12 templates for sustainable international research management

Image shows collaborative working with sticky notes

By Lorraine Youds and Helen Coskeran –

Research management is a young profession in Africa and the UK. Yet there is a wealth of experience and best practice out there. We feel keenly that research and programme managers should be better at drawing on this to save ourselves time and resources, and to help those coming in fresh to the profession.

In early 2021, our team of ten research management professionals from Botswana, South Africa, the UK and Zambia designed a workshop series and a toolkit on research management. We created resources that encourage a new approach, from the beginning to the end of the research cycle, or cradle to grave, if you like.

Research management has been around for a long time in one form or another. Someone has got to do the administration, book meetings, check deliverables, track expenses, monitor the budget, sort out contracts, report and - an area that has ballooned in importance in recent years - maximise the impact of research.

Through our collaboration (the International Research Management Staff Development Programme (IRMSDP) - jointly funded by the African Academy of Sciences and UK’s Association of Research Management and Administrators), we have found that similar challenges beset research and programme management professionals across continents and institutions.

We all had the same questions:

  • How can we share knowledge and stop creating systems and processes and documents in isolation?
  • How can research managers maximise the impact of their programmes?
  • What is best practice for evaluating research programmes?

Large interdisciplinary international research programmes, such as GCRF, have shown the value of having dedicated programme staff and the importance of engaging them throughout the programme life cycle.

By designing materials using the cradle to grave format, we’ve ensured knowledge gained by current practitioners is captured and can feed into future projects looking to address global challenges.

When does a project begin?

Project design may start with looking at the funding landscape. Or aligning institutional priorities to large scale shifts in government or research council priorities. You can argue that projects are at least partially defined by what came before them. They should build on the knowledge generated by previous projects and larger-scale programmes.

As part of our toolkit, then, we provided tips for engaging with funders and academics to identify and pursue appropriate calls. The toolkit includes a bid development checklist and an example of the portfolio approach to international research management. This section of the toolkit also covers grant proposals - the need to ensure eligibility, due diligence and compliance with the funding call terms and conditions. Attention to detail is critical here! We also factor in lessons learned and legacy of previous projects.

Working out how to do things equitably

Once funded, a project needs specialisms including project management and coordination, finance/grants management, communications and impact, and data management. Managing and maintaining partnerships equitably is very important.

Project managers:

  • foster equity within research collaborations;
  • shape the project’s strategy to align with principles of equitable partnership;
  • maintain and clarify roles and responsibilities across the partnership;
  • create opportunities for representation, collaboration, and inclusion.

All this is especially important for Official Development Assistance research programmes where projects, although aiming to benefit low and middle income countries, tend to be implemented in (and are funded by) the Global North. The power balance is tipped in favour of the institutions who shape the funding models they are working within.

Wrapping up and moving on

Finalising a project is as important as launching it. In our toolkit, we provide advice on technical considerations for closing a programme with our 'close-out checklist'. We also highlight how monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) can ensure high impact and accountability. It feeds into the design of the next research initiative(s). A MEL framework, including logframe and theory of change templates, as well as tools to assess organisational (Partner Institutional Viability Assessment), and individual (Skills Matrix) capacity, support this endeavour. A 'legacy checklist' completes the toolkit. This will help you think about what your programme's legacy can and should be.

This is the start of an international network of research and programme management professionals, sharing experiences and resources in global challenges research.

We want your tips, your tools and your advice to expand this into a bigger and better resource. Help us connect sector professionals across the globe. Create a real legacy for our profession as well as the invaluable contribution to the projects themselves.

Find our more or get in touch: [email protected] and [email protected]

Cradle to Grave: A Research and Programme Management Knowledge-sharing Series, 12 templates so far.

1. Portfolio Template

2. Bid Development Checklist

3. Partner Institutional Viability Assessment

4. Skills Framework

5. Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Framework

6. Activity Trackers

7. Communications Tracker

8. Ethics and Security Questionnaire: Needs Assessment / Gap Analysis

9. Data Sharing Protocol

10. Outcome Harvesting Template

11. Close-out Checklist

12. Programme Legacy Checklist

Dr Lorraine Youds is GCRF African SWIFT Programme Manager, based at the University of Leeds.

Dr Helen Coskeran is GCRF-AFRICAP Programme Manager, also based at the University of Leeds.

This blog is based on collaborative work to develop a cradle to grave research management toolkit together with Helen Rajabi, Jon Lawn, Jay Kubler, Ashmika Surujdeen, Kelvin Addicott, Christine Mazarire, Kevin One Opelokgale & Sashin Harilall