Survey analysis

The purpose of this survey was to inform the planning of the first (context-setting) seminar and the framings of the series as a whole. An initial thematic-cluster analysis was conducted based on 38 responses, however, the survey remains open until the day before the first seminar: 25th February 2015

The survey was structured around the following three sections:

  • Motivations and expectations for the seminar series (including assumptions to interrogate)
  • Experience of research partnerships
  • Use of evidence

Motivations and expectations

QUESTION: Why are you interested in participating in the series?

1. Improving current practice

  • identifying good practice/principles for partnership
  • reflecting on previous practice
  • learning from different perspectives (across organisations and sectors)

2. Conceptual interest in the topic

  • unpacking hierarchies of knowledge/evidence regimes
  • concern about what evidence is valued
  • concern with misuses of evidence
  • interest in dominance of Northern-led evidence
  • interest in dynamics of participation
  • interest in interdisciplinarity
  • interest in the role of Higher Education in development

3. Interest in capacity building

  • improving the organisation’s research portfolio
  • identifying key research literacies/skills
  • knowing where to invest research
  • understanding different ways of disseminating (e.g. academic publication v policy brief)
  • improving impact/civil-society engagement in Higher Education
  • supporting students

QUESTION: What are your expectations/hopes for this seminar series?

1. Better conceptual understanding of partnerships

  • identifying challenges
  • identifying markers of success
  • identifying the full range of evidence its possible to produce
  • understanding of role of partnership in wider debates around HE/impact

2. Mobilising a common project

  • becoming part of a new network/community of interest
  • feeling solidarity with others struggling with similar issues
  • developing a collective response to common challenge

3. Dialogue

  • Space for critical reflection
  • Understanding expectations of other partners
  • Learning from different sectors

4. Outputs

  • developing a “how to” of partnership
  • developing resources to share with policy-makers to inspire/focus attention and contribute to ‘high level dialogue’

QUESTION: List any assumptions/stereotypes about research partnerships that you would like to unpack

1. Labels

  • the terms ‘academics’ and ‘practitioners’ (and policy makers) are meaningful (clear, homogenous etc.)

2. Skills/knowledge

  • Practitioners can’t be researchers (don’t have research skills/knowledge)
  • NGOs provide the data and universities the theory – or NGOs provide the populations under study and academics provide the brains.
  • Academics can solve NGOs problems surrounding evidence
  • Practitioners respond to academic knowledge as if it is superior to their own, even if they have lots of experiential evidence that their knowledge is valid.
  • Northern institutions have a stronger academic discipline than southern institutions

3. Theory/practice

  • Theory is academic and abstract, it is separate from practice and does not emerge through or from practice (or underlie practice), it is an absolute.
  • Academics down-play theory when working with NGOs
  • Academic research is too theoretical to be useful

4. Language

  • NGOs and academics speak different languages
  • NGOs (and donors) simplify the research questions, whereas academics are more comfortable with complexity

5. Ways of working/relationships/personalities

  • Academics are ego driven, NGO staff collaborative
  • NGOs are closer to people on the ground, and understand local people and their context, whereas academics are distance and detached
  • Academics are in the driving seat of these ‘research’ partnerships
  • Academics are so slow, NGOs are just go go go

6. Agendas/values

  • NGOs do research as a means to an end, whereas academics see research as open exploration or an end in itself.
  • NGOs care about social change, academics only care about the research question
  • Evaluation and research are distinct

7. Partnership

  • That partnerships are always positive
  • The differences in agenda, time-frames, motivations etc. are insurmountable

Experience of research partnerships

QUESTION: What factors have in your experience contributed to good participation in partnerships?

1. Common goals/understandings

  • clear/shared understandings of terms/language/ideas
  • clear/shared/tangible agenda
  • shared politics/values
  • clear/shared understanding of roles/responsibilities

2. Explicit participatory process :

  • commitment to co-production
  • shared credit for partnership’s accomplishments
  • shared ownership of branding and outputs
  • good communication
  • critical reflection throughout
  • explicit recognition of power dynamics
  • openness to learning
  • willingness to admit mistakes/compromise

3. Good relations

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Face-to-face contact
  • Understanding of different institutional constraints on both sides

4. Commitment

  • Interest and enthusiasm on both sides
  • Time to commit
  • Adequate (and equitable) funding
  • Delivering on objectives
  • Institutional support so that the work is valued

5. Appropriate skills

  • Professionalism
  • good management/planning/experienced coordinator
  • appropriate research skills

6. A learning/training/capacity-building component

QUESTION: What factors have in your experience posed challenges to participation in partnerships?

1. Conflicting goals/understandings/languages/values

2. Poor communication/relations

  • lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • insufficient/irregular/unstructured communication
  • failure to re-think
  • bad relations/mistrust

3. Power imbalances

  • hierarchies of ‘expertise’
  • unequal ownership of partnership
  • tokenistic partner involvement (e.g. invitations to potential Southern partners after project has started)

4. Lack of commitment

  • lack of enthusiasm
  • lack of time to commit

5. Logistics

  • conflicting time-scales
  • different institutional capacities/infrastructures (e.g. internet)
  • different time zones
  • inadequate funding

6. Rigid funding requirements

  • outputs preempting research design
  • partnership based on opportunistic funding rather than genuine need
  • Inequitable allocation of resources
  • Micro-management by funders/donors
  • ‘consultancy culture’ or ‘subcontracting’ types of partnerships favour alienated/individual ways of working and focus more on deliverables than process

7. Lack of skills/capacity

  • Unqualified/underperforming partners
  • lack of research capacity/skills/rigour
  • bad management/poor planning

use of evidence

QUESTION: What are the most valuable types of evidence you draw on in your work?

Interviews/focus groups (47)

Evaluation reports (38)

Academic research (33)

Personal testimony/direct experience/observation (17)

Policy Briefs (16)

Statistical databases (15)

Systematic reviews (9)

Collaborative Action Research (8)

Newsletters/bulletins (4)

Public archives (3)

Visual data (2)

Media articles (2)

Research resources – supporting methodology (1)

Workshop documentation (1)

QUESTION: What are the least useful types of evidence to your work?

Statistical databases

  • messy/unreliable
  • reductionist/miss nuance
  • decontextualized/depoliticized
  • obscure voices /
  • inaccessible without advanced skills
  • (but useful as ‘background data’)

Personal testimony/anecdote

  • not seen as legitimate/rigorous
  • needs additional research to back-up
  • less useful to central offices though can provide ‘powerful stories’

Public archives

  • takes time to access
  • no ‘quality control’
  • less relevant to contemporary research

Media articles

  • developed for other purposes (different agenda) so not research
  • “fiction agents” / biased
  • over-simplistic
  • (though may help to identify emerging issues)

Academic research

  • can be detached from practice and over-theoretical
  • lack of time to read lengthy articles
  • inaccessible


  • makes grand claims/ too much focus on the positive (fundraising agendas)
  • not generalizable
  • often lack rigour
  • Is this research???


  • not research
  • “too slick”
  • but can provide helpful links to other resources

Visual data

  • not compatible with report format


  • no capacity (“time and academic skill”) to collect/analyse


  • Need for triangulation across different sources of evidence
  • Type of evidence will depend on nature of task

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