Global Challenges Research Fund: sector meeting 29 October 2019 #GCRF

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) ‘is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries’. Its delivery partners include the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). Earlier this year, I was commissioned by the SFC to produce a web-map of the GCRF projects it funds.

I was invited to present about the map at the SFC’s GCRF sector meeting at the sector meeting on 29 October.

Hence a major part of this post is to record what Isaid about the map. The other major part is slightly edited versions of my live-tweets from the meeting. The rest of the post is Bruce-thoughts tweeted at the time, in (round brackets), and Bruce-thoughts that occurred while writing this post, in [square brackets].

My work was very well received, so I am very happy to have boosted my reputation (and that of Edinburgh Napier University), with representatives of the other Scottish universities, and with a significant research-funder.

All photos and information reported below are © the presenters and their relevant colleagues. Click the images to see the full-size versions.

1 A few introductory tweets

I’m at the Global Challenges Research Fund sector meeting, presenting my map of @ScotFundCouncil-funded #GCRF projects. It’s part of my @ComputingNapier work. Lots more interesting #GCRF stuff to come today!

Here’s where I am:

@EdNapierRIO: Not only was @Bruce_Research at this #GCRFmeeting he was presenting some of his work with @ScotFundCouncil on Scottish GCRF funding. We in @EdNapierRIO were also present! He has posted info from the day, so check it out to see what was discussed

@frankrennie says: Attending a mini conference on the Global Challenge Research Fund in Edinburgh today. Learning lots of network connections as well as presenting about our UHI project in Bhutan. @ThinkUHI @lccuhi #GCRF

2 Welcome – Wayne Powell (Principal SRUC/Convener of US Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee)

Wayne Powell (Principal SRUC/Convener of US Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee) starting off the #GCRF meeting. #GCRF is about wicked challenges, requiring new ways of working.

WP is now mentioning some outstanding examples. Today is about opportunities, developing partnerships and actions.

3 UKRI Update – Rob Felstead, UKRI International Team; Q&A

Rob Felstead, of UKRI International Team, presenting remotely ‘UKRI update’ at the @ScotFundCouncil #GCRF meeting. This work started in 2016/2017. These meetings are ~annual. UK is performing well – see slide. Much of our research is via international collaboration.

See more about UK #GCRF and related research below. These include Newton Fund and others. (Sorry I’m a bit slow at live tweeting today.)

@RFelstead_UKRI shows #GCRF delivery partners. There are quite a few ‘strategic partnerships’.

@RFelstead_UKRI shows key #GCRF criteria:

There are challenge-leaders to enhance #GCRF work, to help build research portfolios:

@RFelstead_UKRI shows where #GCRF researchers are:

@RFelstead_UKRI introduces some discussion-points for the following Q&A. These include move of research base, opportunities, deadlines, understanding Official Development Assistance, due diligence, equitable and ethical partnerships, EDI targets including gender equality, safeguarding, move to DAC-country led work.

Most funds are committed for now, says @RFelstead_UKRI. We need to show the impact of what we have done so far. Future areas of focus might include capacity building, innovation, extreme poverty and partnerships.

@RFelstead_UKRI is now doing Q&A. Not sure it’s OK to live-tweet these, because answers won’t be ‘official’. (This is my thought, not a command from Mr Felstead or @ScotFundCouncil or anyone else!) Also, my role means I don’t know the contexts.

4 Scotland update / Supporting collaboration

4.1 Reporting on GCRF – David Beards, SFC

[I didn’t live-tweet much about this, for the same reasons I didn’t report on Rob Felstead’s Q&A session.]

David Beards shows countries represented so far in research in @ScotFundCouncil-funded #GCRF projects:

4.2 Map of Scottish GCRF projects – Bruce Ryan, Edinburgh Napier University

[I’ve not provided a link to the draft map, because the the data it will display needs to go through various approvals processes. The mapping software I’ve written is complete. A PDF of my slide-deck is here, and here’s a screen-shot of what it looks like.]

4.2.1 How the project came about

  • In 2013, Peter Cruickshank and I were commissioned by the Improvement Service to create a web-map of community councils
  • In 2018, Wegene Demeke and I won funds for a GCRF seed-project, researching participatory budgeting
  • I attended the UKRI GCRF Regional Engagement Event in Glasgow (March 2019)
    • David said ‘I’d like to display SFC-funded GCRF projects on a webmap’.
    • I offered to do this, as a Napier project.
    • Work started in April 2019.
    • After many versions (adding one feature at a time), and a lot of work by David to obtain and sanitise data, we have the map!

4.2.2 How does it work?

  • There is an open-source library called Leaflet which calls base maps from servers.
  • Leaflet also draws markers with pop-ups, depending on the data it is fed.
    • It can also draw and colour lines and shapes. (That’s used in the CC map but not in this one.)
    • There is a host of 3rd-party plug-ins, for example to render things differently, use geodata, search for addresses, add layer controls and most importantly for this project cluster markers that would otherwise overlap.

4.2.3 What does it do?

  • It firstly shows all the projects that are in the current SFC database.
    • They are clustered where they would overlap.
    • Clicking on a cluster zooms in, to show ‘sub-clusters’ and individual markers.
      • Markers are generally at the centre of main recipient countries.
    • Clicking on clusters zooms in further.
    • Clicking on any marker brings up a pop-up containing information about the project.
  • The information displayed depends on the info supplied by institution but it will always display
    • Which university is doing the project
    • The university’s URL
    • The project’s title
    • Any SDGs the project is tackling
    • The project’s main recipient country, and any other recipient countries
    • The project’s total budget.
  • If the following has been supplied, the pop-up will also state.
    • Project code
    • Project description
    • PI contact info
    • Project website
    • Project’s OECD sector classification
    • The project’s contact-person
    • Any partner-organisations
    • Project start- and end-dates.
  • The only real limitation that I know of is that pop-ups are limited in size, so descriptions etc shouldn’t be much more than 100 words.
  • If a project can’t be displayed in a single main recipient country, the marker is displayed in the mid-Atlantic, and the pop-up states why this is:
    • some projects have several equally important main recipient countries
    • some have no main recipient.
  • This version of the map colour-codes markers according to SDG.
    To see how many are associated with any SDG:

    • Click hide all markers.
    • Then click the marker in the table you’re interested in.
  • The other version of the map colours markers according to university.
    • The clusters and markers have the same functions.
    • The hide button works the same as on the SDG version.
    • You can see, for example, that, according to the current data supplied by these universities, Edinburgh Napier University has 21 projects, and that Edinburgh University has 164 projects.
  • Both versions have zoom-in and zoom-out controls.
  • Both versions have a copyright line.
    • The copyright lines lead to acknowledging copyright, support etc.
    • You can see that all of the code is open-source, so anyone can adapt, improve or simply re-use the code, so long as they credit the original author and release their work under the same terms. (Telling me directly what I could do better would be welcome!)
    • However, the data is ©SFC and can’t be reused without their permission.

4.2.4 Next steps

  • Immediate
    • Add in any currently missing projects.
    • Cut down some of the long descriptions
  • Short-term
    • If SFC wants them, implement your suggestions.
  • Long-term
    • The map is static, i.e. it displays data from a file that has to be updated with new data.
    • We had to spend a long time sanitising this data so that line-breaks etc didn’t break the map.
    • So SFC would like a version that
      • can show or send each university its own data.
      • Then the university can edit this, and/or add new data.
      • Then the map will automatically update, ideally immediately.
      • We are working out whether this is possible (it should be) and if so, how to make it happen. Watch this space!

4.3 GCRF networks – Alastair Strickland, University of Dundee

Alastair Strickland of @dundeeuni is now talking about #GCRF networks. There are questions on logistics and methods to connect far-flung Scottish universities at remote meetings. Wayne Powell asks whether the web-map can contribute.

AS says there are other UK networks, e.g. Scotland could/should do similar. Someone from an older Scottish university comments on how #GCRF has been perceived. There is a need for it not to be siloed in ‘development’.

Another questioner says there are online communities of practice. So these can be -and are being – built on. But there are different viewpoints and perspectives. Wayne Powell is thinking of the future: should there be a Scottish #GCRF champion?

5 Sharing practices, policies & approaches

5.1 Research Ethics – Clara Calia, University of Edinburgh

Next session is on ethical challenges. Some ideas are in the second photo. There was lots of input, as shown in the third photo.

There was mention of how ethics approaches and policies vary around the world. (The presenter of this session is She circulates their draft output (a 4-page précis).

Key messages include:

  • an ethical world view
  • not just a paperwork hurdle
  • many challenges and dilemmas
  • a journey form research idea to legacy
  • a commitment to good practice
  • place people principle precedent
  • case studies and sharing solutions.

Some thoughts on supporting ethical practices in global research, and on paradigm shift for universities, and future directions. Finally, principles

5.2 Due Diligence – Mary Ryan, University of Glasgow

Mary Ryan (@MaryRARyan) says there is need for a unified approach, e.g. same questions on different funders’ questionnaires; some researchers not feeling trusted; some institutions not having exactly relevant policies.

@MaryRARyan talks about pillars of due diligence. Are the current pillars right? Are the questions right? Is the language right? Is engagement with partners constructive? e.g. legal, financial, ethics interpretations of these differ.

Outcomes of due diligence discussions:

Next steps on due diligence. (I need more coffee to be able to type these out. 😦 )

5.3 Safeguarding – Philippa Ramsden, Scottish international Development Alliance

Next session is ‘Safeguarding’, by Philippa Ramsden of Scottish international Development Alliance (@IntDevAlliance, This is an initial discussion of the issues, says David Beards of @ScotFundCouncil.

(Personally, I hate the thought that researchers would deliberately do bad things, but I’m sure mistakes can happen.)

Phillippa says it goes beyond compliance. Safeguarding is not new, but attention on it was embiggened by the Oxfam scandal. Needed focus on is about action not being taken at the time (if I understood correctly. Mistakes in my tweets are not by speakers)

One idea is the ‘humanitarian passport’, so that vetting etc of people is more easily transferrable from country to country. (Would it be something like biological passports, I wonder.)

What we might do in Scotland:

(In a previous tweet, I should have said that some of the actions are well in progress.)

This includes (action on) bullying and harassment. (Personal comment: we shouldn’t need such this, but we know humans can be bad.)

What should be done, in a clear diagram.

Key dimensions of safeguarding:

It’s about prevention first and foremost:

@IntDevAlliance’s package is at

Other resources:

Key question for researchers/unis is ‘What are you doing about incidents?’. (I think that means that if researchers/universities find bad things are happening, they can’t necessarily prevent this, but they are responsible for sorting it.)

6 Afternoon presentations

6.1 Effective Communications: Matt Paterson, SFC

Matt of @ScotFundCouncil is now talking about how to communicate good things about #GCRF research, including simple tools such as photos of people (benefitting from work, or suffering from issues research tackles), kids drawings. Here’s an example of tweeting such:

Note use of #hashtags and @Twitter handles. But most important thing is photos, says Matt. (Bruce-question: what about communicating with visually-impaired people? Photos need textual descriptions. Not that I am perfect about doing this!)

Another option is videos, so we have audio and video.) Videos can include text, making them much more impactful:

Matt points out what we can do with a phone, so long as the battery lasts. (My mac’s battery is near empty, so we both need lunch 🙂 )

Matt’s key points:

There are questions about barriers to using photo and video: GDPR, need for approval from not just subjects but their families, tribes, other social structures.

6.2 Collaboration Agreements for small grants: Janey Andrews, Heriot Watt University

Janey Andrews (Heriot Watt University) speaking about ‘Collaboration Agreements for small grants’. For examples academic institutions and NGOs need various things, all of which might not be already in place.

JA’s colleague says things are written down, but still there are problems. Hence need to include all conditions of original awards in comms.

(This harks back to a conversation at lunchtime: academics move, and outputs don’t stay online. I guess we need DOIs for researchers. ORCIDs are an attempt to implement this.)

6.3 Short project presentations (as time allows)

Here is @StirUni‘s mentor training programme:

I hear of So another personal bonus 🙂 (and task to see what it’s all about! 😦 )

Conor Snowden ( is talking about what @EdinburghUni‘s Research Office etc is doing with #GCRF. Here is their digital home:

7 My reaction

Lots and lots of stuff! Matt’s talk implied that many academics still don’t know how to use social media. I’m not optimal, but I’d have thought we can – and should be able to tweet and blog about our great work.Clearly there is a lot going on in Scottish GCRF-world that I don’t yet know about. There’s always more to learn and do! 🙂 🙂 🙂


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