Increasing attention, and a concomitant increase in funds, is being devoted to the strengthening of research capacity for health within low- and middle-income countries. Yet approaches to research capacity strengthening (RCS) are still new, and there is much debate about how to strengthen something that is so difficult to define, let alone measure. This paper aims to inform our understanding of how research capacity is being strengthened, and how we might consider the effectiveness of these initiatives. It does this by examining (a) understandings of and approaches to RCS, and (b) different ways in which RCS is monitored and evaluated. The study included a literature review, internet search, and analysis of the web pages and available documents for six donor organizations key to health RCS. E-mail and telephone discussions were conducted with experts in the area of health RCS, as well as semi-structured telephone interviews with representatives from the six identified organizations. The study found that understandings of and approaches to RCS are wide ranging. We are at the early stages of knowing how best to identify, target and affect the many factors that are important for stronger research capacity. Furthermore, as RCS initiatives become more wide-ranging and complex, they become more difficult to monitor and evaluate. Donors are struggling with many challenges associated with tracking RCS initiatives. There is no consensus on the best methods or tools to use. There is a clear need for improved strategies and the development of a tried and tested framework for RCS tracking.
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.