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Assessing the Impacts of Natural Resource Management and Policy Research in Development Programs

NRM Impact Assessment – Assessing the Impacts of Natural Resource Management and Policy Research in Development Programs
Project leader
Charles Crissman
1 Jan 2012
30 Sep 2012
Related publications
After decades of stagnation, global investment in agricultural research in pursuit of poverty reduction is on the rise. Developed nations are again looking to the many dimensions of agriculture, including forestry and fisheries, to help meet development goals (particularly the Millennium Development Goals) and accelerate progress. But, with increasing investment, there is also an increasing focus on the need for better outcomes and greater impacts from those investments.
‘Research for development’, the approach used in the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) seeks to improve the welfare of a specific target group. This sort of research investment can present a particular challenge for impact evaluation. While evaluating the performance of so-called ‘embodied technologies’ (such as crop improvements or pest control measures) is relatively straightforward using well-established methods, the evaluation of natural resource management (NRM) and policy oriented research (POR) is more difficult.

Evaluating the impact of a complex process

It is generally accepted that research for development programs often work in environments of great complexity, uncertainly and risk. Such programs may need to build partnerships and networks from scratch and they usually require adaptive management techniques – making the best decisions based on the information available at the time instead of following a linear path. Adequate methods for impact evaluation of these types of programs are lacking or are time-consuming, expensive or difficult to implement.
The aim of this project is to review the current state-of-the-art in NRM and policy oriented research and to identify where efforts can be directed to develop and test new methods of impact assessment; methods that will allow reliable, robust understanding of the impacts of research for development programs in a cost-effective way.
This project will:
  1. Identify ‘complex’  impact assessment challenges of research for development programs and differentiate these from ‘simple’ or ‘complicated’ outcome challenges (for which there are existing monitoring and evaluation methods)
  2. Review the monitoring and impact evaluation literature to identify quantitative and qualitative approaches that could help with evaluating complex, multi-dimensional research challenges
  3. Sponsor a workshop to present and discuss current research into an array of credible, pioneering methods that might be used for research for development impact assessment

Improving research for development effectiveness

Advances in impact assessment methods will contribute to helping research for development in NRM and POR (and indeed all types of research for development) remain relevant. The project will help develop monitoring and evaluation approaches that support adaptive management while also building a strong foundation for future impact assessment. It will assist all stakeholders including donors, policy makers and program managers to deliver development programs that are more supportive and effective.
This work is a collaboration between WorldFish, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). These partners share a commitment to finding innovative methods for improving the quality of impact evaluation as a means of ensuring that research for development investment leads to benefits for all.

Method used

The TOA-MD model was used in collaboration with WorldFish to improve the knowledge base and procedures for deciding among a range of potential strategies  in rural development by improving and applying methods for assessing, ex ante, the returns to  investment. The TOA-MD model was used to assess potential adoption and impacts of aquaculture technologies in Ghana, Malawi and Bangladesh. The TOA team provided training to teams from each of these countries, and worked with WorldFish to make the TOA-MD software available to analysts to assess impacts of aquaculture technologies. assessment of returns on investments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector in developing countries. more...