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Dr. Nidhi Singal, convenor of the Workshop Establishing a Dialogue on Disability for Higher Impact, is a Senior Lecturer in Inclusive Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her research interests focus on educational inequality; inclusive pedagogy and the role of international policies in shaping the disability agenda.  In this short film and blog she discusses the lessons learned from the workshop held at the REAL Centre, Cambridge University, February 29th - March 1st 2016.

Establishing dialogue on disability for higher impact


Disability is finally recognised in global declarations, explicitly mentioned across five of the 17 sustainable development goals. Given the goals’ central focus on leaving no one behind, research focusing on disability in relation to other forms of disadvantage has never been higher on the agenda. This makes it an opportune moment to identify how such research can inform policy and practice locally, nationally and internationally.

In this context, the Impact Initiative hosted a two-day workshop on “Establishing a dialogue on disability for higher impact.” The workshop included around 25 researchers from seven projects funded under the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership, with participants from India, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and the UK. They were joined by representatives of disabled people’s organisations, donor agencies and international NGOs.

The projects, all focusing on disability across the education and health sectors, came together to find a collective voice on how to measure and demonstrate impact. Spanning 10 countries, the projects shared the anticipated and actual impact of their work. They focused on issues related to training community health workers, increasing access to and quality of early childhood education, enhancing teacher effectiveness to raise learning outcomes, literacy development, political and institutional change, and bridging the gap between policy and practice.


Impact Initiative projects1
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Impact Initiative projects1

The central aim of this workshop was to find a collective voice on how to increase the projects’ impact.

Participants engaged in discussions on what is impact? What counts as evidence? What are the best ways to communicate messages from researchers to policymakers and other stakeholders? What is the relationship between research and advocacy?; and how can the collective strength of projects on disability be harnessed for greater impact?

Workshop participants concluded with some possible approaches to enhance impact:

  • Communicate evidence on what works succinctly, with a clear central message
  • Place evidence in the wider context of economic and social development.
  • Use social media creatively
  • Make connections with other forms of disadvantage within the broader field of international development


Impact Initiative projects2
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Impact Initiative projects2


The Impact Initiative will spend the next four years focused on pursuing knowledge exchange and policy engagement opportunities with researchers individually and collectively. We have coming up more exploratory workshops and meetings on themes such as education, health, child poverty, ICTs and development and building stability in fragile states. Later this month the Initiative is convening a conference for around two hundred researchers, donors, civil society organisations and policy actors to explore ten years of the ESRC DFID Joint Fund for Alleviating Poverty. You can explore all the research via the interactive map, by theme or by country here on

An interview was filmed with with Dr Singal, discussing her lessons learned from the two-day workshop as part of The Impact Initiative, after the event. Julia Hayes is an Educational Psychologist and consultant in inclusion and participation of children with disabilities. and did live graphics for the event shown above. She also draws graphics for conferences around the world. See for more information.

Establishing Dialogue on Disability for Higher Impact: REAL Centre, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge 29 February – 1 March 2016  

Through the Impact Initiative, a group of ESRC-DFID supported research teams—all of which shared the theme of disabilities in their research—met to better understand and strengthen the impact of their research on policy and practice. The meeting was held in Cambridge at the REAL Centre, Faculty of Education, on 29 February and March 1, 2016 and brought members of seven research teams together with policymakers and practitioners. The sessions over the two days were designed as an initial exploration of ways to bring together knowledge about disabilities and engage wider audiences for greater impact. This included:

  • A shared knowledge of ‘impact’ and the potential of the collective in achieving impact.
  • Emergence of common overarching themes that are being addressed across the projects, which will be useful to address in engagement with policy makers and others.
  • Greater appreciation of how working together can communicate shared objectives, conceptual, methodological and evidence based, to a larger group of stakeholders internationally and nationally.
  • Familiarity with selected tools of dissemination and their potential (and challenges) in helping communicate effectively with a wider audience.

One of the recurring themes in the discussions was that disabilities is an issue that needs to be communicated more effectively not only to policymakers and development practitioners, but also to researchers in other development-related fields. When research on a range of issues surrounding poverty, or livelihoods, for example overlooks disabilities, large segments of populations often remain invisible, which not only renders the research less rigorous, but also affects policies and practice influenced by that research. The workshop resulted in a plan of action that included synthesis, messaging, and networking with a range of actors for stronger results. 

Projects and researchers represented included these, found here on the Impact Initiative website:

Project: The design and evaluation of a mobile learning intervention for the training and supervision of community health workers

Anne Geniets Senior Researcher with the Learning and New Technologies Group, Department of Education, University of Oxford


Project: Bridging the Gap: Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries

Nora Groce Director, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre, Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London

Edson Ngirabakunzi Executive Director National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda

Anderson Gitonga Kiraithe Director, United Disabled Persons of Kenya


Project: Understanding the Political and Institutional Conditions for Effective Poverty Reduction for Persons with Disabilities in Liberia

Maria Kett Assistant Director, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre, Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London

Ngafuan Richard Lecturer, University of Liberia


Project: Improving curriculum and teaching methods to influence policy and increase the quality of ECDE provision for children with disabilities in Malawi

Paul Lynch Research Fellow, School of Education, University of Birmingham Mika Mankhwazi Montfort SNE College, Malawi


Project: Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation

Sibaji Panda Senior Lecturer, International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies, University of Central Lancashire

Deepu Manalavamamuni National Institute for Speech and Hearing in Kerala


Project: Teaching Effectively All Children (TEACh): Learning outcomes and teacher effectiveness for children facing multiple disadvantages, including those with disabilities: India and Pakistan

Pauline Rose Director, Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre

Professor of International Education, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Rabea Malik Research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), Pakistan

Meera Samson Director of Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD), India

The 30 workshop attendees adressed the challenges, opportunities and tools for maximising research for change in international development, with a focus on disability research.

You can see a full selection of photographs from the event on our Flickr account.