Is current research funding practice fit for purpose?
For research donors interested in international development, recent years have been packed with interesting discussions about how funding could or should change. What is interesting here is the idea that changing the way funding works can have an effect on equity, on opportunity, and indeed on research impact. In other words, many of these discussions contend that research funding could work much better to address development needs. To contribute to this debate, GlobalDev is partnering with the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR). We’re seeking to bring to the fore the critical knowledge that researchers and funders have generated on funding approaches in recent years. We hope to share existing evidence and evidence-informed opinions on this niche topic, to further illuminate the practice of donors of all kinds (international, national, private and public). We are open to contributions from both research funders and researchers. If you have additional questions you would like to ask (and answer), please write to us.
There are several areas of contention surrounding research funding approaches. To start with, research funders care increasingly about research impact on development policy and practice. Impact, however, is itself a topic of research, with no clear benchmark for how to use it in research funding decisions (which, by definition, happen before any impact is even foreseeable). What is the emphasis on impact doing to the research funding landscape?
Another area of debate is how close funders should be to the realities their funding aims to illuminate, and how flexible they should be to account for developments on the ground. Can a balance be struck between ambition, scope and a good knowledge of local systems? How is the imperative of closeness to the development setting likely to affect the research funding landscape?
Much debate also continues on who development research funding is really meant for. Large Northern research funders often make it a condition for the funding to be managed by their own national institutions, and ‘helicopter research’ remains common. Most often, researchers in in low- and middle-income countries (irrespective of their qualifications and capacity) are still cornered in the subsidiary role of ‘local partners’ or targeted by ‘capacity building’ budgets. Is there a ‘nationalism’ in the development of research funding practices, and how does it affect research?
Finally, much of the research funded by international donors ends up behind paywalls, with so-called developed country researchers being able to access it much more easily than anyone else. Can the increasing pressure to seriously pursue open-access policies help tackle the systemic inequities in development research?
Here, we’ve outlined just some of the complexities and controversies that arise around research funding approaches. Drawing on their own experience, we invite researchers and research funders to write a blog about the impact of funding approaches on research. Blog posts should be around 800 words with a focus on any of the following key points (the list is indicative and not exhaustive):
1. How, if at all, does an emphasis on research impact affect what research gets funded?
2. To what extent are so-called developing country researchers involved in the funding process and can this be improved upon?
3. As a researcher or funder, can you envision a mechanism for making research funding less fragmented?
4. How can funding approaches better support so-called developing country researchers and help build a more equitable research landscape?
 So-called developed countries refer to high-income economies that a GNI per capita of $13,846 or more in 2022
 So called developing countries refer to low- and middle-income countries with a GNI per capita of $13,845 and less in 2022