What makes research for development different from other types of research? In particular, what kinds of research partnerships contribute to development, and not only to science? 

Improving Impacts of Research Partnerships will interest those concerned with making research collaborations more effective and equitable.

Maselli and colleagues have collated case studies of research partnerships between institutions in high-income countries and those in middle- or low-income countries. They use this information to develop methods of assessing the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative research, and its impact on both partners in key areas such as knowledge generation, changes in attitudes, strengthening of capacities, and impacts on target groups such as policymakers and the local population. 

The book provides new insights, and stimulates further discussion and a better understanding of the various impacts resulting from different partnerships. The authors provide specific guidance on ways to improve research partnerships and funding schemes. 

The succinct writing knits together concepts, practices and learning across diverse experiences. The cross-referencing makes reading clear. 

The book emphasises that the goal of research for development is to have an impact on society.

It is therefore important that the authors note that in the cases they analysed there was limited "end-user impact" even accounting for the necessary time lag and difficulty in attributing all impacts to specific projects. 

The authors also stress the importance of realism: not all benefits can be attributed to a single project; a single project cannot operate at all levels and with all stakeholders; and no single indicator can measure the impact of collaborations.

Funding, expertise, and the roles of researchers can all influence the balance of power within partnerships. The book notes that the contributions of partners from low- or middle-income countries must be recognised. Other factors such as ethics and intellectual property rights can further affect this power balance, says the book. 

The book stops short of providing specific measurable indicators, which would make a valuable contribution to the evaluation of partnerships. Not all of the issues could be adequately compared through quantitative indicators however, nor could they all be interpreted similarly across institutions or countries.

The selection of case studies to make explicit prevailing prejudices and review critically the authors' own partnership strategies should be applauded. Concrete ways to provide feedback on partnerships may support stronger incentives for equal partnerships that truly support development.

Ritu Sadana is a senior scientist and policy analyst at the World Health Organization.

Link to 'Improving Impacts of Research Partnerships' (English) and (French)