Research for development impact: The role of equitable partnerships

Authors Directorate, E.S.P.A.
Year of Publication 2018
Type of Publication Policy and Practice Brief


Research partnerships between institutions in the global North and global South are widely seen as critical in supporting evidence-based action to address the global issues of sustainable development. Academia is grappling with the challenge of ensuring that partnerships are non-hierarchical, are built on mutual understanding and trust, and reflect the different partners’ values and priorities. Funders consistently call for partnerships to be ‘equitable’, yet operational conditions can run counter to these stated intentions and create disincentives for equity.

This briefing summarises the key learnings that emerged from the ESPA programme in promoting research partnership to achieve development impact. It is based on a comprehensive review of ESPA documentation, including project proposals and reports, an online survey and semi-structured key informant interviews.

Key messages

Building relationships is a long-term process. The first collaboration among two partners may not be the most ‘impactful’, but may lay the foundations for longer-term collaboration.

Money affects power relations among partners. Northern institutions are usually in charge of managing the budget, and this inevitably affects power dynamics. The implications need to be recognised and openly discussed.

Different incentive structures matter. An equitable partnership is one where the interests and incentives of all partners receive fair recognition.

Successful partnerships are built on mutual trust. Ensuring transparency and accountability can go a long way in promoting trust among partners. Adopting an equity framework – structured around the dimensions of recognition, procedure and distribution – can help identify where challenges lie, and the ways they can be addressed.