Policy-oriented research (POR)—defined as research aimed at identifying new or improved policies, regulations, or institutions (or their management) that enhance economic, social, and environmental welfare—is an important and growing part of CGIAR portfolio. This paper assesses progress that has been made over the past decade to evaluate the welfare impacts of POR conducted within CGIAR. The paper’s first section reviews recent evaluative efforts and finds that little in the way of quantitative impact assessments has occurred since the publication of a set of quantitative ex post POR impact assessments in 2008. Rather, POR evaluations have taken a more qualitative emphasis, focusing on illuminating impact pathways and establishing the contribution of policy research toward effecting policy outcomes. This review also describes a recently-compiled database of 94 significant policy outcomes attributable to CGIAR policy research.
In the second section of the paper, a theory of change is developed to illuminate POR’s role in the formulation—and ultimately, the impact—of agriculture- and food-related policies. The theory of change posits two phases to the process whereby POR might produce welfare impacts: a first phase in which research outputs combine with a set of political inputs to produce policy outcomes (new laws, regulations, institutions, etc.); and a second, post-implementation phase in which those policy outcomes produce welfare changes (impacts) on various populations. Each phase poses different evaluative challenges; these challenges are considered in light of the experience over the past decade or so. The paper concludes with a consideration of the future prospects for additional quantitative ex post impact assessments of POR to be conducted, as well as the degree to which carefully constructed outcome assessments and influence studies are substitutes for quantitative analyses in the eyes of different stakeholders in government, donor, research management, and academic communities.