Research with development impact

Authors Directorate, E.S.P.A.
Year of Publication 2018
Type of Publication Working Paper


The ESPA programme was established in 2009 to investigate how ecosystem services can support – or undermine – poverty alleviation efforts and communities’ wellbeing in developing countries, and to provide relevant evidence to inform policy and practice. This was an ambitious attempt to produce research that not only met standards of academic excellence, but was also relevant and usable for policy and practice. At the time of the programme’s design, the concept of ‘impact’ as an indicator of research performance was just starting to emerge in the United Kingdom (UK).

Over nearly a decade of ESPA’s lifespan, 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. In this sense, ESPA 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, this paper aims to share lessons in a way that can be relevant for funders and managers of programmes with similar focus and ambition.