Strong research and innovation capacities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) underpin development. When all countries can contribute towards research on global issues such as climate, food security and epidemics, everyone benefits. Research capacity strengthening (RCS) is about developing people and institutions, fostering collaborations across disciplines and sectors, building supporting infrastructure, and a strong enabling environment for research and research actors to thrive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised that today’s challenges are global, and we can all benefit from efforts to enhance research capacity to address these challenges. UKCDR’s briefing paper published in October 2021 highlighted the extent of UK funders’ investment in RCS in LMICs between 2016 and 2021. This report asks what we have learnt from these investments in terms of best design, implementation and evaluation of RCS funds and programmes. Through synthesis of evidence from stakeholder interviews, a desk-based review and learning workshop five cross-cutting enablers have been identified to support effective RCS:

  • LMIC ownership of design and delivery of RCS
  • A long-term approach to support sustainability
  • Coordination across funders and programmes
  • Partnerships and collaboration to design and deliver RCS
  • Understanding impact of RCS initiatives

These enablers lead to recommendations for different stages of RCS funding and programming, which can feed into current and future research calls and programme design as well as informing those new to the field, contributing towards quality, sustainable and impactful RCS investments by UK funders.

About this Review

This learning report is part of a UKCDR-led cross-funder review of UK-funded research capacity strengthening (RCS) programmes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). In October 2021 UKCDR published a briefing paper mapping the extent of UK funders’ RCS investments from 2016-2021, totalling £873 million in standalone RCS programmes and £1.2 billion in programmes that embed a significant component of RCS, alongside 7 case study examples of research impact and coherence. This report builds upon this by collating learning from UK-funded RCS initiatives in LMICs, across disciplines, and providing recommendations for designing, implementing, and evaluating future funds and programmes.

This report is aimed at UK funders, senior decision-makers, programme leads and practitioners in RCS and oversight bodies for international development research funding.