Report on Phase III Seminars on Capacity Building

Two capacity building seminars were held, in Manchester on 15 May 2001 and in London on 22 May 2001. Over 100 researchers took part in a lively debate.

The aims of the seminars were:

  1. to give further consideration to the concept of building research capacity in teaching and learning with specific reference to Phase III.
  2. to identify causes for concern and thus
  3. to raise questions and
  4. to offer advice on capacity building to the Programme.

The structure of the day provided for an extensive input from the Director describing the Programme's current status and the aspirations for Phase III with particular reference to the scope of the research brief and the expectations for capacity building. Particular emphasis was placed on the idea of capacity building in the commissioning period. The presentation was followed by an extensive discussion period and a plenary session.

The following questions were raised:

  • how would academic disciplines be factored in to an essentially social science exercise;
  • what was the relationship between 'capacity' and the Programme's concept of 'attainment';
  • what does the Programme take 'social science' to mean/entail;
  • how far is impact taken to be a factor in capacity;
  • was capacity enhancement meant to promote excellence (deepen) or wider engagement (broaden)?

The following advice was offered:

* The long period of commissioning followed by 2 phases of sudden death was seen to be de-motivating and to offer, for many bidders, as poor return on effort. It was suggest that:

  1. there might be some early 'cooling out' mechanisms
  2. there should be money for working up proposals (especially after short listing)
  3. the Directors's office and the Cardiff team should invest heavily in support and feedback (including the cooling out process)
  4. the Director's office might offer an extensive Programme of regional seminars on Programme requirements after the publication of the specification
  5. efforts should be made to recruit a wider range of referees
  6. the referees' names and their criteria and guidelines should be published in advance of the competition
  7. thought should be given to supporting and promoting the innovative research processes likely to be necessary in this complex field

* The contested and opaque nature of the concept of capacity building should be recognised and

  1. further clarification and exemplication be provided in the research specification and on the website
  2. successful bids in capacity terms should be posted on the web
  3. clear criteria and guidelines on this aspect of bids should be provided
  4. the guidelines to referees should be made public
  5. lessons from Phase I and II should be published and exemplified
  6. the potential tension between capacity building and excellent research should be recognised and these elements of the Programme's work might be funded separately

* At a strategic level it was felt that the approach in Phase I and II of fostering a few big projects would not be appropriate in Phase III. It was felt that there was insufficient concentrated skills base to meet this requirement and that in any event, the field was not sufficiently well understood to warrant the large scale interventions implicit in this strategy. It was suggested that a range of scale of projects would be more appropriate and that in some cases a phased approach should be encouraged in at least some of the proposals. A phased approach might involve, for example, an initial bid for a pilot study with subsequent bids held open against the pilot out-turn.