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Sharing lessons learnt about strengthening research capacity in LMICs

26 Jun, 2014

Seven principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries: simple ideas in a complex worldThe Wellcome Trust devotes a significant proportion of funds to health-related research conducted outside the UK, supporting over 3000 researchers in more than 50 countries. We, and many other funders, have a long history in strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and that experience has been shared in a new document published today. Claire Cunliffe from the international activities team at the Wellcome Trust introduces the “Seven principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries”…

Researchers based in LMICs are often best placed to identify and address health challenges in their own countries but they face many challenges related to their research environments, such as underinvestment in research institutions and universities, poor career prospects, and lack of access to cutting edge research findings.

It is now increasingly recognised that in order to harbour the largely untapped talent pool in LMICs and harness it for health research, there needs to be direct investment to improve the ability of individuals and institutions to undertake high-quality research and to engage with the wider community of stakeholders. That is, direct investment in improving research excellence (or capacity strengthening efforts). Members of the ESSENCE on Health Research collaboration, such as the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Fogarty International Centre, Canada’s International Development Research Center, and the WHO’s special programme for research training (TDR) and the Wellcome Trust have a long supported these efforts. Contributions have been extremely varied, have evolved over time, and often have been embedded in larger research programmes, which makes it difficult to evaluate their impact.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 13.46.51Recognising the importance of sharing lessons learned, today, the ESSENCE on Health Research Initiative launches a new good practice document to provide broad guidance on how to strengthen research capacity in different contexts, including health based on their experience and a number of consultations.

Rather than being prescriptive, it is hoped that the “Seven principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries: simple ideas in a complex world”  will be used as a tool to generate discussion among anyone with a stake in improving research in LMICs, whether they are funders, researchers or policy makers. The document provides key guidance principles with illustrative examples and case studies to show how the principles have been used in practice, and identifies common barriers to their implementation, together with suggestions on how they can be addressed.

The seven principles identified in the publication were developed from the experiences of funders, researchers and research institutes engaged in research capacity strengthening. They are as follows:

  1. Network, collaborate, communicate and share experiences
  2. Understand the local context and accurately evaluate existing research capacity
  3. Ensure local ownership and secure active support
  4. Build in monitoring, evaluation and learning from the start
  5. Establish robust research governance and support structures, and promote effective leadership
  6. Embed strong support, supervision and mentorship structures
  7. Think long-term, be flexible and plan for continuity

Lessons from the Wellcome Trust’s own research capacity strengthening programmes have fed into the document. These include a case study focusing on our African Institutions Initiative, a £28 million programme linking 51 African institutions in 18 countries with 20 ‘northern partners’.

International activities adviser Marta Tufet, who led on the project at the Wellcome Trust, says “evaluating capacity strengthening efforts is challenging, but it is nonetheless essential that we try to gain an understanding of what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and what lessons we can take forward to better inform the design and implementation of new programmes.”

You can read “Seven principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries” in full and find out more about ESSENCE on their website. This good practice guide is the third in a series of documents developed by ESSENCE to share the lessons learnt by funders, researchers and institutes involved in capacity strengthening. The two other documents in the series are: “Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for Capacity Strengthening in Health Research” and “Five keys to improving research costing in low- and middle-income countries“.


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