First observations and lessons on co-creation and research uptake for impact
For nearly a decade, NWO-WOTRO has funded transdisciplinary research aimed at impact, such as the Global Challenges Programme (GCP). Within this frame, in 2013 the transdisciplinary Food & Business Research (FBR) programme – including the GCP – was installed. FBR falls within the framework of the Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP), which offers additional possibilities in generating research impact. Through transdisciplinary collaboration, wherein scientists and other partners jointly conduct research projects, it is expected that processes of co-creation and research uptake are being facilitated. The aim for impact implies that research contributes to various objectives, namely: delivering high quality scientific output; offering relevance to development; and developing capacities of those involved. Practice shows that bringing together different parties and objectives within research execution is not always such an easy task. Partners and stakeholders involved all bring along their own interests, approaches, languages and networks. In the context of the midterm review of the first GCP Call (GCP-1), this article provides an insight into some NWO-WOTRO and F&BKP lessons on transdisciplinary collaboration.
First observations on transdisciplinary collaboration from NWO-WOTRO research programmes
The five GCP-1 consortia include 22 members from research, public and private sectors. Please see the table “Actor types in GCP-1 consortia” for an overview of these partners. Based on the GCP as well as other research programmes funded by NWO-WOTRO, a number of first observations and lessons on transdisciplinary collaboration on research aimed at achieving impact are presented below. This list is based on evaluations and (informal) conversations with researchers and is not conclusive:
- Consortia are faced with high expectations, amongst which are delivering on research, private sector development, policy engagement, capacity development and maintaining a focus which is crucial.
- Transdisciplinary collaboration is a balancing act between “objective” high-quality research and more targeted agendas of other partners and sometimes challenging.
- Contexts wherein researchers work are not always supportive towards the input and output related to research that has a focus on impact. Scientists are expected to deliver publications rather than policy briefs for example, and within NGOs or businesses conducting research may not be the primary focus. This asks for dedication of involved partners.
- Multi-country and multi-partner collaborations require significant investment of time, as well as communication and regular meetings to build up trust and joint understanding. These aspects are crucial, especially during the starting phase of projects.
- Revisiting the Theory of Change and the Impact Pathway are valuable assets in the collaboration as they facilitate the need for clear expressions of interest, expressing underlying assumptions, and allow for joint reflection on progress and desired pathways to change.
- Making use of the skills and networks of each partner ensures optimal use of complementarity.
- Engagement with policy is complex as there is no “silver bullet, and it may be through direct or indirect engagement. Thus, there is a need for continuous iteration in developing approaches.
- Documenting lessons and challenges in collaborative efforts (such as in PPPs) and in research uptake processes can help the learning of the consortia, future peers, as well as the research funders.
|Consortium actor||GCP Call-1|
|Private for-profit NL||3|
|Private for-profit LMIC||3|
|Private not for-profit NL||1|
|Private not for-profit LMIC||1|
Table: Actor types in GCP-1 consortia
GCP-1 group reflections on transdisciplinary collaboration
During the midterm review meeting in Accra, Ghana in December 2016, the GCP-1 experiences with co-creation and research uptake were on the agenda. Some observations on how the consortia deal with research uptake are presented below. Research uptake is understood here as facilitating and contributing to the use of research evidence by policymakers, practitioners and other development actors. The observations include:
- Co-creation and research uptake (RU) is considered important by all GCP-1 projects in order to make research work more relevant.
- For some consortia, transdisciplinary collaboration and explicitly contributing to RU is a rather new way of working, while for others it is standard practice.
- Consortium members have become more aware of the need to collaborate with partners and stakeholders, and pay attention to RU activities from the inception stage of the project. All projects actively engage with stakeholders. They have also initiated communication activities and capacity building activities with those stakeholders.
- RU activities ask for investments of time and effort. Researchers commented that conducting research to achieve results should not be compromised by RU activities. Planning for complementarity of research and RU activities (which will overlap) is important.
- In learning by doing, consortia have come to realize that choices and the identification of focus areas of RU activities are crucial when enhancing the potential for achieving outcomes.
- Trainings on RU such as on mapping of stakeholders (provided by NWO-WOTRO and the F&BKP) are considered essential for the development of effective RU approaches.
- Contexts may not always be conducive to RU (during the research process). Universities do not credit journalistic articles, and government and private sector actors may demand for final research results as a condition for cooperating with research groups. Therefore, RU practices should be context-specific and they should consider motives and wishes of external stakeholders.
- The added value of working within the Food & Business Knowledge Platform (F&BKP) is acknowledged. Exchange with other GCP consortia is appreciated and the F&BKP can communicate issues to the larger F&BKP community, and connect projects with broader audiences in order to jointly organize knowledge activities for uptake and out scaling. They also see a role for the F&BKP as a catalyst for more attention to RU in contexts where it is uncommon or not rewarded enough.
All in all, first observations tend to indicate that transdisciplinary collaboration is not always easy, yet may have good effects on research uptake and impact, as partners and stakeholders are involved from the beginning and throughout the research trajectories. As the saying goes, it could be that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Yet, further monitoring and evaluation of the impact of RU activities is needed and will be given more attention in the coming period.
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NWO-WOTRO is not the only funder engaging with inter and transdisciplinary research aimed at impact. A useful Guide for Transboundary Research Partnerships on similar issues was developed by the Swiss Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries (KFPE), of which eleven of the principles are presented on this website.