In practice

Investing in research and innovation in developing countries

Key messages

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) champions and funds research and innovation within and alongside developing regions. IDRC’s institutional set-up has allowed it to take a long-term perspective on development issues and invest ahead of the curve. Challenge-focused programmes co-funded with other partners have allowed Canada, through IDRC, to grow available resources for research for development.

Challenge

KeywordsInnovation, Institutional arrangement , Learning and knowledge management, Partnerships

Key partnerCanada

Last updated30 June 2021

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Research and innovation are of fundamental importance to reducing poverty and building stronger economies and societies. For solutions to be truly sustainable, the skills and expertise for such research and innovation need to exist within developing countries. Nonetheless, investments in building such capacity continue to be limited.

Approach

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is one of the few organisations in the world concerned specifically with supporting and building capacity for research and innovation in developing countries, sharing knowledge for greater uptake and mobilising alliances to move solutions forward.

IDRC has a number of noteworthy features:

  • Its status as a Canadian Crown corporation gives it some distance from the political agenda, though it maintains regular dialogue and strategic collaboration with Global Affairs Canada and other government partners.

  • Stable core funding is provided by the Parliament of Canada, and supplemented by significant partnerships with like-minded providers and private foundations.

  • A ten-year strategy structures research investments around five development outcomes: climate-resilient food systems, global health, education and science, democratic and inclusive governance, and sustainable inclusive economies.

  • Five regional offices across the developing world keep the organisation close to the research it supports.

  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning drive investment choices, and reporting to Canada’s parliament and an international governing board ensure accountability for public funds.

An example of IDRC’s action includes the Think Tank Initiative. It convened development co-operation partners around a ten-year support programme for 43 think tanks in 20 countries until 2019. Core funding allowed these think tanks to build and retain local talent, develop independent research programmes, and invest in public outreach to ensure that research results would inform and influence national and regional policy debates.

Results

Regular results monitoring and organisational evaluations have documented the successes of IDRC’s work for over 50 years. IDRC’s website offers more than 800 stories of research in action. Key results include:

  • Strengthened capacity of research institutions in partner countries for conducting research, long-term planning, establishing research priorities, as well as policy engagement and communication.

  • Engagement by other partners, who provide co-funding or invest in putting innovations from IDRC-funded research to scale.

  • Uptake of research in policy frameworks, for example by the introduction of compulsory front of package nutrition labelling in Mexico and improved legislation on violence against women in Senegal.

  • Behaviour change in partner countries. For example, an innovative project demonstrated the feasibility of using insects rather than soybean and fishmeal for poultry and fish farming in sub-Saharan Africa. This has helped reduce costs for small-scale farmers and re-direct crops towards human consumption.

Lessons learnt

IDRC’s institutional set-up has allowed it to take a long-term perspective on development issues and invest in areas ahead of the curve.

Challenge-focused programmes co-funded with other partners have allowed Canada, through IDRC, to grow available resources for research for development and devote greater efforts to value-adding activities such as knowledge synthesis and translation.

A flexible and holistic approach for evaluating the quality of research for development has helped IDRC recognise critical dimensions other than scientific rigour (such as integrity or positioning for use) and affirmed that capacity strengthening need not come at the expense of such rigour.

Understanding how scaling works in research for development has led IDRC to embrace an approach focused on scaling impact at optimal scale, rather than simply on “scaling up” or “scaling out”.

Research partnerships benefit from flexible funding, tailored support for organisational capacity building based on demand, and a long-term perspective and readiness to take risks.

Further information

International Development Research Centre (IDRC), https://www.idrc.ca.

OECD resources

OECD (2018), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Canada 2018, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264303560-en. Information on this practice was initially published in this publication and has been revised and updated for Development Co-operation TIPs.

OECD (2020), Innovation for Development Impact: Lessons from the OECD Development Assistance Committee, https://doi.org/10.1787/a9be77b3-en.

To learn more about Canada’s development co-operation see:

OECD (2021), "Canada", in Development Co-operation Profiles, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/aa7e3298-en.

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