Interdisciplinary research for development impact: How can funders walk the talk?

TitleInterdisciplinary research for development impact: How can funders walk the talk?
Published
March 2018
Authors
ESPA Directorate
Pages
6
Project code
Summary

Academic research is increasingly called upon to provide actionable evidence for sustainable development. As the demands for ‘impact’ grow, the limits of single-discipline investigation become apparent. Most funders see interdisciplinary research as an avenue to tackle complex global challenges.Yet this emphasis clashes with an academic culture that remains, to a large extent, within the boundaries of individual disciplines. ESPA has produced a new briefing on lessons learned from partnership working. It is based on a comprehensive review of Ecosystem Services for Poverty Reduction (ESPA) documentation, including project proposals and reports, an online survey and key informant interviews.

Key messages

• Interdisciplinary research takes extra time at every stage: from defining research questions, to agreeing data-collection techniques and sample sizes, to publishing. Project timelines needs to allow for team interaction, mutual learning and flexibility.

• Interdisciplinarity is about keeping sight of the ‘bigger picture’. Team composition should reflect a mix of disciplinary expertise, and also include generalist researchers who are able to work across disciplines.

• Interpersonal relations are crucial to the success of interdisciplinary processes. Facilitation skills are critical, but are generally not prioritised in team composition and leadership.

• Interdisciplinary research requires flexible management. Interdisciplinary enquiries can open new avenues of investigation, and even completely reframe research questions. This unpredictability should be treated as an opportunity not a problem.

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