R4D (a) implements research that has developmental relevant; (b) links research with those who can use it; and (c) deploys a variety of strategies to ensure that the results of its research work is used and incorporated into development processes.

Our R4D Framework:


At the heart of everything WLE Greater Mekong does are the outcomes it seeks. These provide the programme’s conceptual integrity – i.e. the programme’s boundaries are clear in terms of what it does and what it doesn’t. The programme’s Coordination and Change project internalises these, which helps it to track progress towards them. Within the framework, the C&C project has propriety over programmatic outcomes. Because the C&C project is long-term, it maintains programmatic continuity, and drives outputs into outcome long after projects have ended.

Projects are located within this ‘envelope’. Projects typically last between two and five years. The programme has two kinds. Projects 1 and 2 in the example above are ‘fuzzy-edged’ projects, meaning that their outputs and outcomes are difficult to tease apart. It is a gold standard in R4D when outputs blur with outcomes. For example, a policy can be an output; but if it yields widespread change, it is then also an outcome. Fuzzy-edged projects tend to be of an ‘action research’ variety, and to focus on institutional change. The people they seek to change are both subject and instrument in their structure. Such projects use iterative processes to achieve deep learning and behavioural change. These projects usually generate outcomes during the project lifetime.

The second type of projects are the ‘hard-edged’ projects. These tend to have a biophysical focus, and are very much oriented towards generating discrete outputs. Because there are so many gaps in biophysical knowledge within the region, these projects are necessary. These projects tend not to include the people they are seeking to change, and outcomes only emerge well after project end. In order to generate outcomes from these projects requires significant support from the C&C project to carry their results forwards.

WLE Greater Mekong’s R4D framework has been developed over 13 years of working and implementing in the Greater Mekong.

WLE Greater Mekong works as a regional hub for R4D, as well as for ‘action research’. See below.

The heart of WLE’s planning is the ‘impact pathway’. Developing these pathways starts with analysing problems: their causes, their drivers and the reasons why they are often repeated. By understanding problems in this way, we are able then to define the impacts we want to achieve by seeking out its antonym: the solution.

Most of the time, problems arise because of things that we (as humans) do. As a result, solutions mean that we have to do things differently. The next step in the impact pathway process is, therefore, to define who needs to change what they are doing, and we do this by breaking down this change in terms of knowledge, attitude and skill (KAS) (i.e. what knowledge, attitude and skill do they need in order to do something differently).

We then define the strategies we need to employ in order to change KAS. These can be a very wide variety of strategies, usually including elements of capacity building, communications, the presence of technical solutions, dialogues, etc.

Finally, we determine the research outputs needed. By using our strategies, we can influence KAS, in turn resulting in a target group of people changing the way they do things, thereby solving the problem.

WLE Greater Mekong implements all of its work through partnerships; and all projects comprise consortia of partners. There are many reasons why partnerships are a good idea:

They capture diversity – diversity means that a whole variety of different perspectives can be brought to bear to solve a problem.

They strengthen research – partners with different research experiences, different networks, and different ways of doing things means that research can cover much more.

They improve the chances that impact will occur – besides research partners, WLE partners with development organisations, governments, NGOs, private developers and others. By partnering with this diverse group of actors, we improve the chances that our research solutions will be picked up.

They generate communities of practice – teams of dedicated researchers, development professionals, NGO workers and private sector actors all devoted to addressing a commonly perceived problem. This improves the exchange of knowledge and leads to collective capacity building.

In WLE Greater Mekong, Component 1 serves as the programme’s backbone organization. Backbone organisations are independent entities that play a critical role in guiding and pushing a collective initiative forwards; and keeping an initiative cohesive. Component 1 has the following functions:

Guiding vision and strategy: Component 1 sets the programme’s goals, and is the ‘repository’ of the programme as a whole. This means that Component 1 works to define and maintain the boundaries of the programme as a whole, and to direct and coordinate the projects within them and their activities.

Supporting aligned activities: all components, and all projects, are aligned to the programme’s goals. WLE Greater Mekong supports these programmatic elements with funding, technical expertise, communications, by developing dialogues and partnerships within the development sector.

Establishing shared measurement practices: all projects within the WLE Greater Mekong programme are monitored and evaluated in the same way. Programme M&E examines both their technical implementation and their efforts to deliver research outputs into use.

Advancing policy and delivering change: above, the programme’s partnership strategy was summarized. Developing partnerships is not a function of Component 1 alone, and occurs in all projects. Projects tend to develop more technically-oriented partnerships, while Component 1 tends to focus on more development-oriented relationships.

The programme has a very considerable partnership, and WLE Greater Mekong works as an ‘honest broker’ of knowledge between partners. This large partnership base, and its reputation as an honest broker of knowledge, gives it considerable ‘convening power’, meaning that the programme is able to bring together large numbers of partners at workshops and other events.

A key strategy for advancing policy and delivering change is the programme’s Communications Strategy. The Strategy is programme-wide and all elements within it are expected to contribute towards its implementation.

The development of dialogues form a key part of the WLE Greater Mekong’s Communications Strategy. Dialogues serve to create the context into which research outputs are introduced, and deliberated by technical practitioners, and potential users.

Mobilising funding: Component 1 also works to mobilise funding for the programme as a whole. It also plays a leading role in the management of these funds and the ways in which they are distributed.

WLE Greater Mekong is an adaptively managed programme, which means that the research is coordinated to modify itself as it progresses. It will modify itself in response to changes in the environment where it is located; opportunities that present themselves, particularly those that represent possibilities to generate positive impact.

Adaptive management is also influenced by learning – as R4D is implemented, and new things are learned, it may be found that some pathways seem less promising than the new ones being discovered. The system thus adjusts itself to address opportunities as they arise, and to discard non-promising pathways.

Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a ‘community of practice’ to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. In effect, it is a research process that contains within it desired development outcomes from the outset. All research implemented under this WLE Greater Mekong will be action research.