Evidence, Knowledge and Impact in Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships to Address Global Development Challenges (Policy-Oriented Panel)

This panel extends dynamic conversations begun at the University of Leeds in June 2016, where we launched the Civil Society, Democracy and Development Research Cluster. The launch event drew on key challenges identified in a recently published book involving three of the panel organisers (Drs. Hayman and Narayanaswamy were two of the four editors and Dr. Rao Dhananka was a chapter author) entitled “Negotiating Knowledge: Evidence and experience in development NGOs”. This volume, co-published by INTRAC, was the result of partnership between academic and non-academic colleagues in the UK, Finland, Uganda, India and Ireland. It explored the meanings and functions of knowledge and evidence across cultural and disciplinary boundaries between North and South but also between different development actors within the Global South. It further explored different meanings and functions of knowledge and evidence to tackle inequality, poverty and social injustice across research within academic, policy and practice spheres.

As the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships (across research, donors, private sector, government and the third sector) gains traction in order to achieve the SDGs, this panel will apply some of the central findings and action points from this body of work to the challenges inherent in the new global development agenda. In particular the panel will explore meanings and expectations around ‘impact’ within multi-stakeholder partnerships. Our earlier research shows that different conceptualizations of knowledge and evidence amongst development actors can greatly affect the effectiveness and impact of collaborative endeavors. Different epistemologies and the power dynamics inherent in multi-stakeholder collaborations affect how ‘impact’ is conceptualized and therefore how development results are interpreted and change pathways are established.

Drawing on experiences from collaborative projects across research, policy and practice, this panel will tackle questions such as:

  • What counts as ‘impact’ from research partnerships that stretch across different disciplines, development issues and cultural contexts? Does impact have to be ‘measurable’?
  • How do we respond to real pressures on both non-academic and academic stakeholders to engage in ‘partnership’ to achieve the SDGs/Global Development priorities?
  • How do we work in partnership effectively across disciplinary, geographic and organisational boundaries?
  • Are there particular areas within the SDGs that lend themselves better than others to multi-stakeholder research partnerships?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges of translating academic ‘evidence’ within research on global issues into ‘impact on the ground’ in very different contexts both in the global North and the global South? Conversely, how does ‘on the ground’ experience speak to academic learning and teaching objectives?

A priority is to establish a more nuanced insight into the different meanings of ‘impact’ and how notions of ‘effective’ impact can be identified, managed and nurtured in the medium-to-long term, and in ways that strengthen interdisciplinary and organisational partnerships. We also want to understand and address sectoral concerns around the underlying nexus of power and knowledge that creates both possibilities and risks in the context of academic-practitioner collaboration in order to achieve the SDGs. Partnership working must strive to lay the foundations for addressing the challenges of urbanisation and the achievement of the social compacts necessary to tackle the deep divisions that have resulted from the proliferation of neoliberal globalisation processes

If multi-stakeholder collaborations are to deliver, adequate support needs to be in place to make them work. Experiences of academics working with practitioners has been mixed to date because the funding environment does not sufficiently address challenges in the model. This panel therefore seeks to advance new ideas for making collaboration work.


Prof Caroline Dyer, Professor in Education and International Development and Co-Director, Centre for Global Development (CGD), University of Leeds

Dr. Rachel Hayman
Research, Learning and Communications Director

Dr. Swetha Rao Dhananka
SNSF Fellow
Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore
Development Planning Unit UCL, London

Dr. Lata Narayanaswamy
Lecturer in International Development
University of Leeds