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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Brian Belcher

“The IAS itself is a great idea and serves a valuable purpose as a node to encourage and facilitate interdisciplinary work.”

Professor Brian Belcher, Royal Roads University

IAS Fellow at Hatfield College, Durham University (October - December 2015)

Brian Belcher is a Professor in the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences at Royal Roads University (RRU) in Victoria, Canada, where he holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Research Effectiveness. Prof. Belcher teaches in the Doctor of Social Sciences Program and supervises Masters and Doctoral students. He also contributes as Senior Associate Scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and its international Consortium Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, including as a member of the Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Assessment team.

Professor Belcher’s research has focused on understanding and improving the role and potential of natural resources to sustainably contribute to rural development, and on research effectiveness. He served as Director of the Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology at RRU from 2007 until 2013, when he was awarded RRU’s first Tier 1 Canada Research Chair. As CRC, he is leading a program that aims to develop a practical approach, methodology and methods to evaluate sustainability research in complex transdisciplinary contexts, and to use this approach to conduct comparative analyses and evaluations of a range of sustainability research projects.

Prior to joining RRU in 2007, Professor Belcher worked at CIFOR, based in Bogor, Indonesia (1997-2007), serving variously as Senior Scientist, Leader of the Forest Products and People Program, and Director of the Livelihoods Program. He led a large international comparative analysis of cases of non-timber forest products commercialization and contributed as a member of the coordinating team on the recent “Poverty and Environment Network” project, another international comparative study that assessed the role of forest- and environmental-income in rural livelihoods. He has also worked with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) based in New Delhi, India (1994-1997) and Ottawa (1989-1992) and at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Professor Belcher has authored and co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and co-edited several books and a recent special issue of World Development. Two of his articles from a 2005 special issue of the same journal were recognized as “Top 10 most cited articles”. He has helped to develop and complete three major comparative research projects. The approach has contributed to a more systematic understanding of patterns and trends in small-scale forest use and management in less-developed countries. The analysis and recommendations from that research have helped revise donor and development agency approaches to natural resources development. His new work will further develop and apply the comparative approach to learn about and help improve effectiveness of transdisciplinary research.

Professor Belcher is a Canadian national with a BSc in Biology (Ecology) from University of Winnipeg (Canada), Masters of Natural Resources of Management from University of Manitoba (Canada), and PhD in Forestry (Economics and Policy) from University of Minnesota (USA), and research experience in a variety of natural resource management systems.

While at Durham, Professor Belcher will be working on the analysis and reporting of research on the outcomes of CIFOR’s research on REDD+ and developing a collaborative program for comparative analyses of research-for-development projects.

Defining and Measuring Research Quality in a Transdisciplinary Context

Research increasingly seeks to both generate knowledge and to contribute to real-world solutions, with strong emphasis on context and social engagement. As boundaries between disciplines are crossed, and as research engages more with stakeholders in complex systems, traditional academic definitions and criteria of research quality are no longer sufficient - there is a need for a parallel evolution of principles and criteria to define and evaluate research quality in a transdisciplinary research (TDR) context. We conducted a systematic review to help answer the question: What are appropriate principles and criteria for defining and assessing TDR quality? Articles were selected and reviewed seeking information on: arguments for or against expanding definitions of research quality; purposes for research quality evaluation; proposed principles of research quality; proposed criteria for research quality assessment; proposed indicators and measures of research quality; proposed processes for evaluating TDR. We used the information from the review and our own experience in two research organizations that use TDR approaches, to develop a prototype framework for evaluating TDR. The presentation will provide an overview of the relevant literature and summarize the main aspects of TDR quality identified there. Four main principles emerge: relevance, including social significance and applicability; credibility, including criteria of integration and reflexivity, added to traditional criteria of scientific rigour; legitimacy, including criteria of inclusion and fair representation of stakeholder interests, and; effectiveness, with criteria that assess actual or potential contributions to problem-solving and social change.

Listen to the lecture in full

Professor Brian Belcher Publications

Belcher, B., Palenburg, M., (2018) 'Outcomes and Impacts of Development Interventions: Toward Conceptual Clarity', American Journal of Evaluation, 1 - 18.

Belcher, B., Suryadarma, D., Halimanjaya, A (2017) 'Evaluating Policy-Relevant Research: Lessons from a Series of Theory-Based Outcomes Assessments', Palgrave Communications, 3:17017.

Belcher, B., Rasmussen, K., Kemshaw, M., Zornes, D., (2015) 'Defining and assessing research quality in a transdisciplinary context', Research Evaluation 2015, Oxford University Press, pp.1 - 17.