AGCI Insight

Innovative paths to collaborative impact: Assessing engaged research

May 30, 2024
Word cloud of terms that Engaged Research workshop participants most commonly use or encounter to describe engaged research. Source: Fabienne Doucet

Climate change. New and emerging pandemics. Systemic racism. As the world confronts complex issues that resist straightforward solutions, researchers across many disciplines have increasingly employed research approaches that draw on a wide array of experience, evidence, and expertise to tackle entrenched and multi-faceted challenges. 

Known variously as research-practice partnerships, community science, co-production, or integrated knowledge translation, to name just a few terms, “engaged research” approaches seek collaboration between researchers and groups with expertise from outside academia, engaging people with lived experience, evidence users, and others to identify priority questions, generate new or synthesize existing knowledge, and create evidence-informed solutions together. 

A growing body of scholarship across disciplines suggests that engaged approaches can help ensure that the evidence generated by research transforms from potentially useful to actually usable. When done correctly, engaged research approaches can also empower people to participate in research and have the potential to expand who benefits from the impacts and outcomes of research. 

Yet to understand, improve, and scale engaged research, more empirical evidence is needed about the conditions and components that allow engaged research to deliver impact and improved outcomes across a range of sectors. Practitioners of engaged research need evidence about which strategies are effective and can improve their efforts at the nexus of research, policy, and practice. Similarly, funders of engaged research want to use this growing evidence base to tailor their grant-making strategies to support the potential benefits of engaged research.   

Advancing the evidence base for research engagement

In October 2023, AGCI hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on “Assessing the Evidence of Outcomes from Engaged Research.” Over five days, 40 thought leaders from 11 countries and a range of sectors and disciplines, including sustainability, public health, education, development aid, philanthropy, science policy, and various social sciences, gathered in Airlie, Virginia, to identify ways to advance the evidence base linking behavioral and societal change to engaged research processes. Their goal was to identify gaps in their collective knowledge of the relationship among research impacts, outcomes of interest (such as improved health and educational outcomes), and the quality, intensity, and longevity of engagement in the research process.

Assessing the Impacts of Engaged Research workshop co-organizers and participants

Convened in partnership with the Transforming Evidence Funders Network (TEFN), the National Science Foundation, and New York University’s Metro Center, the workshop was co-chaired by Ben Miyamoto (The Pew Charitable Trusts), Fabienne Doucet (NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools), and Annette Boaz (Transforming Evidence/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), with guidance from organizing committee members Kripa Akila Jagannathan (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), Laurenz Mahlanza-Langer (South Africa Centre for Evidence), Darren Ranco (University of Maine), and Rajesh Tandon (Participatory Research in Asia). Support for the effort came from National Science Foundation, Health Research BC, William T. Grant Foundation, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and The Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Key themes

Throughout the week’s agenda, technical presentations, discussions, and breakout groups examined key themes involving the relationship between engaged research and evidence use in decision-making, including: 

Dr. Rajesh Tandon delivers the Walter Orr Roberts public lecture, “Harvesting Sustainability: Ecologies of Knowledge Democracy.”

Next steps

A synthesis of ideas emerged over the week on how to incentivize, enable, and support engaged research processes. Following the workshop, participants and organizers have continued to build on this synthesis by collaborating virtually on a series of follow-on products, including this declarative Call to Engagement to encourage funders, universities, and other academic leaders to join a global movement to support effective and equitable engaged research and evidence use. Workshop participants have also submitted an article on funder roles in co-production to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Explore more videos, presentations, and participant profiles from this workshop here. And to be notified about products from this and future AGCI workshops, please sign up for AGCI’s email newsletter.