Promoting Meaningful and Equitable Relationships? Exploring the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Funding Criteria from the Perspectives of African Partners


Against a backdrop of historic inequities between Northern and Southern scholars, the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) calls for “meaningful and equitable” research partnerships between UK-based academics and partners in the Global South. This paper draws on qualitative data from three workshops in the Ethiopia, Rwanda and the UK to interrogate GCRF funding criteria from the perspectives of African-based research partners. The GCRF criteria are considered with respect to African partners’ experiences of, and aspirations from, such international research partnerships in order to enrich and extend ongoing debates about power relations in development research. The study finds that GCRF criteria do address many of the familiar historic concerns of African partners, while also identifying ways in which this and similar funding schemes may unintentionally reproduce structural inequities within the South. In highlighting these less visible equity concerns, the paper draws lessons for funders, academics and others concerned with establishing genuinely equitable research partnerships.


Dans un contexte d’inégalités historiques entre les universitaires du Nord et du Sud, le Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) du Royaume-Uni fait appel à des partenariats de recherche « qui ont du sens et sont équitables » entre des universitaires basés au Royaume-Uni et des partenaires de pays du Sud. Cette étude s’appuie sur les données qualitatives de trois ateliers tenus en Éthiopie, au Rwanda et au Royaume-Uni pour interroger les critères de financement du GCRF du point de vue des partenaires de recherche basés en Afrique. Les critères du GCRF sont examinés par rapport aux expériences et aux aspirations qu’ont les partenaires africains de ces partenariats de recherche internationaux afin d’enrichir et d’aller plus loin dans les débats actuels sur les relations de pouvoir dans la recherche pour le développement. L’étude constate que les critères du GCRF répondent à bon nombre des préoccupations historiques habituelles des partenaires africains, tout en identifiant également les moyens par lesquels ce programme de financement et d’autres programmes similaires peuvent reproduire involontairement des inégalités structurelles dans les pays du Sud. En mettant en évidence ces préoccupations d’équité moins évidentes, l’article tire des enseignements pour les bailleurs de fonds, les chercheurs universitaires et d’autres acteurs qui cherchent à établir des partenariats de recherche véritablement équitables.

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We thank ESRC, DSA and the University of Bristol for funding the workshops drawn on in paper, and the participants for taking time from their busy schedules to contribute their valuable insights on partnerships and collaboration. We are grateful to Rachel Hayman and James Copestake for guidance and materials in preparation for the first workshop, and to Mhairi Gibson, Kate Tapper, Leon Tikly and Sarah White for their academic insights and support. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback.

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Correspondence to Tigist Grieve.

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Appendix: Workshop details

Appendix: Workshop details

Location, date & funder Focus Activities Participants Participants field of study
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (3 days, 2016–2017)
Funded by University of Bristol
Academic-NGO research collaborations Round table & group discussions; presentations & responses from different sectors. 17 academics (13 Ethiopian, 4 UK); 7 NGOs; 1 thinktank; 1 policy Education
Int Development
Gender studies
Population studies
Kigali, Rwanda (1 day, 2019)
Funded by University of Bristol
Global research partnership and collaboration. Round table & group discussions; presentations. 34 academics (19 Rwandan, 7 Tanzanian, 5 Ethiopian, 3 UK) Education
Int Development
Bristol, UK (2 days, 2019)
Funded by Development Studies Association (DSA), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), University of Bristol
Interdisciplinary research collaboration and partnership Round table & small group discussions; presentations & responses from different stakeholder groups. 26 academics (2 Kenyan, 2 Tanzanian, 2 Ethiopian, 20 UK); 1 INGO; 2 NGO; 1 thinktank Education
Policy Int Development
  1. Data sources: Workshop notes, participant small group reflection notes and presentations
  2. Some participants attended more than one workshop; three invited academic participants were denied a UK visa, and one was unable to obtain official permission for travel from his government

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Grieve, T., Mitchell, R. Promoting Meaningful and Equitable Relationships? Exploring the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Funding Criteria from the Perspectives of African Partners. Eur J Dev Res 32, 514–528 (2020).

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  • Capacity development
  • Equity
  • Global Challenges Research Fund
  • International development
  • Research collaborations
  • Research partnerships