The power of convening: unveiling the role of UKCDR 

The power of convening: unveiling the role of UKCDR 
28 September, 2023

Andrea Padilla, UKCDR Research and Policy Officer

In the complex reality of international development, where challenges are multifaceted, funding faces constraints, and solutions require a broad combination of expertise, the significance of convening for joint action cannot be overlooked. In this era of interconnectedness and interdependence, collaborative efforts stand as the anchor of transformative change. For over a decade, the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) has played a pivotal role in bridging gaps, fostering collaboration, and igniting joint action to address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

UKCDR stands as a trusted convenor of UK development research, where funders and the research community unite under a shared purpose. Our unique role in bringing together funders and the research community (e.g., higher education institutions, research institutions and practitioners) has helped connect the dots between strategic decision making and practical implementation. Similarly, having a neutral and impartial stance allows us to act as a mediator and open dialogues that can enable the development of an evidence-based transdisciplinary ecosystem for development research. 

Funder-level dialogues: catalysing collaboration and coherence 

In a world where the challenges of development often transcend disciplines and borders, collaboration is not just desirable, it’s imperative. Bringing funders together under a shared umbrella not only prevents redundancy and overlaps but also leads to real-world joint actions with far-reaching potential to address development challenges. From tackling health emergencies to enhancing research methodologies, these dialogues shape the blueprint of development. 

Long-standing funder groups convened by UKCDR such as the Health Funders Forum and the Epidemic Preparedness and Response Group support their members in staying up-to-date with current and future research activities, as well as gaps and priorities in the UK global health research landscape. They also provide the opportunity to develop joint activities, gather valuable insights to inform future research calls, and align strategic approaches to shared topics of interest. 

Similarly, the Disasters Research Group and Research Capacity Strengthening Group have developed a mature collaborative atmosphere where members develop and share best practice and lessons learned to support leadership and coordination, inform decision-making, and enable coherent priority setting amongst members. 

Cultivating cross-funder international partnerships 

The core of UKCDR’s influence is its ability to cultivate partnerships that transcend individual organisations. Key partnerships from recent years include our COVID CIRCLE programme, co-led with the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R), and our well-received guidance on equitable partnerships (2022), co-produced with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ESSENCE on Health Research. More recently, we have co-hosted a virtual session on research impact with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) at the 78th UN General Assembly Science Summit (SSUNGA78). UKDCR has also played a pivotal role in the International Research for Development Funders Forum (IRDFF) since its inception. 

These partnerships represent the growing seeds of cross-funder cooperation. More than simply focusing on sharing information, they help strengthen the international research development ecosystem in the UK and around the world to co-create innovative solutions. Whether it’s responding to global pandemics or enabling impactful research, these partnerships exemplify the power of collaboration. 

Project-level convening: where expertise converges 

Zoom in, and you’ll see the power of UKCDR’s approach at the project level: as a matter of course, taskforces and expert groups are formed to advise on the development of our projects. Comprising members from different backgrounds and geographies, these groups bring together diverse voices in support of a common goal. Their expertise, like individual threads, weaves a tapestry of solutions. From mapping climate change investments to embedding equitable partnerships, these groups epitomise how collective wisdom can lead to innovative breakthroughs. 

The role of LMIC-based perspectives in helping steer our work is vital. The expert group for UKCDR’s recent report on REF2021 comprised 19 organisations, 36% of whom were LMIC-based. The taskforce assembled to support the development of our equitable partnerships guidance comprised 41 organisations, 39% of whom were LMIC-based.  

Bridging minds: funders and the researcher community 

Beyond project collaborations, UKCDR’s convening force ripples through the wider research community. Our recent events portfolio includes: our Annual Stakeholder Events (2022 and 2023); sessions at the annual UN General Assembly Science Summit (SSUNGA77 and SSUNGA78); and a suite of COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness events.  These events serve as platforms for funders, academics, policymakers, and practitioners to share ideas, goals, and concerns. Interactions between our panels and audience members deepen the understanding of relevant needs and priorities in the development sector and pave the way for insightful partnerships. 

UKCDR: convening for joint action 

UKCDR’s convening power is a driving force in the international development sector. It fosters collaboration, encourages the sharing of best practices, and enables the research community and funders to continuously work together and learn from other actors. In a sector marked by limited resources, uncertainties and changes in direction, this collaborative approach is more than beneficial: it’s essential for achieving meaningful progress toward Agenda2030 and the SDGs. Through its dedication to convening, UKCDR continues to show that collective action is crucial to overcoming the world’s most pressing challenges. 

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash

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