New survey on research costing – and why you should take it

5 August 2019

[Funder-collaborative, ESSENCE on Health Research, is conducting research to inform an update to its good practice document in research costing low- and middle-income countries.]

In a series of previous postings on think tank business models, I argue that discussions about long-term sustainability are probably among the most urgent, and vexed, in think tank boardrooms. At stake is a set of key questions that will sound familiar to most think tank executives: Without a key grant, will there be sufficient demand for my organisation’s research, or policy-influencing, capabilities? Who will foot the bill for the work we want to do next year, or the next, and for how long? To what extent do we need to diversify our funding and business models to stay relevant?

The good news is that a group of donors—that each year collectively sponsor hundreds of millions of dollars for vital research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)—are taking the “sustainability issue” seriously, through better coordination and through reinforcing good practices.

The ESSENCE on Health Research grouping of funders includes both private and public actors, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the African Academy of Sciences, Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Wellcome Trust, to name a few. Part of this funder-collaborative’s mission, through its series of good practice documents on topics such as evaluation or research capacity strengthening is to encourage more impactful and more sustainable research.

In 2012, ESSENCE released a good practice document called the ‘Five keys to improving research costing in low- and middle-income countries’.

With its chapters on cost definition, indirect cost rate determination, grant management, skills development, and working with funders, the “Five Keys” should be required reading for think tank funders and research managers.

In addition, its suite of multi-media training materials can be adapted for longer or shorter workshops and practical exercises, to reinforce the concepts addressed in the Five Keys.

New data and case studies

More than half a decade later, in 2019, ESSENCE is updating the Five Keys with fresh survey data and new case studies.

Take survey now. 
The survey is available in English, Spanish and French.

The update was prompted by a recognition of changes to the management and funding contexts in which research is taking place.

ESSENCE’s goal in this project is to distil new ideas and practices shaping how research organisations price projects and manage grants.

Are recipients costing accurately, accounting for as much of the full economic cost of undertaking the work?

Or are they “short-changing” themselves in pursuit of exposure, short-term gain, but ultimately failure over the longer-term?

Costing research accurately and comprehensively is not just a challenge for recipients.

Funders, too, have an increasingly keen interest in research that delivers value for money. Here, funders have role to play in setting fair and transparent policies for the reimbursement of project direct and indirect costs.

To all intents and purposes, many research funders are also keen to work within the context of local know-how and the unique development trajectories of their grantees, which means the need for harmonisation between grantee and grantmakers remains critical.

Call to action

By completing this ESSENCE survey, you or your organisation can contribute to the deepening of good costing practices globally, and to be better, more sustainable research locally.

You can also use the survey’s questions to reflect on your own research costing experiences—a process you might find helps your organisation to clarify its own practices and challenges.

Take survey now. 
The survey is available in English, Spanish and French.