Chair's Letter

ISPC Chair
Professor of Integrated Land Use, School of Biological Science, University of Aberdeen, UK.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am not a natural ‘blogger’ and hence this Chair’s letter is long overdue, but since ISPC is renewing its website in response to development of a communication strategy, now is the time!

 In early July I attended a conference in Nairobi  organized by the ISPC’s Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA) and the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) on “Impacts of International Agricultural Research: Rigorous Evidence for Policy,” which I found very thought-provoking. The presentations can be found on the conference website, so I am not going to give details here, just a very few reflections from the perspective of a non-social scientist, to start this update on ISPC activities.

It was great to hear about progress with the new phase of PIM’s work and the establishment of the Big Data platform, and to see the community of social scientists from across the CGIAR coming together. There are about 300 scientists in the CGIAR with PhDs in the social sciences, but since they are distributed across 15 centers, 11 CRPs, and 3 platforms each with multiple sites, they can be spread quite thinly. Hence the opportunity to experience being part of a bigger community seemed to be a welcome opportunity.

In relation to measuring the impact of agricultural research, the speakers agreed on the increasing complexity of the task! Compared to the early days of the CGIAR, it is no longer simply about measuring the adoption of new varieties (which in itself is more challenging as the differences between varieties become less visible) but also requires taking into account the heterogeneity of farming systems and the breadth of research being undertaken by the CGIAR, including on livestock, fish, forestry, and natural resource management. Despite the complexity, however, a critical study (from outside the CGIAR) of returns to agricultural research for development (AR4D) still shows that investment in AR4D means good value for investment of funding for international development.

The ISPC is not just about social science, though. Just prior to the conference in Nairobi, the ISPC organised a workshop on Agri-food System Innovation: Reframing the Conversation” in Hyderabad. This workshop was a continuation of work started in 2015 in collaboration with CSIRO, Australia. This workstream is very participative, bringing different communities together to understand how different types of innovation partnership lead to impact.  Amongst other issues, the workshop identified the need for individual and institutional capacity building—something that was also discussed in Nairobi as the CGIAR seeks to grow its skill base beyond production systems. The workshop report can be found here.

Bringing communities together is also a theme of another of our workstreams, on Science Dialogue. Here, we have been working with communities across the CGIAR (DDGs for Research, CRP leaders, Board Science Committees, and the IEA) to reach a consensus on a Frame of Reference for how to define quality of AR4D. We have adapted earlier work in the published literature to agree on four elements that together provide a Frame of Reference that can be implemented by different parts of the System: Relevance, Scientific Credibility, Legitimacy, and Effectiveness. The definitions are given in more detail in this brief. We plan to launch a further description of plans to implement the Frame of Reference at our meeting in Rabat in September.

Our work on Foresight and Prioritization is progressing more slowly as we wait for further clarification of our Terms of Reference by the System Council. We commissioned a number of papers on major trends and possible disruptions to the global food system to 2050, which were presented at a workshop in Portici in April. Two of the papers touch upon the role of private industry, in supporting transformation and in relation to disruptive innovation. The workshop report can be found here.

Our fifth workstream covers independent program review. That formed a major part of our work during 2015 and 2016, but we are currently reviewing the resubmissions of the five Flagships that did not receive System Council allocation last year, together with the resubmission of the CRP on Grain Legumes and Dryland Crops.

Finally, 2017 is the year of external evaluation of the ISPC. We are expecting an interim report in September which should help the System Council finalize our Terms of Reference at their meeting in November.

With best wishes

Maggie Gill
Chair, ISPC