

In this webinar, consultant Dr. Laura Meagher shares the key lessons emerging from ESPA’s experience in funding, carrying out, and assessing research for development impact. With a strong focus on interdisciplinarity throughout its lifespan, ESPA represents a large scale experiment in interdisciplinary research, and thus can offer critical insights on the conditions under which interdisciplinarity can thrive and maximise its impact on real-life problems.

The webinar distils a number of key messages emerging from ESPA’s experience:

Interdisciplinarity is about people – not abstract disciplines. It can only flourish if individuals are given the time, space and support to come out of their disciplinary comfort zone, and fully appreciate the perspective and value added that other disciplines bring to the table. As they go through this process, clashes can emerge – not only among different personalities, but also among diverting academic cultures and disciplinary standards. Yet most research teams lack the facilitation skills to constructively manage these clashes.

Interdisciplinarity takes extra time. From formulating truly coherent joint research questions, to agreeing on methodologies and techniques for data collection, to co-authoring and publishing paper: everything takes longer. While in traditional research projects Work Packages (WPs) proceed mostly along parallel tracks, and can thus go at different speeds, in interdisciplinary research everything is much more interconnected: therefore, if one WP is delayed for whatever reason, the consequences on the others are much greater.

Interdisciplinarity is unpredictable. The real value of interdisciplinarity is that it can go in unexpected directions and open new avenues that had not been anticipated at the design stage. This offers opportunities, which can however only be seized if they are met with flexibility.

Building on from these key messages, the webinar offers pragmatic advice for funders at three critical stages (calls for proposals; review of proposals and project implementation) as well as related implications for researchers.