Connecting researchers from the Global South to those with the power to make a difference.
GDNet, Global Development Network
International NGO (INGO)
Southern researcher capacity building
Describe the KM initiative
GDNet is a knowledge hub that brings together and communicates policy-relevant research from the Global South. The GDNet Knowledgebase showcases research from developing countries and the southern researchers and organisations that produce it and currently holds over 16,700 documents, profiles of around 11,000 southern researchers, and features more than 4,500 organisations. Operating from Cairo and funded by DFID, DGIS and the World Bank, the GDNet Knowledgebase and its capacity building workshops are delivered in partnership with GDNet’s eight Regional Network Partners. The logical framework (logframe) of GDNet’s current phase of funding (2010 to 2014), outlines its intended outputs as: * Southern research better informed by current ideas and knowledge * [Southern] Researchers better able to communicate their research to policy * Knowledge networking between researchers and with policy actors Increased * Research better communicated to different, identified audiences * Lessons about knowledge brokering best practice in the global south learnt and communicated To deliver these outputs, GDNet pursues three main areas of knowledge management work: raising the profile of southern research through the GDNet Knowledgebase, providing southern researchers with access to international journals and development data, and building capacity in knowledge management and research communication. GDNet offers tools for southern researchers and institutes to incorporate into their knowledge management activities and the means by which they can build their capacity to create and communicate policy-relevant research.
Describe the approaches utilized to measure / assess this KM initiative
From the outset, GDNet has used a logframe to plan and assess its activities and aimed to use a consistent set of questions to help it evaluate the value of the services it offers to users. A key input to the development of the current GDNet logframe was the Output to Purpose Review (OPR) of GDNet, commissioned by DFID in 2008. The evaluation team, ITAD in the UK, was asked by DFID to evaluate: * the impact of GDNet on supporting quality research generation; promoting Southern research communications; knowledge sharing and capacity development * the relevance and effectiveness of GDNet including a review of its Purpose; to what degree the GDNet logframe purpose was relevant to the overall GDNet/GDN goal of reducing global poverty as a result of promoting development research especially that generated by Southern research institutes * how cost-effective and sustainable GDNet was in relation to demand and benefits. To answer these questions, ITAD used a range of different methods including face-to-face and telephone interviews, a review of documents provided by GDNet, analysis of data from a survey conducted for the 2007 evaluation of GDN, a questionnaire distributed to Regional National Partner representatives, and a new web-based survey sent to users and non-users of GDNet in Africa and Latin America. The OPR also saw the evaluation team make two visits to GDNet headquarters in Cairo: a one-week visit, working closely with all the GDNet staff, and a second visit to observe and participate in a two-day meeting of Regional Network Partners. Due to ITAD’s experience in evaluating other DFID-funded knowledge management initiatives, it was possible to benchmark some of GDNet’s evaluation data against data from others in the sector, such as the Knowledge Services from the Institute of Development Studies funded through DFID’s Mobilising Knowledge for Development Programme. The resulting detailed OPR Report included lessons learnt and recommendations for DFID and GDNet including a thorough revision of GDNet’s logframe for the next phase in which the Outputs clearly lead to the achievement of a more policy-oriented Purpose.
What was the purpose or motivation for assessing this KM initiative?
The Terms of Reference for the OPR included objectives such as providing DFID with clear recommendations and options to inform the decision on future funding, and to identify lessons on the project’s outcomes and process, which might inform DFID’s future strategy for supporting the same or similar services.
What were the most important lessons learned about the assessment process?
Two key outcomes of the OPR were the decision to put greater emphasis on capturing lessons learnt through the life of the programme and the idea of GDNet working in partnership with the Regional Network Partners to source content for the GDNet Knowledgebase. During the OPR itself, ITAD identified the difficulty of surveying a user-based service such as GDNet; the sample is biased to people who have registered with GDNet, combined with the problem that those people who respond to the survey are likely to be those who feel sufficiently invested in GDNet to take the time to participate. To counter this, ITAD also surveyed those who were target audiences but not yet users of GDNet. To put GDNet’s website statistics into context, ITAD compared these with those of similar organizations obtained in another OPR. This was fortunate, as beyond published evaluations and OPRs, it is hard to obtain these figures from “comparators” and the data is not always comparable given the different software and measurements used in website statistics. Data had not been routinely collected on the organizational affiliation and geographical location of some GDNet users, e.g. those subscribed to email newsletters, which made it difficult to profile who GDNet's users were for all its services. The Evaluation Team subsequently worked with GDNet to help them develop their new strategy, revised logframe and M&E plan. Their advice was invaluable given their familiarity with the programme, the sector, and the evaluation findings and their expertise in evaluation methods such as logframes and establishing baselines. The OPR findings and recommendations have driven the evolution of GDNet from a knowledge repository model to one that places greater focus on helping southern researchers to inform policy processes and this is reflected in the Purpose and Outputs of the current logframe.
What would you do differently next time?
GDNet has begun its 2010 to 2014 programme by implementing two activities to provide a firm foundation for its planning, assessment and learning. A baseline study has been completed that establishes a clear starting point for the logframe indicators, including an online members survey to be repeated annually to track progress. A full analysis of GDNet's internal and external environment has also been carried out as part of GDNet's marketing plan, identifying GDNet's target groups and its position in relation to other programmes in this sector. M&E is being built into all of GDNet's activities, e.g. standardised evaluation forms that monitor changes in confidence and ability immediately and three months after its workshops.
What advice would you give to others based on your experience?
A logframe, developed in consultation with partners and donors, sets a good foundation for future discussions and it is worth investing in developing a good understanding of where you are: your baseline, what your niche is in comparison to others, etc. Undertake a systematic review of your approach to M&E, ensuring you have a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures (don't rely on website statistics as a measure of success for online services). Make time to capture tacit knowledge about lessons learned looking at different angles, e.g. in evaluating events, GDNet might reflect on how well it is aligned with the participants' demands and contexts, as well as the logistics of the event (number of participants, etc).
What do you think are the main unanswered questions or challenges related to this field of work?
Organisations with a global audience, like GDNet, face many challenges in terms of evaluating impact and responding to what it learns. How can a global organisation effectively track impact, scope and monitor changes in the demand and contexts of its target groups when they are distributed across many and varied countries? Whose needs should it respond to when these are so diverse? Can assessment methods developed in one context be translated to work in another? E.g., GDNet is measuring the use of southern research by southern researchers; bibliometrics (as used among researchers in the North) is not appropriate here so GDNet is experimenting with new methods of assessment.