How to improve research capacity strengthening efforts: learning from the monitoring and evaluation of four research consortia in Africa

Kasprowicz VO, Jeffery C, Mbuvi D, Bukirwa V, Ouattara K, Kirimi F, Heitz-Tokpa K, Gorrethy M, Chopera D, Nakanjako D, Bonfoh B, Elliott A, Kinyanjui S, Bates I, Ndung'u T
Health Res Policy Syst. 2023;21

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Recent efforts to shift the control and leadership of health research on African issues to Africa have led to increased investments for scientific research capacity strengthening (RCS) on the continent and a greater demand for accountability, value for money and demonstration of return on investment. There is limited literature on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of RCS systems and there is a clear need to further explore whether the M&E frameworks and approaches that are currently used are fit for purpose. The M&E approaches taken by four African RCS consortia funded under the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science in Africa (DELTAS) I initiative were assessed using several methods, including a framework comparison of the M&E approaches, semi-structured interviews and facilitated discussion sessions. The findings revealed a wide range in the number of indicators used in the M&E plans of individual consortium, which were uniformly quantitative and at the output and outcome levels. Consortia revealed that additional information could have been captured to better evaluate the success of activities and measure the ripple effects of their efforts. While it is beneficial for RCS consortia to develop and implement their own M&E plans, this could be strengthened by routine engagement with funders/programme managers to further align efforts. It is also important for M&E plans to consider qualitative data capture for assessment of RCS efforts. Efforts could be further enhanced by supporting platforms for cross-consortia sharing, particularly when trying to assess more complex effects. Consortia should make sure that processes for developmental evaluation, and capturing and using the associated learning, are in place. Sharing the learning associated with M&E of RCS efforts is vital to improve future efforts. Investing and improving this aspect of RCS will help ensure tracking of progress and impact of future efforts, and ensure accountability and the return on investment. The findings are also likely applicable well beyond health research.