Image: USAID Today saw the launch of the latest ESSENCE Group report – “Seven principles for strengthening research capacity in low- and middle-income countries:...
At UKCDS, we’ve been working with MRC to map out RCS initiatives in health, aware that a huge amount is going on beyond what the funders in our immediate orbit are doing.
**The full report is now available to view here**
The term ‘capacity strengthening’ may once have been a fresh new buzzword to describe technical assistance activities, but it’s now firmly entrenched in the international development lexicon. But what does it really entail? Who’s doing it, and where, and how? At UKCDS, we’ve been working with the Medical Research Council (MRC) to map out research capacity strengthening (RCS) initiatives in health, aware that a huge amount is going on beyond what the funders in our immediate orbit are doing.
While there’s some degree of consensus around what advancing research capacity in low and middle income countries (LMICs) means, in part forged by initiatives like ESSENCE, research capacity strengthening isn’t a straightforward term. Not only are there debates around a terminology that at best sounds vague and at worst imbalanced and semi- or post-colonial, but increasingly it’s hard to define where research in partnership ends and capacity strengthening begins. Many of the activities and schemes which are significantly improving research quality in LMICs fall outside funders’ designated RCS portfolios, with funders increasingly embedding capacity strengthening across their research programmes. Thus a whole array of programmes, scholarships, prizes, regulatory and ethics boards fall under the capacious umbrella of the health RCS ‘ecosystem’.
Through a mix of database analysis and semi-structured interviews, our mapping has helped substantiate some anecdotally-held ideas. As a taster, our report (coming soon!) found that:
Despite funders’ differing visions, collaboration and multi-funder cooperation in RCS is increasingly the norm, reflecting the growing tendency for joint funding in global health research more broadly. 35% of the programmes we profiled involve more than one funder, and this figure would be even higher if we had been able to separate out activities from multi-donor organisations, like the EDCTP, into their various constituent funders.
In the wake of the Ebola crisis, it is likely capacity strengthening will only become a more urgent priority to support high quality, site-specific health research to respond to the growing burden of emerging zoonotic and drug resistant diseases, as well as non-communicable diseases, worldwide. It is only through a collaborative approach, which is responsive to locally defined agendas and which frames RCS as a “two-way street”, that more sustainable and equitable research partnerships will come about.