Research-for-development (R4D) has been viewed as generating evidence on the effectiveness of foreign aid, inventing new technologies that serve poor people, and strengthening research capabilities in poor countries. What determines which of these policy goals are pursued? This thesis argues that public funders continually adjust their approach based on pressure to satisfy the expectations of their home governments.
The concepts of performance regime and program theory are used to examine how funders responded to changing expectations and maintained credibility with both their
government sponsors and the research community. The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia all experienced a shift towards market-inspired governance of public research, which favoured shorter time-horizons and encouraged funders’ to alter their perspective regarding whom to target for funding (researchers at home and abroad) and what constituted the point of delivery (between field and lab-based science). Funders resisted to a limited extent by adapting selectively to these pressures, inserting their own ideas into the performance regime, and covertly pursuing their existing program
Yet performance regimes matter. Changes in performance expectations clearly led to fundamental changes in program theory and grantmaking practice. In previous decades, funders had some degree of freedom, to interpret broad policy directions and mediate between public research and international development, drawing on the ideas championed by the individuals that founded and led each organization. Yet performance regimes became increasingly prescriptive over time, with governments determining on what, for whom, and where research funding was to flow. With an eroded autonomy, funders
had less opportunity to set and pursue their own program theory, consequently moving closer to government and further from the research community.
This understanding illuminates future prospects for R4D, as funders face new pressures to foster international scientific collaboration and research on shared “global challenges”. Given that funders are rooted in different national contexts, it is easier for them to contribute towards a common agenda using their individual grantmaking practice. The future of R4D requires funders to broker the ideas of international development with the ideas of
publicly-funded science, a relationship that is at time symbiotic and at time conflictive.