High-quality research allows us to provide decision makers with evidence and recommendations to support confident decision making.
Our vision for excellent research, overseen by our research strategy team, goes beyond traditional academic models of rigour and reliability, and instead strives to be ‘informed and engaged for impact’:
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. 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 believe that achieving research excellence is supported by engaging with partners, local communities and governments and drawing on 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 co-creating evidence and addressing local issues, seeking to influence policy and practice and challenge perceived wisdom.
We engage with low income households and communities, whose experience and knowledge are often marginalised by decision makers. This requires an understanding of power and politics; we recognise the effect that our position and way of interacting can have on research approaches.
We engage with diverse communities using a range of context-sensitive research methods and communications strategies for targeted impact across audiences ranging from academic communities to practitioners and policymakers.
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 assess our impact by critically monitoring and evaluating our work; analysing how our evidence contributes to policy change, and reviewing our academic impact through citations of journal articles.
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 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.
Read four key examples of how our work has achieved impact. We also have a collection of case studies showing the evidence of the impact of our communications work.
Improving research quality
We support our staff to develop their skills by undertaking performance development reviews and ensuing professional development, and in 2018 implemented a new staff induction session for research staff that focuses on research approaches and quality.
Our focus on strong and meaningful partnerships with a range of knowledgeable groups challenges us to improve the quality of our work: our civil society partners challenge us to be more engaged, while our academic partners help us to be better informed.
- Towards excellence: policy and action research for sustainable development (2012), IIED Pocketbook
- Our research: striving towards excellence, blog by David Dodman (2012)
Integrity and ethics
IIED addresses the issues of integrity and ethics with a clear policy statement and practical mechanisms designed to ensure that we put our principles into practice.
Our policy (PDF) aims to ensure that IIED's research meets a set of agreed ethical standards, and provides guidance on how to integrate ethical considerations into the design and conduct of IIED research, partnerships and policy engagement activities.
We have also put in place practical mechanisms designed to ensure that our ethical policy is backed up by action. These measures include an Ethics Review Form, a Research Ethics Committee, consultation and communication processes and a complaints handling procedure.
In May 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we published supplementary guidance on research ethics and COVID-19 (PDF). This includes general guidance on issues that need to be considered, a form for documenting any necessary decisions about changes to the ethical situation in which research is being conducted, and a decision-tree to guide the process of considering any new ethical concerns.
Our policy applies to everyone carrying out research, partnership or policy engagement activities under IIED's auspices. This includes all staff, visiting researchers, associates and people conducting research on IIED's behalf. The guiding principle is that research ethics will be taken seriously throughout project planning and proposal development, and will guide the ongoing conduct of research and its dissemination.
We recognise that ensuring high ethical standards requires continued reflection and engagement, and our policy document is intended to function as a guide, to be revised and improved on over time, rather than a fixed statement of our position.
Transparency and disclosure
We are committed to being transparent: fully disclosing research information to participants and publishing our findings openly. When this might not be appropriate, for example when publishing sensitive information that could put a community at risk, we will give special consideration to the ethical implications of our actions.
Working with partners
IIED has an international reputation for its work with partners. We stress the importance of discussing ethical considerations when establishing partnerships. This is especially important when partnering with the private sector.
Awareness of impact
A central concern is an awareness of possible consequences for research subjects, respondents, local communities and wider society. Much of IIED's research involves environmentally and socially vulnerable groups, and ethical considerations are particularly important where research involves children, vulnerable adults or groups, where there are risks to safety or of environmental damage, and where the research is politically, socially or culturally sensitive. David Dodman, the director of IIED's Human Settlements research group, highlighted the importance of thinking about the consequences of research work in a blog in June 2017.
2021/22 statement on research integrity
IIED has ongoing mechanisms to support research integrity.
The institute's research strategy team (RST) is a leadership team with the following responsibilities:
- To act as a high-level forum for issues affecting research strategy and performance across the institute
- To focus on content (issues of strategic fit) and improving and delivering strategy (horizon scanning, learning, incubation and common messaging), and
- To focus on whole-IIED and cross-IIED issues, in order to build intelligently on the best of IIED’s current approaches and knowledge.
It meets eight times per year, and includes representatives from all of the institute’s rgsearch Groups, as well from the Communications Group and Strategy and Learning Group. RST activities in 2021/22 included supporting the induction of new staff, improving the archiving of data from IIED projects, and contributing to learning and development pathways for researchers. It therefore supports and strengthens understanding and application of research integrity issues.
Research integrity is supported proactively through the research ethics committee. All projects above a given value are reviewed at proposal stage; and all other projects are reviewed before implementation. The research ethics policy provides both general guidance and specific checklists for raising ethical concerns with research.
Work is currently under way to update IIED’s safeguarding policies and procedures; updates will be posted on our website later in 2022. Instances of misconduct are covered in our disciplinary and dismissal policy. We believe that these mechanisms for identifying and dealing with allegations of misconduct are transparent, robust and fair, and that they continue to be appropriate to the needs of the organisation.
In 2021-22, no incidents of research misconduct were identified and investigated.
For more details about IIED's policy and actions on integrity and ethics, contact David Dodman (email@example.com), chair of IIED’s Research Ethics Committee and director of IIED's Human Settlements research group.
Peer review – rigorous, accountable and documented
To ensure that our research outputs are of the highest standard, our core evidence-based knowledge products are peer reviewed. Our formal peer review process enables researchers to consider and learn from expert perspectives, both internally and external to IIED.
The formal peer review procedure for our core evidence-based knowledge products – research reports, country reports and issue papers – builds consistent quality standards across the institute and contributes to research skills development. It is a rigorous, accountable and documented 'open and acknowledged' review process, which while being robust, is pragmatic and recognises researchers' many competing priorities.
For all other knowledge practice, researchers follow a quality-control sign-off process, to support achieving the best outputs, in which we, our partners and all our many stakeholders can have confidence.
The research quality framework and research ethics process were developed during the final years of our previous strategy, and our initial focus from 2019-24 will be to continue to embed these into IIED’s ways of working.
This will include continuing to refine the processes and guidelines, developing additional support material, and providing training.