Public Release: 

Guidance on fair contract negotiation in collaborative research partnerships


The growing volume of research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is welcome, but brings with it a number of new challenges for research institutions and government departments dealing with research in those countries. Experience suggests that high income institutions that collaborate with or commission research from lower income institutions often include implicit and explicit conditions which comparatively disadvantage those institutions. Many organisations in LMICs across a number of different regions lack access to the legal, managerial and financial expertise that would enable them to negotiate mutually beneficial research contracts. The result is that collaborative research partnerships risk perpetuating a situation in which LMIC institutions remain only junior or nominal partners in collaborative health research.

The Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED; has recently published a guidance document aimed at optimising research institution building through better contracts and contracting in research partnerships. The guidance booklet, titled Where there is no lawyer: Guidance for fairer contract negotiation in collaborative research partnerships, highlights the key issues for consideration when entering into formalised research partnerships, and provides tools and resources for negotiating fairer research contracts. The issues addressed in the guidance document include intellectual property rights, ownership of data and samples, capacity building and technology transfer, compensation for indirect costs, and the legislative context of research contracts. These issues can either promote or hinder equitable collaboration, depending on how they are dealt with in the contractual agreement.

This fair research contracting guidance document is the culmination of work COHRED has been engaged in with key partners over the past few years. Although the issue of inequitable research partnerships is not new, previous work has not addressed the crucial role that equitable contracts and contract negotiations play in defining the nature of research collaborations, in building the foundations for successful long-term partnerships, and in enhancing the research systems of LMICs. "Previous work often called on the high income country partner to abide by principles of fair partnership. The essential difference in this guidance document is that it aims to shift the locus of control of research benefits to the LMIC partner. By developing tools which place contracting knowledge and skills directly in the hands of institutions and governments who currently have limited expertise in this area, the fair research contracting initiative will be instrumental in helping to level the playing field in global health research partnerships." (Carel IJsselmuiden, COHRED Executive Director)

This guide has been designed to offer broad guidance in practical terms on some of the key challenges faced in fair research contracting. It aims to equip readers with a deeper understanding of the issues and to guide readers through some of the main points to consider when contracting around each issue. Where relevant, examples of clauses relating to each issue are included, as well as key references on where to go to find out more, case studies, tips, and examples of best practice.

Debbie Marais, COHRED Think programme director and co-author of the booklet, hopes "that this guidance will add to existing good practice documents by translating good partnership principles into pragmatic actions for fair research contracting".


To ensure that the fair research contracting guidance is relevant to the circumstances and needs of those engaging in research partnerships, COHRED is inviting feedback on how the document can be adapted and improved. To access and comment on the online document, please visit For further information about this initiative, contact Debbie Marais on

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