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Evaluating research teams


A research group or team can be either a part of a department in a university or research institution, or an ad hoc group specifically assembled for a specific research project or programme. Examples of temporary associations of researchers can be found in the programmes of the type Programmes Interuniversitaires Ciblés, Conseil interuniversitaire-Communauté française de Belgique-Commission Universitaire pour le Développement- (PIC,CIUF-CUD), or Vlaams Interuniversitaire Raad-University Development Cooperation (VLIR/UOS), or the International Cooperation with Third Countries component of the European Union Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (IC, EU-FP).

Basically a good development research team possesses the following characteristics:

  • It is composed of “good” researchers,
  • These researchers share a common commitment for development and for development research,
  • They also share a concern that their results be known and disseminated, and they do what is possible for such results to be applied by the development actors

Basis for evaluation

A team or research group should be assessed on the basis of three main aspects, i.e. the commitment to development research, the scientific quality of its members and of their publications, and the functioning of the team as a whole.

Commitment to development research

Do the members of the team want that their research contributes:

(i) to the development priorities of their country?
(ii) to the improvement of the living conditions of the local population, directly or indirectly, at least in the medium- or long-term ?

Scientific quality

A team is often composed of senior researchers and younger colleagues. The criteria of scientific quality used in evaluating groups are the same as in evaluating individual researchers, but with different weights. Valorisation and performance are here major dimensions: they reflect the scientific quality of the team as a whole. Criteria to assess valorisation and performance may widely overlap. The needs of the specific guide’s author will determine the choice and interpretation of such criteria.

The bibliometric indices give a good correlation with peer reviews in the case of groups (see Dehon et al., 2009), while this is not true for individuals (see evaluation of scientific publications).

Functioning of the team

Examples of questions and criteria:

  • Does the group have a coherent research plan, or is everybody following his/her own favourite programme?
  • How good are the prospects for a successful elaboration or implementation of the work-plan? Are all necessary expertises present in the group? Is the infrastructure appropriate (Institutional management; access to documentation; institutional support to the researchers)?
  • How good are the leadership qualities of the group leader? Can he/she motivate his/her people? - Does he/she have both scientific and managerial skills?
  • Is the team open? Did the team members already publish together? Are they motivated towards valorisation of the team work?
  • How good are the international contacts of both the individual members and the group as such: participation in networks, in earlier partnerships? (For “reputation” see Berghoff, 2009);
  • Is the group attractive to other researchers who might be interested in becoming members of the group or becoming partners in a joint project? Is the strengthening of research capacity of both the individuals and the team a priority? Is there a work-plan for mid-term improvement of the researchers?
  • Does the group possess a promising future on the short and medium term?

Writing up a specific guide for evaluating research teams

From here on the authors will follow - flexibly, and adjusting the pace and orientation of their work - the steps provided in the page "writing the specific guide".

  • Step 1. Preliminary stage fulfilled
  • Step 2. Questions of evaluation, dimensions, criteria
  • Step 3. Select procedures
  • Step 4. Conditions of evaluation
  • Step 5. Actual drafting of the specific guide

Caution: such steps are the various stages of production of an acceptable and useful specific guide. They are not the steps to be followed by the evaluators when they conduct their evaluation.

The ranking of research groups

The ranking of universities and research institutes is a controversial issue, and anyhow it is not within the scope of the present Guidelines. Yet lessons drawn from recent ranking exercises (Droesbeke, 2009; Dehon et al., 2009) suggest that ranking can be reliable and meaningful when applied to a team, and within the same discipline or group of disciplines.