Looking back to move forward: new UKCDR report takes stock of lessons learned from the Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund

22 May, 2023

UKCDR’s new report, ‘Lessons learned from ODA research funds: A synthesis report of GCRF and Newton Fund evaluations’, draws on lessons from two major funding streams to provide forward-looking policy pointers to support decision making on future Official Development Assistance (ODA) research among UK development research funders.

Today, the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) has published a synthesis report of key findings from 11 evaluation documents published before July 2022 on the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and Newton Fund.

It is vital to capture lessons from the GCRF and Newton Fund given the significant investment made in the two funds (£1.5b to the former and £735m to the latter) as part of the UK government’s commitment to aid spending. This report will help ensure the legacy of the GCRF and Newton Fund while the new International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF), announced in December 2022, continues to evolve.

The GCRF and Newton Fund were the result of increased investments in development research following the 2015 Aid Strategy and subsequent UK Government commitment to allocate 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA.

In 2021, the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, succeeded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology or DSIT) announced the discontinuation of the GCRF and Newton Fund following the reduction of ODA from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. In contrast to its predecessors, the new ISPF will combine ODA and non-ODA funding. Further announcements on the ODA component of the fund are expected later in 2023.

UKCDR’s new report synthesises lessons learned from the previous two funds and provides policy pointers for government decision makers across seven thematic areas:
(1) Fund-level strategy and governance;
(2) Approach to funding;
(3) Partnering with Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs);
(4) Delivering development impact;
(5) Long-term sustainability;
(6) Monitoring results and Value for Money; and
(7) Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

Key insights from the report’s policy pointers include:

  • The UK research-funding landscape is historically complex, which calls for consistent efforts to provide coherence within large-scale investments, as well as among the wide range of organisations involved in managing and delivering other funding schemes.
  • It is essential to formulate an overarching vision for what a fund wants to achieve, how it wants to achieve it, how progress towards objectives will be measured, and who is accountable for driving priorities forward.
  • A fund’s ability to deliver its intended impact can be seriously hindered by a failure to account for adequate time frames for money to be allocated and spent and for programmes to be rolled out. Adequate time frames are essential to clearly define a fund’s strategic priorities, develop a fund-level ToC and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) mechanisms form the outset, and establish equitable partnerships with LMICs (including plans for co-creation and co-delivery).
  • Decision making around time frames is often outside the control of those responsible for designing and managing a fund and is likely to be influenced by changes in the political landscape.

In planning for a fund’s impact, three cross-cutting approaches can boost a fund’s ability to sustain it in the long-term: equitable partnerships with Low- and Middle-Income Countries (with a focus on improving LMIC ownership, and to-ways knowledge exchange); a deliberate focus on transdisciplinarity to maximise research impact and uptake beyond academia; and investments to strengthen the capacity of research ecosystems as a whole (instead of focusing on individual researchers).

The report also identifies the embedding of Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) principles and the establishment of a framework for monitoring the fund’s performance, impact and Value for Money (VfM) as core pillars that should shape future initiatives from the onset.

Read the report and annex

Report and Annex, ‘Lessons learned from ODA research funds: a synthesis report of GCRF and Newton Fund evaluations’

Notes to editors

UKCDR is a dedicated team of experts working to amplify the impact and value of UK’s research investment to address global challenges through mapping, improving best practices, coherence and joint action. We support government and research funders working in international development. Our core contributing members include: <br> Department for Science, Innovation & Technology Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Department of Health & Social Care UK Research and Innovation Wellcome

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