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Impact assessment collaboration bolsters impact

Foreground: Robert Nasi and Jaboury Ghazoul at the Impact Assessment workshop. Photo credit Samuel Stacey.

Collaboration and partnership is the guiding force by which much of the work in the CGIAR research programs is heading, and for good reason; sharing resources and knowledge on common challenges is a faster and more effective way to achieve our goals, especially in impact assessment.

On the 14th and 15th February, 2012, WorldFish played host to the first inter-CGIAR research program (CRP) natural resource management (NRM) impact assessment workshop. Facilitated by Boru Douthwaite and Charlie Crissman of the Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) CGIAR Research Program, the two-day exploratory workshop was held at WorldFish’s headquarters in Penang, Malaysia.

“The workshop emerged from the realization that CGIAR Research Programs, particularly those that are focusing more explicitly on natural resource management, are all facing a common challenge; to demonstrate the development outcomes and impacts we’re having as a result of our work,” explains Boru Douthwaite of the AAS CRP. “The workshop is a very positive result of the CRP process itself. We all realize we’re facing the same challenge at the same time, so we see emerging collaboration across CRPs, and across centers that we wouldn’t have seen 2 or 3 years ago. We do face a common set of challenges, that as a group we’re interested to work on together, and a commitment to do that.”

It is through this commitment to collaboration that the research programs are able to achieve their goals within the allotted timeframe. “We will need to show that our approach is working, that we’re having outcomes, as soon as we can,” Boru goes on to say, “we’re working in the same places, our programs are overlapping and this offers up an opportunity to collaborate in those areas.”
Representatives from four CRPs that include natural resource management in their scope joined the workshop: Forest and Trees; Land, Water and Environment; Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS); and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
It’s the focus on collaboration that is the fundamental shift in the way the new CRPs are being managed, and this is evident in the enthusiasm the participants showed for the process. “The main goal is to think collectively; there are common ideas running through the CGIAR system,” says Robert Nasi, Leader of the CRP on Forests and Trees. “It is to create momentum so that we end up having a group of active people across the CRPs and Center’s that will push forward the idea to have proper design of programs and projects so that we can properly assess our outcomes and our impacts,” he adds.
Debbie Templeton from the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) – another participant of the workshop echoed these sentiments. “The CRPs encourage a strong collaborative culture. There’s also shared agreement that increased effort to continue advances  in impact assessment is required to show credible evidence of the benefits of agricultural research, and to provide valuable lessons which can feedback into the research agenda.  Collaborative effort will strengthen this endeavor,” Debbie explains.

Participants in discussion at the workshop, from left: Ken Giller (Stripe Review Team) Dennis Wichelns, Joana Kane-Potaka, Ross Darnell, Serena Fortuna (ISPC Secretariat), Peter Gardiner (ISPC Executive Secretary), Patrick Caron (Stripe Review Team), Jaboury Ghazoul (Stripe Review). Photo credit Samuel Stacey
Methodology challenges for natural resource management impact assessment
“One challenge we have been addressing in this workshop are the methods,” says Boru, “how to demonstrate and show impact when you are working in very complex environments; where your contribution is through partnerships, and where attribution is difficult to claim.” The workshop was the first step towards a defining the assessment measures that will be used to successfully measure the impact of natural resource management across the CGIAR Research Programs.
“We all share a common interest, and it’s in this area of getting better at answering these three questions: Is what we’re doing working? Are we having any effect or outcomes? How can we get better at what we do? There is energy around working together on all three, and in particular on impact assessment.”
In addition to the CGIAR Research Program representatives engaged in the Impact Assessment workshop, the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Committee’s NRMR Stripe Review team  were also at WorldFish. This was opportune as the report arising from the NRMR Stripe Review is providing the CGIAR Centers, the Consortium and Donors with perspectives on the factors that influence achieving impact at scale from NRM research. The deliberations of the Impact Assessment workshop and joint discussions with the Stripe Review team fostered a mutual understanding of impact assessment challenges for natural resource management.
Outcomes of the workshop
Participant commitment to the collaborative process was a common theme expressed by those who attended the workshop. “But it’s more than that,” Boru says, “it is to become better at having that impact in the first place, linking the research to innovation processes to achieve those development outcomes.”
The collaboration and rich discussions were an important outcome from the workshop. In addition there was commitment to pursue development of a strategy for inter-CRP collaboration on impact assessment.
By Samuel Stacey