High-quality research can be used to improve the lives of people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). To generate this research, scientists need not only skills and knowledge; they also need to work in institutions that value and actively support innovative research. Development funders are therefore increasingly adopting a holistic approach to strengthening research capacity in LMICs by supporting institutions as well as training individual scientists. Funders need to be confident that their efforts to improve research capacity are effective. However robust evidence about what works in different institutional contexts and which metrics to use to demonstrate progress, impact and sustainability, is scarce.
The Capacity Research Unit (CRU) at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM)
- specialises in the science of capacity strengthening.
- generates new practical and theoretical knowledge about what works, and does not work, for capacity strengthening in LMICs.
- has developed rapid assessments tools to identify strengths and gaps in, for example, universities’ research infrastructure and laboratory systems to support disease control programmes.
- makes our research widely available through non-technical media, presentations and in academic journals.
Through our research we have
- identified frameworks and indicators which can be used to design programmes and track them in the short and long-term
- discovered hidden tensions which need to be managed early in the process of evaluating capacity strengthening programmes. These include deciding on the extent to which funding recipients should participate in evaluations of their own programmes, and how to balance competing needs for measuring short-term progress or longer term impact.
Funders such as the Royal Society and the Department for International Development have used our research to improve the way they commission and evaluate capacity strengthening programmes. Our research has been used by recipients of development funds to help them devise measurable indicators for tracking the progress and impact of their capacity strengthening activities.
CRU works closely with funders and grant recipients right from the start of each programme, to understand their differing needs and constraints, to help them identify and build on what is already in place, and to share emerging findings. We share new findings with stakeholders as emerge from our research. This means that improvements can be made within a programme’s lifetime which represents a better use of resources. It also catalyses learning among the stakeholders, accelerating closure of the gap between research generation and uptake.