What happened when IIED focused on research quality?
Today IIED publishes an outline of 'our thinking' on research ethics, an output of our most recent strategy's 'research quality' objective. With our current strategy period at an end, and a brand new strategy launched this month, it is time to reflect on why we pursued that objective and where we might go next.
IIED has always taken its commitment to producing high-quality, policy-relevant research seriously – and has invested time, effort and financial resources in reflecting on the standards of research and in supporting researchers in achieving excellence in this area.
During the 2009-2014 strategy we formalised this into an objective on Research Quality, supported by a team of staff (both researchers and non-researchers) who have engaged with and contributed to the institute's thinking and practice on the topic.
What we did
First, we continued developing our thinking on what we mean by quality research and how we articulate this to our varied stakeholders, from project partners to donors. The result was the 'Our thinking… research excellence' publication.
This process involved:
- Formal and informal discussions with institutions aiming at similar goals (particularly with the World Resources Institute, Overseas Development Institute and the International Development Research Centre)
- Participation alongside other like-minded organisations in conferences on research quality and evaluation
- Hosting a joint workshop with the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum to explore how to implement our ideas alongside in-country partners.
Second, we strengthened investment in our researchers. We provided funding to buy access to more academic research. We organised training workshops to sharpen understanding around research approaches. And, we provided funded time, which staff could spend on non-project activities such as writing journal papers.
Was it worth it?
There appears to be a general conclusion within IIED that having a formal objective — and team — for this topic enabled important things to take place which might not otherwise have happened. There remains a continued demand for support to continue, especially among younger research staff, who are consciously trying to develop their skills.
Many of the activities are worth continuing and extending. There is still a need to make additional research resources available. With the potential for a growing cohort of early-career researchers in the institute there will be an increased requirement to provide support and training in research skills to IIED staff.
And we will develop new approaches to reflect on and assess the quality of our research to make sure that we continue to provide high quality evidence to support policy to build a fairer and more sustainable world.
David Dodman is a senior researcher in IIED's human settlements group (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Download Research ethics: Putting our principles into practice
Download Towards excellence: policy and action research for sustainable development