Excellent research at IIED: informed and engaged for impact

IIED aims to build a 'fairer, more sustainable world, using evidence, action and influence in partnership with others'. Making sure the evidence is of the highest quality is central to our credibility and to the influence we can have. A refreshed framework now sits alongside peer review and ethics processes to support our research excellence goal.

IIED senior researcher Susannah Fisher conducts research in Gorakhpur in India (Photo: David Dodman/IIED)

Generating high quality evidence is key to creating positive outcomes: providing decision-makers with recommendations to support confident decision making, ensuring value for money for funders, and giving a voice to local communities with whom we build partnerships. 

Excellent research at IIED strives to be informed and engaged for impact. This framework, along with our peer review and ethics processes, outlines IIED's principles and approaches for achieving research excellence. It describes a benchmark against which we assess research quality and outlines the ways in which we support IIED staff to develop their research skills. 

The framework refreshes and strengthens our previous framing of research excellence as requiring serious consideration of rigour, ethics, results and process.

Informed

Informed research at IIED aims to generate evidence to a high standard, by using appropriate and rigorous methods. 

We consider evidence to be the available body of facts, data and information that indicate whether a belief or proposition is true or valid, recognising that different types of evidence are needed to create impact. We embrace mixed methods and pragmatism in research, striving to exceed recognised standards of rigour and reliability. 

Local participation and knowledge are core to the process of building better evidence. We engage critically in both qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection, drawing on both theory and data-based approaches. We recognise that research must be context sensitive, representative and innovative, driven by the voice of local communities, organisations and governments. 

Aware of contextual and resource limits, we are transparent and triangulate our research to maintain rigour. For these reasons we embrace multiple forms of data, methods and perspectives, always seeking to test different theories and explanations, exploring the variety of experiences to be represented. 

We measure how well informed our research is through making sure our staff are well trained in research methods, and through reviews of our work (including independent peer review of IIED knowledge products, and publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals).

Engaged

Achieving research excellence at IIED is supported by engaging with partners, local communities and governments, drawing from their experience as a community of knowledge and practice. Our engaged evidence is produced by, with, and alongside our collaborators. We act as facilitators, convenors and active participants in addressing local issues, seeking to influence policy and practice and challenge perceived wisdom. 

Our efforts not only to understand the world, but to change it, mean that impact is at the heart of our work.

We engage with low income households and communities, whose experience and knowledge have often been neglected and who are marginalised by decision makers. 

Engaging in this way requires an understanding of power and politics and we recognise the effect that our own position and way of interacting can have on research approaches. We engage with diverse communities by using a selection of context-sensitive research methods and communications strategies for targeted impact across audiences, ranging from academic communities to practitioners and policymakers.

Impact

Having a positive impact on policy and practice to promote change that benefits people on low or no income and benefits the environment is a central component of research excellence at IIED. We engage in a variety of courses of action – pathways – leading to impact representative of the diversity and ambition of our partners and audience.

In following these pathways we prepare the ground for major shifts in policies and practice, enabling emergent positive and sustainable behaviours, and facilitating improvements in ecosystems and socio-economic systems. 

We assess and assert our impact by critically evaluating our research; analysing how our evidence contributes to changes in policies at local, national and global levels, for example, and assessing our academic impacts through citations of journal articles. 

At IIED we are serious about monitoring and evaluating our work. To assess our effectiveness and impact we have moved away from the traditional M&E question "are we making a difference?", to humbler and more searching questions, such as "what is making a difference?", and "what has changed, for whom, under what circumstances, how and why?".

For this reason, we assess the quality of our research and the extent of our influence against a set of criteria that goes beyond standard academic citations by investigating:

  • How our work affects changes in the body of evidence 
  • Changes in interactions, liaison and power dynamics 
  • Changes in the capacities of our partners to co-generate and use evidence, and
  • Changes in policies and practice. 

Moving towards more excellent research? 

IIED staff are supported to develop their own skills through performance development reviews and ensuing professional development in research. Our ways of working, particularly our focus on strong and meaningful partnerships with a range of knowledgeable groups, challenge us to improve the quality of our work. 

Our civil society partners continually challenge us to be more engaged, while our academic partners help us to be better informed. Our efforts not only to understand the world, but to change it, mean that impact is at the heart of our work.

Resources

Towards excellence: policy and action research for sustainable development (2012), IIED Pocketbook

Our research: striving towards excellence, blog by David Dodman (2012)