This DFID-funded project synthesised information on research capacity strengthening (RCS) and made recommendations about how to better evaluate high-level outcomes and impact of such programmes, taking into account gender and inclusivity. As part of a strategy to increase capacity in the African region for RCS evaluations, the project was implemented in partnership with the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC).
The Centre for Capacity Research and the African Population and Health Research Centre collated evidence to inform guidance about how to improve evaluations of, and indicators for, research capacity strengthening programmes in low and middle-income countries. The project addressed the linked problems of
a) the lack of frameworks and robust indicators to determine the impact of RCS programmes; and
b) the lack of a unifying, evidence-based approach to underpin funders’ substantial investments in RCS efforts
The RCS evaluation recommendations and guidance resulting from this project will enable comparisons of RCS progress among projects and schemes and will facilitate real-time learning and tracking along a trajectory to achieve RCS impact.
Evidence was predominantly drawn from peer-reviewed and grey literature and an analysis of (primarily DFID-funded) RCS programme documents. An RCS evaluation framework was drafted by refining and harmonising existing frameworks, and indicators that were generic to diverse types of RCS programmes were agreed through workshops and consultations with RCS funders, implementers, managers and evaluators. Indicators were mapped onto the framework and guidance about how to design and conduct more rigorous RCS evaluations was developed. In addition, new RCS evaluation concepts were created and the next steps in the process of testing and validating the framework and indicators were outlined.
Two new concepts emerged from the project:
1. Ensure that the over-arching theory of change which describes how the overall scheme will achieve impact, and the theories of change for each funded RCS project, are all aligned.
2. Funders of RCS programmes can maximise evaluations of impact by explicitly capturing the RCS ‘ripple benefits’ that inevitably occur across the interfaces between individuals, institutions and societies.
These concepts were incorporated into the guidance and recommendations for RCS evaluations because they address the current problems faced by RCS funders created by the lack of a unifying, evidence-based approach to underpin their RCS efforts. They help to moderate unrealistic expectations that investments in individuals should have a direct high-level impact and will make alignment between the scheme-level goal and the goals of RCS projects within a scheme much more explicit. Combined with the validated RCS framework and indicators, incorporation of these concepts into new and existing RCS schemes will facilitate intra- and inter-scheme comparisons and enable a much more rigorous, harmonised and effective evaluation of RCS schemes.
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