Published on Let's Talk Development

Learning from past research: Bridging the science and policy divide through research capacity building partnerships

This page in:
Building partnerships Building partnerships

This blog entry is part of a series that highlights insights from research for development policies and practices, supported by the Knowledge for Change Program (KCP).

How can we establish a closer link between knowledge and policy responses? What is the best way to construct research partnerships so that analytical capacities of local stakeholders are truly enhanced after a development project concludes? And how do we help lower the barrier to knowledge so that benefits of development programs can be accrued more widely?

Over the years, we learned from implementing the KCP program that embedding research and analytical capacity building components into our work with local institutions through genuine long-term partnerships can considerably help bridge the science and policy divide. The traditional “retail” model of research engagements – where researchers follow a linear process to design, produce and disseminate analytical outputs – are gradually being replaced by a “wholesale” model, where human and institutional capacity-building activities are part and parcel of research endeavors.

In general, several approaches have surfaced: i) the first is an embedded, insider approach, where research members “go native” and play the role similar to staff of the local counterpart; ii) the second focuses on continuous involvement, where knowledge and learning become an integral part of the project, as opposed to being an afterthought; iii) the third is to leverage the installed capacity of local networks for institutional capacity building, and iv) lastly, whenever appropriate, providing appropriate incentives for internal teams can also be a direct way to encourage capacity building activities in research.

Here are a few practical examples on how to implement these strategies.

1. “Going Native”

In Madagascar, the KCP financed a project on performance-based contracting in customs administration, which followed a deeply collaborative approach in designing and implementing the project. As part of an IDA project, the research team provided the analytical backbone of a $40 million lending operation, and fully embedded itself into the implementation process, particularly on engaging local counterparts on developing and using analytical and statistical tools. The research team developed a new algorithm to help detect corruption between inspectors and brokers in customs transactions, which  improved revenue mobilization, enhanced efficiency in customs clearing, and most importantly, helped discover extortion and corruption. By playing the role of an analytical advisor embedded in the local team, and testing the success of different interventions, the researchers were able to ensure that the statistical tools that they developed (and the know-how on how to use the tools) would become a part of a home-grown solution, with genuine local ownership, and that they would continue to be used upon conclusion of the project itself.

2. Focusing on the Journey, Not (Just) the Destination

Sometimes, it’s the journey, not (just) the destination, that counts. In Mauritania, a data project on generating synthetic data for impact assessments and producing population models involved local stakeholders every step of the way, from developing the data model to testing, and to conducting the analysis. First, the research team trained national statistical offices and a local policy center in the development of a micro-simulation model, so as to initiate data analysis for deriving parameters for the model, and eventually on the implementation of the model. Additional population projection model (with modules on fertility, mortality, union formation, internal and external migration, and education modules) were developed, and the local Mauritanian counterparts were trained to replicate, test, and comment on all work done throughout the process. Similarly, in Kenya, KCP supported a project to evaluate the impact of regulatory reforms on patient safety reforms in public and private health facilities. Continuous technical assistance and training were delivered to government agencies and academic institutions at both central and local levels, including regulatory boards and councils, as well as the University of Nairobi, which was the government’s major partner leading the design, hosting, and development of data systems for the national scale-up. Now, the e-monitoring system and all processes for developing inspections have been systematized and made available to the Kenyan government. And the success of the project will now be scaled up to all 47 counties in Kenya. The continuous processes that our teams employed to truly engage, train, and pass on analytical skills is a durable and effective way to enhance local capacity.

3. Leveraging Local Networks

An efficient way to build capacity building at the institutional level is to tap into established local networks and to continue increasing the positive externalities of these networks. In order to build research and analytical capacity on environmental economics, we leveraged an established international network of research centers on environment and development - known as the Environment for Development Initiative (EfD). A wide range of support was provided on financing, mentorship, as well as outreach capabilities (which may be a weak point even for the most brilliant researchers!). In addition, the project team leader also participated in refereeing 15 research proposals, along with other members of the EfD Research Committee, and directly provided feedback to the candidate grant recipients. 

4. Dedicated Financing on Capacity Development

Internally, to provide incentives for teams to incorporate capacity building in their research endeavors, in the third phase of the program, we adopted a program design feature to set aside up to 15% of the available budget in each round of call for proposals for projects that have strong local capacity building potential. This strategy proved to be instrumental in encouraging the development of creative ideas to build human and institutional capacity in research, analytics, and data.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the traditional way of periodically organizing direct trainings, workshops and consultations should still remain a core capacity building tool; and dissemination events and communication products using more accessible formats are also critical to “reach the last mile” of policy discussions.

The authors would like to acknowledge contributions from the following projects under the guidance of task team leads (TTLs) and researchers:

Performance Pay in Customs –Evidence from Madagascar (TTLs: Bob Rijkers, Gael Raballand) ; Generation of Synthetic Data for Ex-ante Impact Assessments (TTL: Olivier Dupriez); Kenya Patient Safety Impact Evaluation (TTL: Jishnu Das); Hands-On Capacity Building in Environmental Economics: A Collaboration with the Environment for Development Initiative (TTL: Michael Toman).  

About the blog series: The Knowledge for Change Program (KCP) has launched a blog series to retrospectively highlight a selection of research projects conducted over the past 20 years, many of which still remain highly relevant and offer great lessons for development policies and practices today. Managed by the Development Economics Vice Presidency of the World Bank (DEC), the KCP promotes evidence-based policy making through research, data and analytics. To celebrate the KCP’s fourth phase launched in November 2020, this blog series will look into the wealth of knowledge researchers have generated in KCP’s previous phases, distill lessons learned, and inspire discussions on future research directions.


Kerina Wang

Senior Program Officer, Development Economics and Chief Economist

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000