Conducting research with the ICTD
The ICTD is a research network dedicated to improving tax policies and practices in low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We aim to do this through (a) undertaking policy relevant research to a high professional standard and (b) disseminating the results of that research effectively. To be successful in this mission, ICTD needs to work closely with African researchers and policymakers. Helping to build tax research capacity in Africa is a central part of our mission.
From time to time, the ICTD may issue calls for research proposals in specific areas, and provide specific guidance on how to respond to those calls. However, even if there is no specific call, we are always open to receiving ideas through brief research proposals, especially from African researchers, tax officials, and tax policymakers.
Send us a research proposal
A good research proposal is key to doing good research. A good proposal essentially deals with the following issues:
- What question (or questions) am I going to try to answer?
- What data do I need to answer those questions?
- How will I get that data?
- How will I use that data to answer the question?
Few of us are very good at producing research proposals. ICTD invests quite heavily in proposal preparation. We will provide support from experienced staff; applicants can expect to invest significant time, and go through two or three re-drafts. Do not be discouraged by a request for revisions. That is a sign that we are interested.
A good first step is to send us an outline proposal, focusing on the 4 questions listed above, and telling us why you are the right person(s) to do this research. This initial proposal should normally not be more than 2 pages.
We will respond and, if we think it is worthwhile to develop the proposal, we will suggest how that can be done. In some cases, we might offer phone/Skype conversations. We are here to encourage and facilitate research – and especially to help people who have professional experience of taxation to engage in research. In other cases, where some preliminary investigations are needed before a good proposal can be developed, we might offer small research preparation grants.
What is a good research proposal?
We do not have one single template for a research proposal. To some extent, each proposal will follow a different format. However, for a full proposal, you might want to use the following template as a default, adapting it as needed.
- What is the central question you want to answer?
- Why is this question important, both for policy and for our broader (or more conceptual or theoretical) understanding of tax and development issues?
- What is the current state of knowledge on this question?
- What hypotheses, if any, do you have about the answers to your central question? Or, tell us what you imagine your conclusions might be, in one or two sentences.
- What other questions do you need to address to answer the central question?
- What data do you need to collect?
- How will you collect and process those data?
- What is the time scale for different activities?
- What experience do you have of doing and writing up research?
- Do you need any specific training to help you complete the research successfully?
- What external support might you need, if any?
- What publications and or other outputs might emerge from this research?
- What is the potential practical application of this research?
- How is this research going to help build tax research capacity in Africa?
On the other hand, a good proposal will make little or no reference to the importance of tax in general (we do not need to be convinced), and only a very short discussion of the importance of the tax question you are going to investigate. It is easy to say why a tax question is important. It is much harder to design and do the research needed to answer the question. If you are in doubt about any of these questions, ask. In some cases, you simply will not know the answers before you begin the research process.
What about writing up and research dissemination?
Communicating the results of your research effectively is an essential part of the research process. Take that into account when working out the time and resources needed to complete your research project. The results of each piece of research should be communicated in different forms to different audiences. These are our most common forms of research dissemination:
- An ICTD Working Paper. This is the primary dissemination channel for ICTD research. Working Papers are independently peer reviewed. This means that the paper will have to meet a professional standard. You can expect to be asked to revise your initial draft at least once.
- A two-page ICTD Research in Brief, written specifically for policymakers. This is a requirement for every project.
- A paper in our African Tax Administration Paper series. These contain valuable information to share, but are less academic than the Working Papers.
- A blog on the ICTD website.
- A face-to-face meeting with practitioners and policymakers.
- A journal article. It is ICTD policy that all such articles are published in ‘open access’ form. We can give more details on this if needed.
- An opinion piece in a newspaper or mention in a news story.
- An appearance on radio or TV.
- A chapter in a book.
- Presentation at a conference.
ICTD has a Research Uptake and Communications Manager who can advise you on these issues, and use our website, social media, and newsletter to ensure that a particular paper or interview is broadcast widely. ICTD needs to report its ‘policy influencing’ activities to our funders, so we therefore need you to report these to us please. If you find an opportunity to disseminate research findings that is unexpected, or comes after the research project budget is closed, and additional funding is needed, please ask us.
What about students and studentships?
ICTD is unable to give studentships for Masters or Doctoral students. We may be able to provide some support for students’ field research provided we are convinced (a) that they are likely to do valuable, original research and (b) that they are committed to writing up the results of this research explicitly for ICTD – and separately from their dissertations/theses.
Budgets and Contracts
There is no fixed template for budgeting but a good budget is vital for proper financial management, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, and managing fiduciary risks. No formal proposal will be accepted without a budget in MS Excel format, and a workplan in the Gantt Chart format. An outline proposal need only give a rough estimation of total cost. Budgeting should be done in the first instance by the applicant and submitted along with the narrative proposal. If the proposal is accepted the budget will be refined through discussion between the applicant and the Programme Manager.
A good budget will reduce the need for later revisions, and reduce the time needed to issue a contract. A budget will include the following elements:
- A description of each expense item (a named researcher, a service or an item of equipment etc.)
- A rate for the expense (for example the daily rate, a per diem rate, the cost of a single item etc.)
- A frequency for the expense (how many items for example. Please note that fees/fee rates must be in days)
- The general category under which the expense falls, from among: Personnel, Travel, Accommodation and Subsistence, Equipment, Programme Costs (put anything not obviously in other category in here), and Institutional Overheads.
- A total amount
- The expected timing of the expenditure (this should be directly linked to the Work Plan)
All budgets should reflect a commitment to obtaining value for money and all expenses have to be entirely work-related and necessary for you to perform your duties. We do not fund alcohol, tobacco or gifts. We will only meet the cost of economy travel, and of ‘reasonable’ (not luxury) accommodation. Quotes for flights and reasonable hotels can be obtained by the applicant through any major online travel agent (Opodo, Expedia, Skyscanner etc.) or through the Programme Manager. Daily rates for subsistence must be within limits set by the HMRC and the UNCSC. These can be obtained from the Programme Manager if required. Daily fee rates should be in keeping with normal daily salary or charge-out rates of the applicant’s institution. We do not pay consultancy rates. The ICTD is not a consultancy organisation. All budgets must be expressed in GBP or USD. Where applicable, exchange rates can be agreed with the Programme Manager. We do not fund budget items labelled ‘contingencies’. We will pay (reasonable) institutional overheads where appropriate. If in doubt, ask the Programme Manager for advice.
If you are successful in a funding application, the Programme Manager will work with you to draft a contract. This will likely involve a revision or refinement of original budget. The contract will be with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the legal ‘home’ of the ICTD. We are required to follow IDS procedures and meet IDS standards.
If you work for an organisation or institution that is new to the ICTD or the IDS, the first steps of this process will be a due diligence and duty of care check, conducted by the Programme Manager. We may ask to see (a) documents of incorporation etc.: (b) your latest financial statements, and (c) written policies on health and safety; anti-fraud, bribery and corruption; travel abroad; and duty of care.
We expect contracting organisations and institutions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff at all times and to make all necessary arrangements to carry out the work effectively and safely. If you are an individual who has not worked with us before we will ask to ensure that you make reasonable efforts to ensure your safety and wellbeing at all times when conducting work for the ICTD/IDS, and to act appropriately as an agent of the ICTD. This may include arranging your own insurance and familiarising yourself with the IDS rules, regulations and procedures. In some cases we may provide insurance and other means for support.
Once we have all the necessary elements in place, the programme manager will work with you to construct Terms of Reference based on the project proposal, work plan and budget that have been agreed. The contracting process can easily take between two and four weeks, so please allow time for this. The IDS has standard terms that we are required to include in all contracts. These includes clauses relating to intellectual property rights and jurisdiction. If you are working for ICTD as an individual, please be aware that you are responsible for the payment of all relevant and necessary taxes in your resident country. You will need to give us your home address for an individual contract, not a work address.
Monitoring and Reporting
Every contract is broken down into timed stages. For each stage, there will be specific performance milestones and deliverables, based on the agreed budget and work plan. Payments are performance-based: they will be dependent on fulfilment of milestones and actual delivery of deliverables. If you anticipate problems, contact the Programme Manager as soon as possible. At each milestone, you will be asked to send to the Programme Manager: (a) a brief narrative operational report (normally 1 to 2 sides of paper, unless there are problems to report); (b) a statement of expenditures; and (c) a copy of any deliverables that are due. To avoid payment delays, please prepare these before you are asked for them. The Programme Manager may also contact you by Skype or phone to discuss the project.
The operational report should be a straightforward factual report on what has been done, what is to be done next, and any issues, problems or new research opportunities that have arisen. It should also refer to any milestone requirements. The statement of expenditures should be based on the budget that has been agreed. We suggest that the Excel spreadsheet used for the budget is expanded to include an expenditure tab. Advice on this will be given by the Programme Manager.
Fees are always paid through the contract milestone payment and after the work has been completed. We will never pay full fees upfront but may make partial payments in some cases (see below).
Expenses will be paid to large organisations and institutions through the contract milestone payments after a milestone is reached and any linked output completed. Receipts are not automatically requested but a Statement of Expenditures is a requirement. Only actual expenses claimed under the Statement of Expenditures will be reimbursed. This may be less than the amount allowed in the contract.
For smaller organisations with less stable cash flow we may pre-finance expenses, for example to make it possible to begin longer term fieldwork. In such cases, it is essential that an accurate record of actual expenditures is given to the Programme Manager as a Statement of Expenditures. The Programme Manager may ask for receipts. It is expected that contractor organisations and institutions will make all arrangements for travel, accommodation and subsistence for their researchers and downstream partners. Any organisation that receives overhead contributions from an ICTD contract will be expected to contribute administrative support to the research project.
We are unable to advance or pre-finance expenses for individuals. Exceptionally, we may be able to pay a ‘retaining fee’ (a portion of the budgeted fees not greater than 25% of the total) to enable an individual to carry out fieldwork. In such cases, ICTD will seek to directly book services like flights and accommodation. Research expenses incurred by individuals will be reimbursed on the basis of submission of expense claims with all original receipts. This claim will consist of a statement of expenditures in Excel format with dates and details of expenses along with numbered receipts which are cross referenced with the Statement of Expenditures. An individual can make an expense at any time rather than wait for a fixed milestone date.
Notes on timing:
We make every effort to make the contracting and reimbursement processes streamlined, quick and efficient. But the IDS is required, by law, by virtue of its charitable status and by its Trustees to follow a range of procedures when sub-contracting research. In some cases, issues must be cleared by IDS senior management. Delays may result.
It can take up to a month to complete the full application process, and a similar amount of time to complete the contracting process. Unless you are prepared to start work without a contract in place then plan for this in your work plan/timetable. It will help if you note the milestone dates in your contract and have the relevant reports completed ahead of time. The Programme Manager will generally remind you at the start of the month that a deadline approaches. The deadline for milestones is generally set on the 15th of the relevant month. On receipt of the report the Programme Manager will need up to a week to check it and ask any necessary questions. Then payment may be authorised. It can take up to two weeks for payments to reach accounts outside the UK.
Finally and most importantly… If in doubt, ask! We are here to support you through the entire process, from pre-application to post research and dissemination, for the greatest mutual benefit and the highest quality research, dissemination and uptake.