The Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC ) provides strategic guidance to the directions and priorities of the CGIAR, the world’s largest public sector agricultural research system, through a set of CGIAR-tailored activities in each of its five work streams.
“Science is about exploring things, ISPC meetings are similar in that respect. They provide the ideal setting for discussion and feedback from CGIAR Centers, partners and other stakeholders.”
Maggie Gill, ISPC Chair
The ISPC open meetings provide a chance for various members of the CGIAR community to report and reflect on the issues arising from each work stream. This year’s meeting was hosted by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) at their offices in Rabat, Morocco, (18-19 September).
In his opening remarks, ICARDA Director General, Aly Abousabaa, thanked the ISPC for the role it plays in strengthening the quality, relevance, and impact of CGIAR research for development.
“ICARDA highly appreciates the work of the ISPC and has benefited directly from this work.”
Aly Abousabaa, ICARDA Director General
Resulting outputs of key technical presentations (see ISPC 16 agenda) are an important input to the advice ISPC provides to the System Council. Discussions at this year’s open meeting were framed around five fundamental questions - here are the five key takeaways from ISPC 16 (with links to full presentations):
1. What is the Quality of Research for Development (QoR4D) Frame of Reference and where do we go from here?
The ISPC is facilitating System-wide agreement on the nature and assessment of quality of research for development (QoR4D), and a working group on QoR4D was established in 2016 under ISPC chairmanship. The four pillars that could form the basis of a common frame of reference of research quality are: relevance, scientific credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness. The ISPC will be publishing a brief in the coming days highlighting case studies from different CGIAR entities which will provide an overview of key considerations and suggested approaches for designing, implementing, assessing and managing QoR4D at each level, from Center/CGIAR Research Program (CRP) to performance management for individual scientists.
Key points raised at ISPC 16:
- Frame of Reference will require strong commitment to adoption at all levels of management and governance and sharing of lessons learned.
- Frame of Reference should not be used not as a ranking/assessment mechanism but rather as a learning mechanism.
- While quality control checks are very important, some thought needs to be given to mechanisms to stimulate excellent research and to reward scientists and researchers.
2. How should food and agriculture research and policy re-orient itself to address the ‘perfect storm’ of global threats which is facing our planet?
In April 2017 the ISPC co-hosted a workshop with the University of Naples on Global Agri-Food Systems to 2050: Threats and Opportunities. The objective of the workshop was to engage expertise outside the CGIAR System for perspectives on major trends and possible disruptions to the global food system to 2050 with a particular focus on smallholder farmers in developing countries. Five key themes emerged from discussions at the workshop, these were the subject of further analysis at ISPC 16:
- Shift from agriculture as a ‘way of life’ to ‘agriculture as a business.’
- Rise of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the developing world.
- Adverse impacts of climate shocks on specific crops, resources and livelihoods/nutritional status of rural poor.
- Potential of modern science and technology, and advances in renewable energy sources.
- Effects of changing role of international agricultural research system on the poor.
Discussion at ISPC 16 included analysis of megatrends, quantitative foresight modeling and participatory scenario processes. Next steps for the ISPC include a follow-up workshop with CGIAR foresight practitioners and key stakeholders; work on scenario analysis, and a book on Global Agri-Food Systems to 2050, to be published in 2018.
Key points raised at ISPC 16:
- Linking prioritization to foresight is critical to ensuring actionable results.
- The scenario analysis exercise will require the participation of a wide range of CGIAR stakeholders.
- ISPC foresight activities should be relevant to key decision-makers, and use a variety of tools including narratives, quantitative and/or qualitative ‘mixed methods.’
3. How is the CGIAR comparative advantage evolving in response to external forces?
Comparative advantage is one of the key criteria used in assessing and prioritizing research in the CGIAR, but there is not always consensus on how to define it. In this meeting the focus was on looking at how the CGIAR comparative advantage may be shifting due to external forces. Discussion focussed on the importance of positioning CGIAR work and funding vis-a-vis what is happening in the private and philanthropic sectors. Speakers suggested that CGIAR should develop innovation schemes that link to private sector partners who can push product development and uptake cycles forward more rapidly and to broader audiences. They also pointed out that private sector funding to agricultural research has greatly increased in recent years, as well as that from philanthropic sources – and these developments are key to defining the comparative advantage of CGIAR. There is still considerable dominance of funding from all sources to the three main commodity crops of wheat, maize and rice. To understand CGIAR comparative advantage it is necessary to take a hard look at private and philanthropic funding – and make sure CGIAR funding is complementary and not duplicative.
4. What do recent ISPC activities tell us about the development of CGIAR innovation/partnership strategies?
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires changes in agricultural production and in the institutions and values that shape the nature and expectations of agri-food systems. ISPC is facilitating a System-wide dialogue based on the analysis of a broad range of case studies on how agri-food system innovation processes and impact unfold over time. This brings in new framings, perspectives, analysis and evidence on innovation and partnership to move beyond a focus on systems optimization and incremental changes as a result of existing organizational capabilities, enduring routines, practices and policies, and patterns of public investments. A wider transformational change narrative will allow research organizations to find their proper place in the transformational change process, help set more realistic expectations, and contribute to new courses of action aligned to global development ambitions.
Key points raised at ISPC 16:
- The linkage between foresight and partnership is an important one – The future of agriculture will also shape the type of partnerships the CGIAR needs to engage in.
- Subsidiarity and comparative advantage need to be the underlying principles in any type of partnership.
- Performance measures of research organizations need to be aligned better to the role they play in the transformation process.
5. What were the outcomes of the SPIA/PIM Conference on Impacts of Agricultural Research and what does this mean for future Impact Assessment work?
ISPC 16 provided the space to further reflect on lessons learned about the role of SPIA and issues of social science research in the CGIAR as we look to the future. Some of the key messages included:
- Farm households are complex economic actors, and a focus beyond a single farm technology or outcome (yield) is needed to understand the behaviour of households and the individuals within them.
- Results from individual Impact Assessments (IAs) of specific technologies or practices provide a partial picture of impacts, which can, in some cases, appear rather modest. To capture how agricultural research contributes to rural transformation we may need to consider different units of analysis, for example at country level. This would involve and support identification of priorities more coherently across the CGIAR.
- Biophysical scientists and social scientists (both internal and external to CGIAR) need to collaborate throughout research design, and impact assessments should include methods that are more descriptive to enable understanding context and learning from failures.
- There is a need to reflect on how to build long-term, representative datasets such as LSMS-ISA to track adoption and conduct ex-post impact assessments.
- Results from ‘Strengthening Impact Assessment in the CGIAR, 2013-2016’ (SIAC) adoption of Natural Resource Management (NRM) and impact studies (low levels of adoption, small effect sizes) point to the need to reflect on NRM research, particularly the assumptions underlying theories of change.
ICARDA presentations included an overview of the Center’s decentralization and new Strategy, ICARDA’s research platform in Morocco and information about the use of genetic resources at ICARDA.
The 16th meeting of the ISPC was attended by over 60 participants (see full list). Attendees at the two-day meeting included members of the ISPC Council and Secretariat; CGIAR system entities including the Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA) and System Management Office (SO); representatives from CGIAR Centers and Research Programs and a mix of external guest speakers, partners, and donors.
Looking forward to seeing you all at ISPC 17!
A full meeting report will be available on the ISPC16 event page shortly. In the meantime, you can:
- View presentations
- Check out #ISPC16 on Twitter
- Take a look at our new website and share our content at ispc.cgiar.org