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Today's agriculture needs to generate good nutrition for all and ecological sustainability and social justice and economic benefits. This means that scientists of different disciplines need to work together. It also means connecting the dots between actions and policies at household, region, country and global levels in order to have the desired impacts.

How does a research organization like Bioversity International ensure that the research it carries out will be as impactful as possible?

Steps to achieve this include:

 


Bioversity International Strategic Results Framework

A Results Framework is a comprehensive map of all of our planned research activities and how the next user – policymakers, farmer associations, other researchers – will use the research results to bring them nearer development outcomes, for example, more sustainable nutrition security. It maps interactions between the activities and has indicators to track progress. When a scientist is planning a new activity they use the framework to work out how best to contribute to the big picture.

Challenge

Bioversity International recognized that whilst it was producing good research and useful knowledge products, not having a framework meant each project had its own indicators. This made it difficult to measure how we were progressing as an organization. Even the efforts of large projects were less powerful as they could be because they were not connected to the whole organizational frame of research.  Without a framework, we could not be sure that all projects were pulling in the same direction.

Solution

In 2013, we started to develop a Strategic Results Framework in which all of our research activities contribute to the same set of objectives. In this way, even the smallest activity contributes to shared larger outputs so that we can create more impact. For example, mapping and mesauring the impact of all activities that contribute to the output 'Strategies, approaches and opportunities for promoting diversity in food systems and diets' allows us to track progress in terms of approaches being adopted by influential stakeholders.

How does it work?

Within our Strategic Results Framework, we provide scientists with guidance on research proposals and programmes, to ensure they are aligned with Bioversity International's Strategic Objectives and include sound theories of change, impact pathways, stakeholder analysis, capacity development for impact and scale-up, key indicators, and build in components to collect the data necessary for impact analysis.  The Strategic Objective measures 'cascade down' to provide strategic direction. At each layer of operations, there are a few key performance indicators (KPIs) showing contribution to one level up and providing direction one level down. So at the most operational level, an indicator may be the number of datasets produced on a topic and is easy to count. At a higher level, the indicator will be about how the knowledge from those datasets changed someone's practice and the effect that had, for example, on stimulating more diverse foods in markets and diets. 


Modelling

Modelling is a way to gain insights into complex interactions and trade-offs in order to plan research activities that will achieve the most impact. 

Challenge

There are trade-offs between productivity, food and nutrition security and environmental goals. For example, focusing on increased productivity can result in more food crops, but reduced nutrition and a degraded environment. On the other hand, focusing just on the environment, can negatively impact productivity.

Trade-offs may be immediate and local, for example, applying synthetic fertilizers to fields can boost yields, but increase nitrogen levels in water bodies, leading to decreased oxygen and death of fish. However, sometimes the impact of decisions made in one place and time have seemingly disconnected effects far away in the future or another location. For instance, a focus on feeding the world by cultivating starchy like wheat, rice and potatoes is having a global effect on nutrition as nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables are replaced in fields, markets and plates.

Also the needs and challenges of the future will be quite different from those we face today – for example climate change combined with growing population, especially in urban areas and in developing countries and their changing food needs and preferences require new solutions based on careful planning and detailed analysis of all these possible future trends, their interactions and effects on food systems.

Solution

Our scientists carry out modelling exercises before the intervention takes place (foresight modelling and ex ante analysis) which means they can try out different options to find those that have the fewest trade-offs or that actually create synergies – win-win situations in which positive outcomes reinforce each other. They can then work out which are likely to be the most impactful places to work in, crops to work on, practices to explore, and data sources to use (prioritizing modelling).

Our approach

We use models developed by other organizations and combine them in novel ways for new insights. For example, the IMPACT model developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI – a CGIAR Research Centre), projects regional and country-level aggregate food production, consumption and prices under different scenarios (including climate change, socio-economic developments or technological progress), with detailed breakdowns on major crops.

FarmDesign, developed by Wageningen University and used by several CGIAR Research Programs (e.g. Agriculture for Nutrition and Health), shows consequences of decisions at the field and farm level, like which like which crops to plant and whether to include animals on the farm. It explores relations among different productive, socio-economic, nutritional and environmental farm objectives. FarmDESIGN combines a bio-economic farm model with a multi-objective optimization algorithm based on yields and market prices of agricultural commodities among other things.

If you combine these two models, you can analyze how possibly future global trends might affect a farm, through markets, trade and yield developments, and what strategies a farm household can adopt to achieve certain goals and the tradeoffs resulting from using these strategies.


Knowledge Sharing

Challenge

Bioversity International's core business is generating knowledge to help resolve global challenges. To achieve this our scientists need to have access to new ideas, cutting edge innovations and creative conversations. They also need access to the knowledge and research results of teams working in disciplines different from their own. For example, teams working on banana diseases, can combine their results with those seeking income generation opportunities, or those with the aim of boosting rural income and wellbeing. Bridging disciplines is not easy.

Solution

Helping our scientists access knowledge takes two main forms at Bioversity Inernational:

  • Providing access to explicit knowledge through literature reviews, articles, book chapters, grey literature such as project reports, and access to databases. Scientists benefit from curated knowledge tailored to their interests.
  • Supporting scientist-to-scientist knowledge generation and exchange. We organize internal science seminars, an annual science week, and support communities of practice on scientific topics.

This work on Foresight and prioritizing/integrated modelling was conducted as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutes and Markets; Roots Tubers and Bananas; and Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.