Research Report and Learning Resources: Promoting fair and equitable research partnerships to respond to global challenges


Working in partnership is increasingly encouraged in the international development research sector. Initiatives such as the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund promote ‘fair and equitable partnerships’ between different stakeholders but recognize the challenges this involves. A new report and learning resources offer fresh insights into how collaboration works in practice and how it might be improved.

In 2018, the Rethinking Research Collaborative implemented a programme of strategic research and capacity strengthening funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that aimed to improve policy and practice in research collaboration. It generated new data and practical tools informed by the perspectives of three key groups of ‘research partner’: academics and practitioners based in the global South and UK-based international brokers and NGOs. The project took a systemic approach to understanding collaboration. Speaking on behalf of the Collaborative, Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Co-Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education) explains:

“Research partnerships do not exist in isolation. They are part of a complex knowledge-for-development ecosystem, which includes research agenda-setting and governance alongside production, communication, uptake, adaptation and use. So it’s important to rethink fair and equitable collaboration across that whole system. This will allow us to respond to locally defined development agendas, to map and incorporate the relevant actors, to utilize the myriad of knowledge and skills that actors bring, and to take an adaptive and learning-oriented approach to collaboration.”

The report presents findings from the project, and identifies eight principles for different stakeholder groups to apply to engage with the politics of partnerships:

  1. Put poverty first. Constantly question how research is addressing the end goal of reducing poverty through better design and evaluation of responsive pathways to development impact.
  2. Critically engage with context(s). Consider the global representativeness of partnerships and governance systems and commit to strengthening research ecosystems in the global South.
  3. Redress evidence hierarchies. Incentivise intellectual leadership by Southern-based academics and civil society practitioners and engage communities throughout.
  4. Adapt and respond. Take an adaptive approach that is responsive to context.
  5. Respect diversity of knowledge and skills. Take time to explore the knowledge, skills and experience that each partner brings and consider different ways of representing research.
  6. Commit to transparency. Put in place a code of conduct or memorandum of understanding that commits to transparency in all aspects of the project administration and budgeting.
  7. Invest in relationships. Create spaces and commit funded time to establish, nurture and sustain relationships at the individual and institutional level.
  8. Keep learning. Reflect critically within and beyond the partnership.

The report provides the background to a set of practical resources – an introduction, six modules and nine written and audio case studies – that different stakeholder groups can use to translate these principles into practice.

The Rethinking Research Collaborative is an informal international network of academics, civil society organisations, international NGOs, and research support providers who are committed to working together to encourage more inclusive, responsive collaborations to produce useful and accessible development research. RRC first came together to understand and develop principles and practice to support ‘fair and equitable partnerships’ in response to global development challenges. Going forward, the collaborative is planning a series of initiatives to encourage more diverse participation and leadership in the field of international development research.

UK Research and Innovation is a new body, which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.

For further information please contact:

Jude Fransman (Open University) on behalf of the RRC:

Tracey Jewitt (UKRI):

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s