Global Challenges Research Fund

The cross-government Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) has the potential to help address major global development challenges, but risks being spread too thinly to achieve transformative results.

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12 Sep 2017
Lead commissioner
Tina Fahm
Beyond aid, Economic development, Multisector
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Approach paper

The GCRF, a research and science focused aid fund, has a budget of £1.5bn over five years, which contributes towards the government’s 0.7% aid target.

The fund falls under the authority of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and aims to ensure that UK research and science play a leading role in addressing problems faced by developing countries.

ICAI’s review found that the fund had begun to innovate in useful ways, particularly by promoting interdisciplinary work on complex challenges such as non-communicable diseases and forced displacement.

However it found that aspects of the fund’s strategy, governance arrangements, and procedures were not yet clear or strong enough, and called on it to improve its systems in order to deliver its objectives more effectively, and achieve value for money.

It praised the GCRF for its proactive approach to working with research partners – such as universities – in developing countries, but said it should be clearer about its aims in doing so and consider a more targeted approach to these partnerships.

The review found that the GCRF needs more focused objectives to achieve the transformative research impact it aspires to, as the current approach has resulted in a scattered portfolio of research projects.

ICAI said that while the practical applications from the research may take time to emerge, the fund should do more to build linkages between researchers and those who will make use of or benefit from its work.

The review called on BEIS and DFID to look into whether the funding conditions of the GCRF are consistent with the government’s commitment not to tie UK aid. And it found that processes for assuring the eligibility of some parts of GCRF funding to be counted as aid were inadequate.


Based on this review ICAI made the following recommendations:

  • To increase its prospects of achieving transformative research impact, the GCRF should develop a more deliberate strategy that encourages a concentration of research portfolios around high-priority global development challenges, with a stronger orientation towards development impact.
  • The GCRF should develop clearer priorities and approaches to partnering with research institutions in the global South.
  • BEIS should develop a results framework for assessing the overall performance, impact and value for money of the GCRF portfolio, drawing on DFID’s guidelines on value for money in research and evidence programming.
  • With the increase in investment in development research across the UK government, the responsible departments should put in place a standing coordination body to clarify roles and responsibilities, avoid duplication and overlap, and facilitate the exchange of learning.

Government response

The government publishes a response to all ICAI reviews. You can read the government response to ICAI’s review of the GCRF online.

In addition, the government supplied a separate response on whether the funding conditions of the GCRF are consistent with its commitment not to tie UK aid, and the ODA eligibility of the Funding Council GCRF allocations. Read the governments separate response on ODA and untied aid.

International Development Committee

Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC), or its ICAI sub-committee, hold hearings on all ICAI reviews. The IDC hearing on the GCRF is available to watch online.

ICAI’s follow-up

ICAI follows up on all of its reviews to check what progress has been made since publication. ICAI’s GCRF follow-up is available to read now.