We have seen a growing attention and efforts on impact assessments of the investments in agricultural research. Now the time has arrived for recognition of the need for focused efforts on “how” we achieve impact and the role of the research team to contribute to this.
We should not put a barrier between research and development. Separating the two only makes research less connected with reality and less likely to be taken up, and it leads to development efforts being more distant from the latest technologies and practices. The UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact recognized that “Research uptake takes place at the interface of research and development.”
Some of the world’s largest investors and doers of agricultural research are making changes now. In the last nine years the United Kingdom Department of International Development (DFID) has spent £509 million on agricultural research. In October the Independent Commission for Aid Impact released a review of DFID’s investments in agricultural research stating that the main challenge they face is to ensure “the research innovations are delivered effectively to farmers in Africa and Asia and taken beyond pilot to scale… it needs to plan better the actions needed to ensure that successful research outputs (such as new crop varieties) result in improved food and nutritional security for poor people.”
Also this year was an independent review of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Australia’s main agency for international agricultural research to overcome poverty. Efforts for achieving uptake were given a high priority in the outcomes of the review with two key recommendations being for:
- ACIAR to make the improvement of adoption rates a focus of its research; and
- ACIAR’s Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC) to not only incorporate a stronger research focus but in the longer term the orientation be “directed towards understanding the adoption process within agriculture with a view to the Centre becoming a global centre of excellence on this topic.”
The ACIAR review gave examples on how ACIAR can better facilitate uptake efforts which included adopting a more multidisciplinary approach to projects; involving businesses and NGOs in the design and implementation of projects; and partnering with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers.
The DFID review recognized the need for more uptake efforts both during the main project work as well as post-project. Specific uptake actions identified for DFID were to:
- develop explicit theories of change to map out the steps and partnerships needed. It was recognized that this is not just the role of development work but needs to be incorporated into research projects as well;
- involve beneficiaries more in projects;
- selectively develop new projects to take research to the next stage and partner with other organizations to fund this work; and
- collaborate more with development professionals, specifically DFID’s development departments and country programs.
Forty-eight percent of DIFD’s expenditure on agricultural research is invested in the CGIAR a global network of 15 agricultural research centers. The CGIAR have introduced theories of change as part of all their research programs. Although these are still being continually developed and detailed, there is recognition that there needs to be more understood on “how” to achieve uptake of the research result at the different stages along the impact pathway.
The big question now is the “how” – how we move along the impact pathway and what efforts and strategies are needed to increase the chances of uptake and eventually impact. The DFID review noted that a good ‘theory of change’ was should include “what needs to be done and by whom” defining “the chain of activities required to bring about a given long-term goal”.
This was the focus of a study released by the International Crops Research Insititute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) this month that looked at ten successful agricultural research-for-development case studies to identify what approaches and triggers led to the uptake of the research recommendations. The key messages included:
1. Develop uptake strategies –through an iterative and incremental approach, incorporating monitoring and evaluation to continually develop uptake efforts appropriately.
2. Partner for impact – Partnering and relationship building were recognized as very important, needing to be built through long term strategic commitments and not just project-based and at a professional corporate level but most effective were those built at a very personal level by the scientists. As a result, scientists need time, resources and guidance/training on how to nurture relationships. An important part of the partnering was also allowing others to take ownership of the solutions – influencers or adopters once sold on an idea may need to feel ownership of the solution; and researchers may need to forego some public credit for the sake of achieving uptake of the solution.
3. Build capacity to enable uptake – providing the skills and knowledge to stakeholders to be capable of adopting solutions.
4. Undertake the research through participatory and selective approaches – It was recognized that working with early adopters (innovators) could lead to greater success, earlier. This targeted approach combined with a participatory approach, where researchers work closely with stakeholders in developing the solutions, was seen to be effective.
5. Communicate internally and externally for uptake.
6. Influence or adapt to the local environment as part of the uptake approach.
7. Build your reputation and scientific credibility – it influences the uptake.
8. Capture lessons learned- through impact assessments – impact assessments should include contributions of uptake efforts – assessing not just the impact but ‘how’ this was achieved.
Overall it is recognized that more uptake efforts and more effective uptake efforts, recognition of uptake as a discipline and integrating this into the research work would be a benefit – a benefit of achieving uptake of recommendations from scientific research and ultimately a benefit to humanity.