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Rethinking Research Partnerships: Evidence and the politics of participation in academic-INGO research partnerships for international development

Project website/blog:

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

The aim of this seminar series is to better understand how research partnerships between universities and international INGOs work and how they might be improved to ensure that the research produced is relevant, rigorous and responsive to the needs of its users and beneficiaries.

To address this aim, the seminar series takes as its starting point the role of ‘evidence’ in research partnerships and is guided by the following questions:

  • where is evidence produced?
  • who controls it?
  • how is it valued and accessed?
  • who defines what good evidence is?
  • what are the implications for the types of methods, texts, technologies and tools used and skills valued in partnerships?
  • what are the implications for how different partners get to participate in different ways and at different stages of the research process?
  • could different types of participation in research partnerships lead to the production of different types of evidence?

There is already an ample body of research (produced by both academics and practitioners) which explores the interrelated issues of participation in partnerships for international development (e.g. Archer & Newman 2003, Burns et al 2011, Clarke and Oswald 2010, Holland 2013) and how different notions of evidence advanced by different stakeholder frame partnerships (e.g. Beardon and Newman 2011; Cornish & Gillespie, 2009; Cornish et al, under review; Eyben 2013; Newman 2011; Shutt 2011).

In order to integrate these two strands of thinking, we have started to explore the (opportunities for and constraints on) good participation in partnerships by focusing on the following levels:

  • Institutions (assumptions, agendas, structures, processes)
  • Research literacies (skills and communication practices required for effective co-production of research)
  • Research artefacts (tools, techniques, technologies; texts to support the research process)

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

The seminar series is a collaborative initiative which draws on the expertise and experience of a diverse range of academics , practitioners, brokers, policy-makers and funders in the sector to address the questions highlighted above.

Seminar 1 will take the form of a context-setting seminar. Participants will be invited to explore a range of perspectives/positions/ideas in order to develop a way of thinking through partnerships which will guide the remainder of the series. Seminars 2-5 will be structured around case studies of research partnerships (each co-presented by an academic and practitioner) and will be restricted to a core group of a smaller number of participants in order to create a safe space to facilitate trust and enable critical reflection of experiences in partnerships. Finally, in Seminar 6, the outcomes of the core seminars will be presented at a high-level conference which will also incorporate insights and perspectives from a range international contributors and UK delegates from other sectors.

By drawing together as co-researchers practitioners, academics and research students (who often occupy both roles simultaneously) the seminar series aims to democratise the status of both academics and practitioners as researchers. The series will result in the development of publications and resources to improve practice in research partnerships and inform a new research agenda.

Current activities

The first ‘context-setting’ seminar was held on Thursday 26th February 2015 (with a ‘ways of working’ workshop for the core seminar group on Friday 27th)

Findings and outputs

 Project impact

The impact of the project is reflected in the substantial participants list (available here: which includes funders/policy-makers/brokers/training organisations committed to supporting the initiative, disseminating findings across their extensive networks and developing resources based on the findings and outputs of discussions.

People involved

PI: Jude Fransman (OU)


Helen Yanacopolus (OU)

Elaine Unterhalter (IOE-UCL)

Flora Cornish (LSE)

David Lewis (LSE)

Jethro Pettit (IDS-Sussex)

Kate Newman (Christian Aid)

David Archer (ActionAid International)

Jill Russell (International HIV/AIDS Alliance)

 A full participant list is available at the following link:

Project partners and links

As above



Start Date and duration

 1st January 2015: 2yrs

Research & Innovation