Africa Capacity Building Initiative (ACBI): Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Project 5 Oct 2018

The Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative (ACBI) aims to strengthen the research capacity of universities and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting the development of sustainable research and laboratory networks, increasing the number of PhD trained African researchers with the ability to undertake high-quality research, improving the quality of research training and mentorship and retaining these researchers in Africa institutions. 

With an aim to strengthen capacity of higher education and research institutions around priority science research areas such as water and sanitation, sustainable energy and soil science, ACBI has been supporting 27 higher education and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. The Royal Society contracted the Centre for Capacity Research at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to lead on the monitoring, evaluation and learning (ME&L) of this pilot initiative throughout the lifetime of ACBI.

Centre for Capacity Research Objectives

The ME&L project aims to generate research-informed learning to improve ACBI within its lifetime and to contribute to the global pool of evidence on the science of research capacity strengthening. The ME&L project will be implemented in two phases. During phase 1 (2014/15-2017), the research team at the Centre for Capacity Research conducted baseline studies, using a framework which describes the optimal capacity (benchmark), to identify and prioritise strengths and gaps in the participating African institutions’ capacity for post-graduate training and science research. These studies revealed that there are significant differences in PhD programmes and laboratory system across the ACBI-associated institutions.

The focus of phase 2 (2017/18-2021) will explore these emerging issues in further detail, since effective PhD programmes and laboratory capacity are crucial for the success of ACBI. Together with a continuous monitoring, evaluation and learning of the ongoing interventions under this initiative, phase 2 research project aims to:

  • Understand factors influencing PhD pathways positively and negatively and to explore the advantages and disadvantages of belonging to a multi-disciplinary PhD cohort among ACBI-affiliated PhD students;
  • Explore the factors that positively and negatively influence the development of laboratory capacity to support research in the context of international science research consortia, including how being part of a consortium influences the physical and human infrastructure of laboratories;
  • Learn about the progress in strengthening research capacity at the consortia and programme level, as well as deriving examples of good practices from cross-programme learning beyond, but relevant to ACBI, across various Centre for Capacity Research programmes

Findings and lessons learned from the ME&L project will help maximise the effectiveness of similar capacity strengthening programmes in the future. Multiple data collection strategies will be used such as reviewing annual/progress reports; online surveys; observation; and in-depth interviews with PhD students and key stakeholders (including UK- and Africa-based investigators, research and graduate office staff, laboratory head and technicians) will be undertaken.

This research is funded with UK aid from the UK government through the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative.


El Hajj, T., Gregorius, S., Pulford, J., & Bates, I. (2020). Strengthening capacity for natural sciences research: A qualitative assessment to identify good practices, capacity gaps and investment priorities in African research institutions. PloS one, 15(1), e0228261.