International research and development projects (or grand challenge projects) consist of multicultural, multi-country, multi-sectoral, and multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at poverty reduction. They are usually conceived as partnerships between actors in the global north–south. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major unexpected disruption to ongoing projects and challenged their already complex management. The aim of this paper is to present evidence on how international development projects were impacted by COVID-19 with a particular focus on the relationship between research institutions in the north and south. We conducted a mixed-methods research study, combining a reflective exercise with the co-author team and a survey with principal investigators, project managers, and capacity development leads drawn from 31 Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) projects funded through the UK government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) and focused on social–ecological system research. The survey contained closed- and open-ended questions in order to (i) demonstrate how those involved in managing projects adapted to risks, including both threats and opportunities, presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and (ii) consider the implications for tailoring adaptive management approaches in international research projects amidst uncertainties, with a special focus on enhancing equities in global north–south partnerships. The paper offers the following recommendations on designing, planning, and implementing international research and development projects: (i) devolve project management in order to enhance project resilience and improve north–south equities; (ii) allocate dedicated resources to enable equitable north–south research partnerships; (iii) rely more on hybrid and agile approaches for managing a project’s life cycle; and (iv) improve resource flexibility, transparency, and communication through enhanced funder–implementer collaboration.
|Number of pages||22|
|Publication status||Published (in print/issue) - 31 Mar 2023|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was funded through the following Global Challenges Research Fund projects supported by the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI): The GCRF Agricultural and Food Systems Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising Policy (AFRICAP) program, grant number BB/P027784/1; the GCRF Blue Communities project, NERC grant number NE/P021107/2, which is also partially hosted by Universiti Malaya under reference no. IF052-2017; the Building Research Capacity for sustainable water and food security in drylands of sub-Saharan Africa (BRECcIA), grant number NE/P021093/1; the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) One Health Regional Network for the Horn of Africa (HORN) Project, from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) (project number: BB/P027954/1); the research capacity building and knowledge generation to support preparedness and response to humanitarian crises and epidemics (RECAP) project, grant number ES/P010873/1; the SAFEWATER project—low-cost technologies for safe drinking water in developing regions are supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through grant reference EP/P032427/1; and the Sentinel project, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund program—growing research capabilities to meet the challenges faced by developing countries (“Grow”), grant number ES/P011306/1.
The aim of this paper is to present evidence on how international research and development projects were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. By critically reflecting on these experiences, we offer insight into designing and planning such projects amidst global uncertainties, which include pandemics and may also extend to violent conflicts, natural disasters, acute political instabilities, and global financial crises. In particular, we aim to provide recommendations to enhance north–south relationships through more equitable practices, which will strengthen the resilience of project partners when facing ‘unknown–unknown’ risks that cannot be identified as part of project planning exercises and, therefore, cannot be managed through standard mitigation strategies and/or contingency planning. Our recommendations stem from our collective involvement from 2018 to 2022 in the management of multi-stakeholder projects funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) as part of the UK government’s ODA. We present the results of a study conducted with principal investigators, project managers, and researchers from 31 different GCRF projects focusing on social–ecological system research in order to (i) demonstrate how those involved in managing projects attempted to adapt to risks, inclusive of both negative risks (threats) and positive risks (opportunities), presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and (ii) consider the implications of those tailoring project management approaches within international research and development projects that have a special focus on enhancing equities within north–south partnerships. The paper contributes to the existing literature in several ways. It represents one of the few COVID-19 impact assessments on international development research. It surveys projects belonging to two large ODA programmes funded by the same donor, thus easing the comparison of projects within a similar donor policy and institutional context. Finally, it provides a critical reflection of the north–south collaboration in research and development using the COVID-19 crisis as a unique opportunity to observe, evaluate, and revise the status of this relationship after more than a decade of calling for more equitable north–south research partnerships and decolonizing academia.
© 2023 by the authors.
- Official Development Assistance
- Global Challenges Research Fund
- capacity development
- project management
- international development
- global north–south research collaboration
- social–ecological system research