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Strategic Foresight in the CGIAR

The current vision for the ISPC revolves around its role as an independent advisor to the System Council on science and research matters, including strategies for effective partnerships along the research for development continuum. One of the key pillars for delivering on this mandate is to provide intellectual leadership and scientific direction to the CGIAR System, in terms of strategic foresight and prioritization

Foresight is a fundamental work stream of the ISPC as it helps us understand the complexities of the global context in which the CGIAR operates. It does this by analyzing trends and drivers, anticipating change for better planning and constructing pathways from the present to the future; subsequently focusing on the right questions and relevant scenarios, identifying a wider range of opportunities and options for Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D); and ultimately prioritizing and making better and more robust decisions. 

Megatrends Shaping the Future*

Towards a System Level, Coordinated Foresight Function

Foresight is not new to the CGIAR – it is carried out at various Centers, Programs and System Units (e.g. Global Futures/IFPRI, most CRPs; and GFAR) with a diversity of approaches. However, these dispersed efforts do not necessarily address System-level issues, and the lack of coordination between various CGIAR entities is a constraint to harmonized outcomes.

While we made strong progress against the Global Development Goals, future gains will be harder to realize. We cannot keep doing the same and just trying harder and expect different outcomes – we have to do things differently. We need to know we’re addressing not only today’s problems, but tomorrow’s. We need to read the signs early enough and respond soon enough. CGIAR needs to ensure that robust foresight and world-class modeling inform our research agenda. New challenges require new science and new solutions that CGIAR could bring to bear. 

System Council Strategic Reflections, 8 August 2016

The ISPC will collaborate with System Council and other parts of the System to develop a coordinated foresight function in the CGIAR. The objective of its foresight effort is to provide an overall umbrella to: 

  1. Inform the strategy and revision of the CGIAR Strategy and Results Framework (SRF) ; 
  2. Contribute to identifying relevance of CGIAR research; 
  3. Coordinate foresight streams for better coherence in the CGIAR; and 
  4. Provide relevant context and emerging insights as a basis for system level prioritization of R4D. 

The aim is to use the system knowledge to address focused questions such as where is agricultural research in general – and publicly funded international research, in particular – likely to have most impacts in terms of reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security, and improving the environment?

The process will enable the development of a framework on prioritization against which all significant funding decisions could be assessed. The prioritization component will likely face multiple reasonable and plausible scenarios of prioritization that can equally balance research across the portfolio. The ambitious objective is therefore to forge a new discipline in the CGIAR where science is responding to growth and sustainability goals in a dedicated and holistic way. 

A starting point for foresight in CGIAR context is looking at what evidence the world needs to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), then narrowing that down to what donors of agricultural research and development can fund, narrowing it again to where the CGIAR has a competitive advantage and within that, determining what would be the value for money for use in program investments. In this respect, the foresight process will have a fundamental role in interlinking streams of activities, bridging the funders’ requirements and implementers’ strategies and planned actions. 

An Independent Foresight Assessment 

Building on its long-term work on Strategy and Trends, the ISPC has initiated an independent foresight assessment in 2017, starting with a brainstorming  session with a small group of leading experts and strategic thinkers on how the futures may look like around grand challenges, global trends and likely disruptions on food and nutrition security (horizon 2050); and how the world is prepared to address them to reach the SDGs and beyond. This process combines an in-depth analysis of  the major drivers (e.g. population and food demand, urbanization, climate, resource scarcity) and possible scenarios framed in the context of the CGIAR mandates and requirements of beneficiaries (e.g. providing international public goods from AR4D).

A series of chapters have been commissioned on various topics of relevance to the assessment. The initial outlines of the papers were discussed in a first brainstorming workshop (7-8 April, 2017, Naples-Italy), and the final papers will be edited for publication in a book on “Global Agri-Food Systems to 2050– Threats and Opportunities” (to be published in 2018). 

Five key themes emerged from discussions at the workshop, these were the subject of further analysis and discussion at ISPC 16 (18-19 September, Rabat- Morocco):

•    Rural Prosperity in the 21st Century;
•    Food Systems for Better Health;
•    Climate Resilient Food and Agriculture Systems;
•    Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Systems; 
•    Evolving organization of the Research for Development System. 

The discussion at ISPC 16 focused on Global trends; Quantitative foresight modeling and participatory scenario processes. 

Next steps for the ISPC foresight will include a follow-up workshop with CGIAR foresight practitioners and key stakeholders on participatory scenario analysis to inform the CGIAR Research Strategy.

Keep updated on Foresight work here 

* From Maggio et al., 2018 (in progress). The list of megatrends was determined as a result of an iterative process involving a literature review of all the major trend reports (NIC, EEA, FAO, OECD, etc.) and other secondary sources; consultation with foresight experts and a steering committee; and through a series of workshops.

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