Evaluation of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)

Contrast between poverty and wealth in Mumbai, India, photo by Olivia/Adobe Stock

Olivia/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a five-year £1.5 billion fund that aims to support cutting-edge research to address the challenges faced by low- and middle-income countries. It ensures that UK research takes a leading role in addressing the challenges faced by developing countries whilst also developing the UK's ability to deliver cutting-edge research and innovation for sustainable development. GCRF is managed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and implemented across several of the UK's research and innovation funders.

To assess whether GCRF is achieving its aims, and is on course to deliver impact, a 5-year evaluation was commissioned by BEIS. The evaluation consists of three stages and is being co-led by ITAD and RAND Europe, alongside a consortium of partners including AFIDEP (African Institute for Development Policy), Athena Infonomics and Digital Science.

How did we help?

For the first stage of the evaluation RAND Europe undertook a management review to assess the extent to which the fund is coherent and well-managed, and to identify ways in which the fund could be improved. This review looked in detail at the strategy, processes, and monitoring, evaluation and learning undertaken within the fund, collecting evidence through desk research and interviews.

What did we find?

  • GCRF retains a largely decentralised model with the Fund-level strategy offering a frame against which Delivery Partners and programmes can align work to leverage their strengths. However, ownership of the GCRF strategy was not always clear.
  • There are strong processes in place to ensure ODA compliance requirements and R&I excellence. However, to fully deliver on the Fund's aims and strategy there will need to move beyond compliance to ODA excellence.
  • There are comprehensive Monitoring and Evaluation processes in place across the fund but there are limited examples of where these move beyond accountability to deliver learning.
  • We found lack of a clear approach to assessing Value for Money across the Fund but there is ongoing work to develop and roll out a Fund-wide framework.

What can be done?

Based on the findings, we identified six key recommendations to improve the management of GCRF:

  • Establish clearer lines of responsibility
  • Increase and deepen Southern engagement in the operation of the Fund
  • Strengthen and emphasise the development outcomes alongside research excellence
  • Improve data systems to enable strategic analysis and improvement
  • Build closer working relationships between Delivery Partners to facilitate learning and increase coherence within the portfolio
  • Define, socialise, and resource an approach to VfM across the portfolio, establishing why it matters and how it can be effectively implemented.