Program Rationale

The environment for undertaking socially relevant and useful research in developing countries is most often characterized by both systemic and extraneous factors that lead to low research capacity, under-investment in research, poor infrastructure and incentives, resulting in sub-standard quality of research, poor advice to governments, and unused or unusable knowledge. This ultimately also impacts the quality of public opinion and policy discourse in these countries, as well as the capacity of GDN and other global stakeholders to tailor their interventions, ultimately expected to enhance local research capacity. [See GDN's overall strategy that promotes local research to build better lives.]

There is a vicious circle of under-investment and poor performance in research in developing countries, especially in the social sciences. Lagging infrastructure, absence of a research strategy and cohesive policy at national level, and lack of a professional cadre of research leaders and mentors for younger researchers or a critical mass of peers are just some of the main causes for this trend of under-performance. The underlying conditions in both the research environment at country level and organizational policies and practices translate into poor incentives and opportunities to carry out world class, solid, relevant social science research with the potential to impact policies and lives. As a result, currently most of the research applied to development is carried out by researchers in universities in Europe and North America. In 2012 for example, the share of the world’s research articles with at least one African author was only 2.3 % according to SCOPUS data.

Research systems analysis, we argue, is key to understand the poor performance of social science research in developing countries. Reliable and consistent knowledge on research systems will allow research and development actors to answer questions which are currently difficult to tackle in absence of the relevant performance metrics. How does local research fit in the development agenda and is this role played effectively and sustainably? What are the individual, organizational and institutional factors that impact the social and political process of doing research? What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of Southern research systems and how to build on them?

To answer these questions, GDN launched a pilot phase for the program to assess different methodologies for studying the research environment and identify barriers and challenges to doing research in developing countries. Nine studies were produced employing distinct research methods, all yielding very interesting results and lessons learned regarding the advantages and limitations of the various approaches, particularly with regard to data. See related publications.

In several of the participating countries, the pilot case studieswere the first analytical exercises aiming to discuss in detail the issues and challenges linked to the research environment. They identified the aspects that matter most when looking at social science research systems. GDN produced a synthesis of the pilot phase and engaged in a large consultation to scale up the program and build the Doing Research Framework, an analytical framework for assessing and benchmarking the performance of social science research systems in developing countries. 


The program spans a timeline of 36 months with an inception phase and a global roll-out of Doing Research Assessments. Depending on continued demand and funding, GDN’s long-term objective is to turn it into a regular, periodic exercise with wide coverage, which would allow the comparative perspective between countries to be fully capitalized on, as well as the time dimension, to trace effects of certain research policy reforms introduced at the national or institutional level. The program’s business model is thought to ensure sustainability and is very service-oriented with the aim to meet a demand from donors and governments who would like more information on their research systems. It may result in “premium” Doing Research Assessments being implemented with a tailored focus on a client’s (national government or donor) specific interests. In the longer run, this may also take the form of a self-assessment online tool.

For further information contact Clément Gévaudan, Senior Program Associate, GDN.

“This project has made me reflect and become very clear about (this): you can't just act as if you're a researcher, because the context is so weak. You have to be a researcher, at the same time as you push your context forward, to be more nourishing, healthy, to enable you to do your work in a better way.”

María Balarin
Investigadora Principal