Accepted paper:

Rethinking research capacity in low and middle income countries from the perspective of inclusive and equitable development


Maru Mormina (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

I propose a framework for the design and evaluation of RCD programmes grounded on principles of justice in order to capture social outcomes and the intangible dimensions of capacity. A focus on equity counters reductive assumptions and fragmented approaches to capacity that do not hold in practice

Paper long abstract:

Research capacity development (RCD) is about empowering individuals, organisations and systems to produce and use knowledge to achieve desirable social outcomes (better health, education, etc.) and is increasingly a required component of ODA-funded research. RCD is often approached as a linear problem requiring technocratic solutions, thus focusing on improving performance of discrete organisations and individuals in the hope that this will somehow 'add up' to stronger systems. A linearity assumption also underpins the evaluation of RCD programmes and the choice of easily quantifiable indicators (e.g. infrastructure or skills acquisition), which measure tangible outputs without capturing complex longer-term social outcomes. While often difficult to correlate to programme inputs, these are essential for assessing RCD impact. A social justice lens can afford more sophisticated understandings of social outcomes and shape the design and implementation of RCD inputs, as these determine how knowledge is created, shared and translated, and ultimately whose interests it serves. As a first step towards mainstreaming concerns for justice and equity into RCD agendas, this 20min paper proposes an evaluative framework grounded on principles of accessibility, inclusion and sustainability. These principles can be used to develop suitable indicators while also bringing a justice focus into policy and agenda setting. Such focus emphasises the intangible dimensions of capacity, including power relations and the connections, feedback loops and relationships between different individuals and organisations across local, national and international levels. This opens up new approaches to RCD that better align with a more realistic conception of development as "wicked problem".

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Impactful development?
Rethinking impact, collaboration and capacity in ODA-funded research [experimental]