Rapid Evidence Assessment and Country – Specific Needs Assessments in Seven African Countries




Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

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Studying opportunities for research system strengthening in low-and-middle-income countries for the Department of International Development (now the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office).

Research systems that enable researchers, funders, and users of research to work together productively are an important component of economic development. As well as producing research outputs and expertise that can guide economic, social and political development, research systems help to create a culture of critical, evidence-informed thinking. They help frame debates, shift social norms, increase participation and promote inclusion. Strong research systems increase human capital, underpin the transition to knowledge-based economies, and promote innovation.

In late 2018, Research Consulting was commissioned by the Department for International Development (DFID) to undertake a study of research system strengthening in low-and-medium-income countries (LMICs). This work informed the Strengthening Research institutions in Africa (SRIA) programme.

The scope included two phases (i) a rapid evidence assessment (REA) of research capacity strengthening interventions in LMICs and (ii) an analysis of the needs and strengths if the research system in seven African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).

This is the first review aiming to systematically assess research systems using a replicable methodology comprising of 104 qualitative and quantitative indicators. Key findings from this work highlighted critical gaps and needs within each country evaluated, including underinvestment in research infrastructure (both physical and digital), low researcher numbers, the vocational nature of universities, and an incomplete and under-resourced national institutional framework. For example, the gross national expenditure in research and development fluctuates considerably, from below 0.2% of GDP in Uganda to 0.8% of GDP in Kenya. And, while the research produced in the in-scope countries has good international visibility, its influence on domestic economic, social or environmental issues is limited.

Priority areas for intervention are interventions aimed at government entities, research organisations or research intermediaries and recommendations aimed at both national and subnational actors. Three factors which donors should consider when planning their interventions are: (i) the role of research capacity within a country’s existing socio-economic strategy, as framed by the government and other key national stakeholders – this determines which research capacity strengthening interventions are acceptable; (ii) the maturity of the research system and the constraints (financial, administrative and cultural) to its development in determining achievable objectives; (iii) existing stakeholder relations and the identification of credible local partners and allies in determining effective strategies.