DFID-Royal Society Africa Capacity Building Initiative

The ACBI project team comprises Imelda Bates (Head, CRU), Taghreed El Hajj (Post-doctoral Research Associate) and Justin Pulford (Senior Lecturer), with additional support provided by other academic and administrative team members. Prof Bates provides the academic and strategic oversight and Dr El Hajj is responsible for the research implementation and day-to-day management of the project. CRU academic members provide relevant inter-disciplinary expertise, for example in laboratory systems and cross-linking with other similar programmes. Support for management, logistics, travel arrangements and financial monitoring are provided by CRU support staff.



The Africa Capacity Building Initiative is a pilot programme funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) in partnership with the Royal Society. The ACBI aims to strengthen the research and training capacity of higher education institutions and support the development of individual scientists in sub-Saharan Africa through UK-Africa research collaborations. The ACBI seeks to do this through the development of strong postgraduate training with an emphasis on strengthening institutional/departmental PhD programmes and research conducive environments. ACBI funds ten research consortia, each comprising one UK and three African institutions to undertake quality research and provide first rate doctoral training in three research priority areas: water and sanitation, renewable energy and soil science.

Embedded in the ACBI is the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning project (ME&L) which is led by the Capacity Research Unit (CRU). The ME&L project aims to generate research-informed learning from the ACBI to improve the initiative within the project life span and to contribute to the global pool of evidence on the science of research capacity strengthening. CRU’s role as an independent partner of this initiative involves collecting and analysing scientific evidence relating to capacity strengthening from key stakeholders of this initiative. The unit has developed, used and published approaches and tools for investigating the research and postgraduate training environment in African institutions, which were adapted for the ACBI-ME&L project.

During phase 1 (2012-17) of the project, CRU conducted baseline studies of the existing research capacity and PhD training across eight institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. They did this using an evidence-based ‘benchmark’ which describes the optimal capacity needed by an institution to effectively support PhD programmes and high-quality research. The baseline studies revealed significant capacity differences in PhD programmes and laboratory systems across the institutions. The full baseline study report can be accessed here.

Provision of resources to address all research capacity gaps identified during the baseline studies in the institutions is beyond the remit of the ACBI. However, a follow up of progress in closing these gaps, provides a unique opportunity for generating new information and learning about successes and challenges that could inform future programmes. Therefore, during Phase 2 (2017-2021) of the project, CRU’s research will focus on three aspects:

  1. Exploring the factors that affect PhD pathways of consortium-affiliated doctoral students (PhD programmes project);
  2. Exploring factors that positively and negatively influence the development of laboratory capacity to support research in the context of international science research consortia (laboratory capacity project); and
  3. Learning about the progress in strengthening research capacity at consortia and programme level (research capacity strengthening learning project); as well as deriving good practices from cross-programme learning across various CRU projects.

ACBI was implemented in two stages. At the first stage, twenty small networking grants were awarded in 2013 to assist emerging research consortia to prepare an application for two Programme Grant rounds. At the second stage, five grants were awarded in 2015 and five in 2016 from a total of 73 applications.

How CRU works with research consortia

  • This is a DFID-funded programme in partnership with the Royal Society. CRU operates independently but in collaboration with both organisations.
  • The award holders are the main point of contact for CRU within each of the institutions and consortia. Through the award holders, the CRU team engages with researchers, doctoral students and research support staff such as laboratory technicians, Research Offices and Graduate Schools.
  • The CRU team meets with consortia members either in the UK or during site visits to African institutions. These visits are to collect data from consortia members; disseminate research findings; share experiences and learn about good and innovative practice.
  • CRU shares relevant resources and new knowledge about how to do effective research capacity strengthening with consortia members, with the wider science community and with the Royal Society and DFID through a variety of media including e-mails, reports, publications and presentations.

Relevant Publications

Dean, L., Gregorius, S., Bates, I., & Pulford, J. (2017). Advancing the science of health research capacity strengthening in low-income and middle-income countries: a scoping review of the published literature, 2000–2016BMJ open7(12), e018718.

Gregorius, S., Dean, L., Cole, D. C., & Bates, I. (2017). The peer review process for awarding funds to international science research consortia: a qualitative developmental evaluationF1000Research6. Doi: 10.12688/f1000research.12496.2.

Dean, L., Njelesani, J., Smith, H., & Bates, I. (2015). Promoting sustainable research partnerships: a mixed-method evaluation of a United Kingdom–Africa capacity strengthening award schemeHealth research policy and systems13(1), 81.