How to set up operational research in a NGO?

Required elements for building operational research

Essential elements for building operational research (Zachariah et al 2010: 4):

Competent research officer(s)
who has programme skills to lead and coordinate the development of research activity supported by a data manage

Operational research policy document
developed to clarify the ‘what, why and how’ of operational research in the organisation

Research registry
established and regularly updated

Research questions
generated from within programmes focused to answer implementers’ questions

Research = part of field operations
not run in parallel to field operations

Research part of annual planning
Research planning, agenda-setting, objectives, targets and budgeting included within annual planning exercise

Critical mass of field staff
to manage study protocols, conduct operational research, write up manuscripts and publish relevant research

Ethical review board
to facilitate ethical review

Close collaboration
established with local authorities and national partners

Training, mentorship and on-the-job supervision
sustained over time

Field staff with access to scientific literature and
encouraged to attend and present abstracts at scientific conferences

A dissemination strategy
to market the added value of operational research to MSF

Relevant operational research
translated into policy and practice with a spin-off effect to stimulate more research

Example of a Research Policy Framework - MSF

Organisation: MSF

Year: 2010


  • A clear definition and purpose of operational research
  • Guiding principles to be followed when integrating research into programs.
  • Information on practical issues linked to research.



  • General concepts on operational research in MSF
  • Integrating research into MSF programs
  • Ethics review
  • MSF and “ownership” of research
  • Involvement in national and international conferences
  • Writing a scientific paper
  • Study authorship