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Strengthening research capacity


Research capacity is the ability to define problems, set objectives and priorities, conduct sound scientific research, build sustainable institutions, and identify solutions to key (national) problems. This definition encompasses research capacity at the levels of individuals, research groups, institutions and countries. Research capacity strengthening is the process by which individuals, institutions and societies develop abilities – individually and collectively – to perform research effectively, efficiently and in a sustainable manner.


The authors of a specific guide for evaluation of development research may like to define requirements for a true partnership when the evaluation does include the dimension “strengthening of research capacity”. In a North-South strengthening project, there are four key partnership requirements :

  • developing Southern country priorities should be at the centre of the process;
  • donor-funded activities should eventually fall within the framework of a locally owned strategy and approach;
  • planning and implementation processes should ensure a high level of local ownership, preferably by including both state and non-state actors;
  • strengthening local capacity to undertake development initiatives.

Strengthening at individual level

Poor wages

Researchers in developing countries are poorly paid. Many have to work in the private sector – away from scientific research – to make ends meet. To promote research as a viable career, supplementation of researchers’ salaries and provision for research awards have to be considered.

 The researcher's environment 

In the case of development research, the intellectual environment of the researcher is particularly relevant. A researcher lives and works in an environment that determines his/her training, the support he/she receives (intellectual, managerial, material), the  manner in which he/she is supervised, his/her capacity to have access to scientific  publications, etc.

Intellectual isolation

Intellectual isolation is another problem. Fostering exchanges between researchers from both developing and developed countries is an efficient way to overcome isolation. Another way is to encourage researchers to join national, regional and global networks. Attendance to workshops and congresses, preferably by active participation (posters and lectures) should be supported. Training to the latter would be crucial and is the way to learn writing a scientific publication.

Key indicators

  • short-term training,
  • long-term training, especially for MSc and PhD,
  • access to library and online facilities,
  • presence of a supervising team,
  • funding for participation (preferably active) in workshops and conferences,
  • availability of mentoring (coaching), e.g.  “How to write a scientific publication, a research proposal” (mentor - a wise and trusted guide and advisor),
  • supplementation of salaries,
  • re-entry grants following a (sandwich) PhD in a foreign country,
  • technical assistance, e g a visiting technician or scientist,
  • degree of responsibility of the researcher.

More indicators are to be found in relation to the researcher’s environment.

Strengthening at institutional/national level

The institutional/national level relates to activities and processes that build the capacity of research units, departments, institutions and agencies. Included are measures that focus on infrastructural upgrade, deepening of intellectual output, policy formulation, research administration, etc. They are keys to reduce the dependence on foreign researchers and institutions.

Key indicators

  • provision of equipment,
  • provision of library facilities and online access,
  • funding of institutional overheads,
  • direct budget support,
  • institutional publications,
  • local input in research design,
  • local control of the research agenda,
  • local control of the research funding,
  • acquisition of copyright.

Third level of strengthening

The third level of research capacity strengthening focuses on wider systemic relationships at national, regional and global levels. Financial and political investment in strengthening at the local level is a key signal of a stronger environment. Partnership and twinning at the regional level, between Northern and Southern research institutions, and within a South-South cooperation are important components at this third level.

Key indicators

  • national commitment to research,
  • national research council,
  • budget line for national research,
  • regional collaboration; regional networking,
  • North-South cooperation through partnership and twinning,
  • South-South cooperation.