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‘Clear scope’ to improve DFID’s use of scientific advice

The UK’s Department for International Development needs to be better at using independent, scientific advice, says a report.

The report, published by the Government Office for Science, is based on the findings from a review of science and engineering in DFID, carried out between November 2010 and April 2011.

The report concludes that there is “clear scope for further improvement” in implementing scientific evidence in decision-making, policy and strategy, but acknowledges that there has been a recent “cultural shift” within the department to do so.

Among the report’s specific recommendations is the need to improve the quality of research bids. For example, says the report, the department should specify that all its research contracts require peer review. It should also specify the types, timing and delivery of outputs.

The document recommends that the department should publish policy briefs to explain the implications of all research projects in which it has made a substantial investment.

In addition, the department is urged to become better at knowledge transfer by expanding its global outreach team and setting up a hub in Africa.

The report points to areas in which DFID may lack expertise and urges it to review its capability in those areas. The fields include quantitative social science; operational research; engineering and infrastructure; agriculture; and veterinary science.

To further strengthen its use of expert advice in areas where it cannot afford full-time advisers, the report says, the department should look into employing part-time advisers or sharing them with other agencies.

The report encourages DFID to set out a strategic, long-term approach to “address the need for capacity to be built in developing countries”.

The department’s responsibility for research rests with its Research and Evidence Division, which has a budget of £201 million—2.6 per cent of DFID’s budget. The report says the division should engage more with regional offices around the world in commissioning research, particularly through its global outreach team.

“This report makes recommendations designed to support DFID in developing its science and engineering capability, to better meet the challenges and opportunities of the future,” says John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, in a foreword to the report.

“The expected benefit of implementing these recommendations is a Department which places greater emphasis on science and engineering evidence; integrates this evidence with other streams of analysis and produces a stronger and more robust evidence base for all aspects of decision-making, policy and strategy,” he adds.