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In May 1997, the GEF Council approved the “Principles for GEF Financing of Targeted Research” as the basis for considering GEF funding of goal-oriented research that supports the GEF operational strategy. In 2007 the GEF revised the Project Cycle, including streamlining the procedures for targeted research proposals:
Targeted Research identified and proposed by GEF Agencies will first be reviewed by a Research Committee, convened by STAP, which will advise the agency concerned. Following this first stage review, the project concept may be submitted to the GEF Secretariat in PIF format, when it will be subjected to normal PIF screening by STAP. STAP, however, reserves the right to review other projects which may have a substantial component of Targeted Research, and then also to convene the Research Committee. This action will be taken in consultation with the CEO of the GEF and with the GEF Agency concerned. In all cases the full report of the Research Committee will be provided by the STAP to the CEO and to the GEF Agency concerned.
STAP has undertaken several reviews of the utility of the Targeted Research modality in the past because of expressed concerns that the modality was not being taken up by the GEF agencies and that opportunities were being lost to improve the efficient and evidence-based functioning of the GEF in terms of up-to-date science and new tools and techniques. The analysis revealed that GEF research projects tend to be small and non-strategic, and that there is little evidence of uptake of research results. Reviews suggested that the barriers to use of the modality are too great and that there is little incentive for agencies to propose Targeted Research projects.
There is compelling evidence for the continuing demand for targeted/applied research in the GEF. While no formal change to the GEF Targeted Research Policy has been made, STAP advice and interventions regarding future Targeted Research Projects will be consistent with the recommendations of the most recent STAP review (2012) “Research within the GEF: Proposals for revising the Targeted Research Modality”:
The GEF should amend its current Targeted Research Policy, possibly renaming it Applied Research. The current definition of Targeted Research would largely stay the same, but it should allow for pilot testing, experiment, demonstration and development. These categories would be specified further in a revised policy. Justification: the current 1997 policy is not working as intended, but the GEF retains legitimate needs for directed or applied research that will contribute to further improving its performance and learning from its activities. The GEF will only finance research under a research and development umbrella that meets the needs of its own strategies and processes.
Evidence-based decision making should become the standard when deciding on operational strategies and processes. This should be an integration of individual expertise with the best available scientifically-reviewed evidence from systematic research. Justification: Evidence-based decision-making is growing in popularity and is being progressively adopted in most applied disciplines (such as health and engineering), including at least one bilateral development agency.
During future replenishments, resources amounting to no more than 2 percent of total GEF disbursements should be identified to support the GEF’s applied research needs. Sources may include country STAR allocations with appropriate incentives to encourage national and regional research institutes to participate; focal set-asides within the STAR; and from focal areas outside the STAR. Justification: Applied research will need clarity as to source of funding. The 2 percent maximum is suggested to be well within the levels for applied research and R&D in other broadly similar agencies.
A systematic process for encouraging the identification, prioritization and testing of assumptions and the development of new solutions to improve the quality and effectiveness of GEF policies and practices should be established. Research priorities, if any, should be first defined explicitly in each focal area strategy – as was done for the International Waters focal area strategy. Between replenishments, the focal area task forces, led by the GEF Secretariat, would identify and prioritize themes worthy of applied/targeted research. As part of these task forces, STAP would need to play an important role in their identification and prioritization. Justification: a clear unambiguous structure will be needed with defined roles by GEF agencies.
STAP approval would be required of applied/targeted research proposals prior to presentation to the Council (for FSPs) or the CEO (for MSPs). As with all full GEF project proposals, STAP review of applied research could be undertaken at proposal (PIF) stage. For especially innovative or important projects, a STAP nominee may join the project scientific steering committee. The current requirement of a special STAP research committee to be convened to review and track such proposals should be abolished. Justification: STAP should ensure on behalf of the GEF the scientific and technical quality of research proposals for their innovativeness and potential impact on the GEF. STAP believes abolishing the STAP research committee will remove a potentially unnecessary step in the review process.
Consistent with current guidelines, each GEF applied/targeted research proposal should specify at the outset: (1) how it will improve the quality and effectiveness of the GEF; (2) why it reflects value for money; (3) which specific policies and/or practices of GEF entities will be targeted, and in what way. Justification: all GEF research must be justified in terms of both financial investment and relevance to GEF processes.
The GEF’s support for applied/targeted research should (1) contribute to the science and knowledge base for decision making in the GEF; (2) be fully integrated with the GEF Knowledge Management system; (3) align with quality assurance processes within the GEF that ensure results and lessons learnt are taken up by future projects; (4) contribute to the evidence-base for the scientific strategies of the Conventions. Justification: GEF research needs to be closely linked with, and mutually reinforcing of, the GEF’s Knowledge Management aspirations.