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Revealing the Relational Mechanisms of Research for Development Through Social Network Analysis

Apgar, Marina; Fournie, Guillaume; Haesler, Barbara; Higdon, Grace Lyn; Kenny, Leah; Oppel, Annalena; Pauls, Evelyn; Smith, Matthew; Snijder, Mieke; Vink, Daan; Hossain, Mazeda


Marina Apgar

Guillaume Fournie

Barbara Haesler

Grace Lyn Higdon

Leah Kenny

Annalena Oppel

Evelyn Pauls

Matthew Smith

Mieke Snijder

Daan Vink

Mazeda Hossain


Achieving impact through research for development programmes (R4D) requires engagement with diverse stakeholders across the research, development and policy divides. Understanding how such programmes support the emergence of outcomes, therefore, requires a focus on the relational aspects of engagement and collaboration. Increasingly, evaluation of large research collaborations is employing social network analysis (SNA), making use of its relational view of causation. In this paper, we use three applications of SNA within similar large R4D programmes, through our work within evaluation of three Interidsiplinary Hubs of the Global Challenges Research Fund, to explore its potential as an evaluation method. Our comparative analysis shows that SNA can uncover the structural dimensions of interactions within R4D programmes and enable learning about how networks evolve through time. We reflect on common challenges across the cases including navigating different forms of bias that result from incomplete network data, multiple interpretations across scales, and the challenges of making causal inference and related ethical dilemmas. We conclude with lessons on the methodological and operational dimensions of using SNA within monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) systems that aim to support both learning and accountability.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 6, 2022
Online Publication Date Jan 25, 2023
Publication Date 2023-04
Deposit Date Jan 29, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 30, 2023
Journal The European Journal of Development Research
Print ISSN 0957-8811
Electronic ISSN 1743-9728
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 2
Pages 323-350
Keywords Social network analysis, Collaboration, Relational, Evaluation, Learning, Research for Development


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