A new professionalism for agricultural research for development

  • 13th May 2017
  • by secretary
2 May 2017. Published online. A new professionalism for agricultural research for development
Boru Douthwaite, J. Marina Apgar, Anne-Maree Schwarz, Simon Attwood, Sonali Senaratna Sellamuttu & Terry Clayton

There have been repeated calls for a ‘new professionalism’ for carrying out agricultural research for development since the 1990s. At the centre of these calls is a recognition that for agricultural research to support the capacities required to face global patterns of change and their implications on rural livelihoods, requires a more systemic, learning focused and reflexive practice that bridges epistemologies and methodologies. In this paper, we share learning from efforts to mainstream such an approach through a large, multi-partner CGIAR research program working in aquatic agricultural systems. We reflect on four years of implementing research in development (RinD), the program’s approach to the new professionalism. We highlight successes and challenges and describe the key characteristics that define the approach. We conclude it is possible to build a program on a broader approach that embraces multidisciplinarity and engages with stakeholders in social-ecological systems. Our experience also suggests caution is required to ensure there is the time, space and appropriate evaluation methodologies in place to appreciate outcomes different to those to which conventional agricultural research aspires.

Responding to global change: A theory of change approach to making agricultural research for development outcome-based

PK Thorntona, T Schuetza, W Förcha, 1, L Cramera, b, D Abreub, S Vermeulenc, BM Campbellb, c


Agricultural research for development has made important contributions to poverty reduction and food security over the last 40 years. Nevertheless, it is likely that both the speed of global change and its impacts on natural and socio-economic systems are being under-estimated. Coupled with the moral imperative to justify the use of public resources for which there are multiple, competing claims, research for development needs to become more effective and efficient in terms of contributing towards longer-term development goals. Currently there is considerable debate about the ways in which this may be achieved. Here we describe an approach based on theory of change. This includes a monitoring, evaluation and learning system that combines indicators of progress in research along with indicators of change aimed at understanding the factors that enable or inhibit the behavioural changes that can bring about development impacts.

Theory of change represents our best understanding of how engagement and learning can enable change as well as how progress towards outcomes might be measured. We describe the application of this approach and highlight some key lessons learned. Although robust evidence is currently lacking, a theory of change approach appears to have considerable potential to achieve impacts that balance the drive to generate new knowledge in agricultural research with the priorities and urgency of the users and beneficiaries of research results, helping to bridge the gap between knowledge generation and development outcomes.