Doing Research Assessment: Implications for the Future of Social Science


Wednesday 18 September 

by João Costa, Program Associate at the Global Development Network (GDN)

The role of knowledge and research systems is a growing area of interest in debates about innovation, development and growth in the global South. The study of what social science research systems look like, how social science research works, and how it contributes to national knowledge systems (and ultimately development), however, is only in its infancy, particularly with regards to developing countries.

Doing Research (DR) is an initiative of the Global Development Network that aims to assess systematically how the features of national research system impact the capacity to produce, diffuse and use quality social science research to the benefit of social and economic development. Country reports, comparative global reports and data will inform actors from research, development and policy communities about their policy-oriented research environment and how it can be improved. The premise of DR is that quality social science research provides an invaluable critical perspective on societies, human behaviour and policy action, and it thus contributes uniquely to developing a better understanding of development challenges.

Central to DR is the Doing Research Assessment (DRA) methodology, developed after its pilot in 13 countries, which collects qualitative and quantitative information about the social science research system, for consumption at the domestic and international level. This process enables a systematic analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, challenges and bottlenecks related to doing quality and policy-relevant research in developing countries.

This, in turn, allows us to benchmark these systems – for the purpose of improving research policies and the underlying conditions for carrying out research. The DR Assessment methodology focuses, in three steps, on:

  • The context of social science research in the country (economic, political/historical, institutional and international)
  • On the mapping of actors that play a role in production, diffusion and uptake
  • On collecting data across 54 key indicators, organized under 12 ‘determinants’ of a country’s performance in social science research across production, diffusion and uptake.

The Doing Research Framework is a mixed method research module that allows a contextualized comparative enquiry into a national research system, looking at key factors that determine the production, diffusion and uptake of social science. It would typically serve as a magnifying glass to identify aspects that need the attention of the regulator, or to provide a baseline for strategizing investments in capacity building for research production, its diffusion or its use.

This framework can therefore be used to aggregate data into synthetic indicators and visualization tools. It acts as the basis to compare and benchmark research systems from different countries. In developing countries, there is very little systematic data on Social Science Research as much of their research could not be found in internationally indexed databases such as SCOPUS or Web of Science, where they calculate the impact factor based largely on who has cited the research. Altmetrics can and is used in our framework to fill the gap specifically on production and diffusion.