Revealing the Relational Mechanisms of Research for Development Through Social Network Analysis

Marina Apgar*, Guillaume Fournie, Barbara Haesler, Grace Lyn Higdon, Leah Kenny, Annalena Oppel, Evelyn Pauls, Matthew Smith, Mieke Snijder, Daan Vink, Mazeda Hossain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Achieving impact through research for development programmes (R4D) requires engagement with diverse stakeholders across the research, development and policy divides. Understanding how such programmes support the emergence of outcomes, therefore, requires a focus on the relational aspects of engagement and collaboration. Increasingly, evaluation of large research collaborations is employing social network analysis (SNA), making use of its relational view of causation. In this paper, we use three applications of SNA within similar large R4D programmes, through our work within evaluation of three Interidsiplinary Hubs of the Global Challenges Research Fund, to explore its potential as an evaluation method. Our comparative analysis shows that SNA can uncover the structural dimensions of interactions within R4D programmes and enable learning about how networks evolve through time. We reflect on common challenges across the cases including navigating different forms of bias that result from incomplete network data, multiple interpretations across scales, and the challenges of making causal inference and related ethical dilemmas. We conclude with lessons on the methodological and operational dimensions of using SNA within monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) systems that aim to support both learning and accountability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-350
Number of pages28
JournalEuropean Journal of Development Research
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Collaboration
  • Evaluation
  • Learning
  • Relational
  • Research for Development
  • Social network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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