Rethinking capacity development to enhance the impact of research

By Javier Ekboir (Bioversity/ILAC), Adiel Mbabu (CIP), Per Rudebjer (Bioversity), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CIAT)  –

How can capacity development contribute to the process of generating and disseminating research products? How can the CGIAR capacity development (CapDev) community best support CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) in such processes? These questions and others were debated during the first consortium-wide meeting on capacity development, which was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya October 21-25.

One key conclusion was that capacity development needs to have a broader scope. Not only do we need to strengthen capacities in the generation and use of knowledge, we also need to effectively explore new research frameworks embedded in agricultural innovation systems. This broad scope should include organizational capacity for trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional team building, managing multi-stakeholder partnerships as well as capacity for policy, and institutional innovations to support priority value chains.

CapDev workshop

Participants agreed that classical training (such as support for graduate studies) is necessary, but not sufficient. While still important – it is change in the individual that brings about the development outcomes that we want to see – such training needs to be matched by a deeper understanding of capacity development processes, organizational incentives and routines, partnerships and enabling environments that contribute to change in actions and practices.

RTB’s managers are already re-thinking how the program integrates capacity development into its work. To this end, representatives of the four RTB research centers made a joint presentation on the emerging RTB CapDev strategy, which puts “Flagships” center stage, around which steps for scaling up are clearly mapped out.

The CapDev community workshop aimed at identifying guiding principles and building blocks of a CGIAR CapDev strategy. This work started in earnest in late 2012, when the Consortium Office appointed a working group and asked its members to prepare a discussion paper – lessons learned and ways forward on CGIAR capacity development. The workshop held at ILRI used the report as a starting point, but broadened and deepened the collaborative analysis and discussion. Participants made significant progress toward building a CGIAR CapDev strategy, which is scheduled to be presented in April 2014, in order to contribute to the design of the second round of CGIAR research programs.

group2

The workshop brought together 35 participants representing 14 CGIAR Centers, as well as various CRPs, one of which – Livestock and Fish – has already hired CapDev staff. A partner day enriched the discussion with views and opportunities from outside CGIAR, mainly international organizations such as the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the International Centre for development oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) or the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). In one session, four Kenyan companies that use mobile technology for agricultural development provided examples of innovation and organizational development for improving farmer livelihood.

The CapDev community has plenty of work ahead. In order to produce the strategy on time, and to serve its internal and external roles, its members will need to concentrate a various tasks in the coming weeks and months:

  • Identifying priorities for capacity development at the CGIAR system, CRP and Center levels, defining clear outputs and outcomes, and acquiring the necessary funds to get the work done.
  • Developing and strengthen the community of practice.
  • Improving strategic alignment and identifying a liaison for CapDev between Centers, CRPs and the Consortium Office.

CapDev workshop

As for RTB, the Flagship concept has already brought about changes in the way we are thinking about the role of CapDev, and the RTB representatives who attended the workshop were able to convey this through a short presentation. This approach sets clear, measurable and time-bound deliverables based on RTB research outputs.  It identifies well defined groups of users of those outputs, and maps out a theory of change that will guide the work. And a network analysis of partnerships, jointly produced with the Institutional Learning and Change Initiative (ILAC), has provided new insights in the research and knowledge-sharing process.  These experiences will be incorporated into a RTB CapDev strategy that will be drafted in the coming months, which should help the program deliver. After all, what motivates donors, researchers and partners alike is the potential for large-scale impacts on livelihoods and landscapes. This requires re-thinking what capacity development means.

See PowerPoint Presentation: Capacity Strengthening in the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

Further reading about this workshop:

CapDev workshop group photo

Photos: ILRI. See more