As researchers and educators in the space of global development, we hope that our work will have positive impacts on communities and individuals – whether through changing ideas and discourse, shifting policy and practice or delivering direct benefits for people’s lives. Funders or commissioners of research also expect that the research they fund will drive change. But as researchers, we also recognise that political, social and economic complexities can make change or benefits difficult to attribute directly to research efforts.
Additionally, researchers themselves may have an impact merely by engaging with development partners or communities. The effects of power imbalances can lead to unintended and not necessarily positive effects. The discussion in our workshops highlighted a wide range of such critical and reflective questions relating to research and impact in development. These included: how to recognise knowledge and its intrinsic value as a form of impact; the limitations of ‘models’ as tools for understanding or supporting research impact; the use of project design and implementation language and frameworks by donors, that does not always align well with research approaches; and finally, an acknowledgement that time and context matter in whether, how and what type of impacts are achieved. As part of UNSW's
Together with UNSW colleagues Associate Professor Anne Bartlett and Dr Valentina Bau, the IGD convened a three part workshop series motivated by a project initiated by the Research for Development Impact (RDI) Network and the Institute for Human Security and Social Change at La Trobe University. During these workshops, we were fortunate to hear from six UNSW academics who presented examples of their own research to drive the discussion.
The discussions in our workshops highlighted a wide range of such critical and reflective questions relating to research and impact in development. These are highlighted, along with the case studies in the full report below.