Over three days in May and June, the CSC held its second residential workshop of the year for Commonwealth PhD and Split-Site Scholars. Returning to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, Scholars participated in a comprehensive programme of sessions that focused on maximising the impact of their doctoral research and harnessing their findings to support evidence-based development interventions.

During the workshop, Scholars examined how to present their research to decision makers and how to increase engagement amongst stakeholders and the public in order to achieve good development outcomes. We were very pleased to welcome 27 Commonwealth Scholars to the workshop as well as being joined by members of the CSC Secretariat and CSC Commissioner, Dr Catherine Mackenzie.

Creating the conditions for open discussion

The starting point for Scholars was to create an open and supportive atmosphere so that they could engage in frank discussions about their work and future aims. Beginning with small team activities and building up to poster presentations, Scholars were challenged to venture out of their comfort zone and establish a good group rapport early on.

This first session set the tone for the dynamic, highly interactive discussions between Scholars across the following two days and afforded Scholars further opportunities for informal networking during the free time sessions.

Connecting research to the right audience: key learnings from the plenary sessions

On day two, we were pleased to host three plenary sessions for Scholars delivered by expert trainers from AccessEd. The sessions explored a variety of tools that researchers and development practitioners can use to maximise the impact of research, and crucially, to evaluate the success of development initiatives.

Beginning with a session on how to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into research and practice, the group looked at why this was important not only from the point of view of end users and ensuring good development outcomes, but also to secure and incentivise funding for follow-up research projects.

Following this, AccessEd led a session on the Theory of Change model and its applicability for evaluating the choices made at each stage of a research project or initiative. The session was particularly instructive for doctoral Scholars undertaking research because it encouraged them to think critically about the design of their project and how it could best support social change at each stage of the process.

In the final session on designing public engagement activities, Scholars used a step-by-step guide for planning and stakeholder analysis to map their ideas for engagement. Encouraged to consider their wider networks, Scholars initiated plans to organise research webinars that would bring together academics and research students to promote knowledge sharing and cross-cultural dialogue on key development issues.

Thoughts and reflections on the workshop

The last day of the workshop gave Scholars the chance to revisit their development impact plans, which had been outlined in the poster presentations on day one. Reflecting on the tools they had gained during the workshop, the group discussed how best to communicate their development impact and strengthen partnerships to achieve their aims. Finally, Scholars affirmed their commitment to development with individual presentations outlining the next steps they would take in their research journey.