March 2013 Director’s Blog, by Alain Vidal
This week we are publishing thirteen CPWF outcome stories. Just a few days after the groundbreaking ceremony of the CGIAR Headquarters in Montpellier, where French authorities were told how the new CGIAR was “big, bold and beautiful”, these outcome stories may look small, even tiny. “Islands of success” in the middle of an ambitious “ocean of change”.
What we in CPWF have learnt over the last ten years is that it is not so easy to “get people to do things differently”. We cannot just provide ‘evidence’. Science lays the foundation by providing deeper understanding of the problems, better ways to target interventions or new solutions (also called “innovations”, “interventions”, “strategies” or “alternatives”). But in order to influence stakeholder behavior and achieve outcomes we need to go one step further and engage stakeholders in the process of research itself. It is through their own learning processes that people begin to change or alter how they make decisions.
But let’s consider these outcomes stories more carefully, because outcomes – the new paradigm for the whole CGIAR, which our program was entrusted to test at its creation ten years ago – come in all shapes and sizes. Outcomes can be defined as changes in stakeholders’ behaviors through shifts in their practice, investments or decision-making processes. They are more about change than about size. That being said, these stories also give a way by which to measure the outcomes achieved. There is nothing that a development agency or donor (such as IFAD or GIZ, whom I recently visited) values more than metrics.
For instance, in Cambodia, the story of drip irrigation farming linked to market opportunities demonstrates how improved water efficiency, primarily in the form of irrigation drip-kits, resulted in water savings, lower labor requirements and improved yields. Income of the target farmers more than doubled.
Another outcome, related to benefit sharing mechanisms in the Rio Ubate / Fuquene lake watershed in Colombia, shows how different stakeholders changed their attitudes towards one another. Combining conservation agriculture with Payment for Environmental Services, partners set up a revolving fund program managed by farmers’ associations. The fund provided smallholder farmers with credit to make an initial investment in conservation agriculture. So far, 100% of the first round of loans have been recovered. From 2006 to 2009, more than 180 hectares of land were brought under conservation agriculture, which in turn increased farmers income by 17%.
These outcomes are not the end of the road. In both instances, the initiatives further innovated and led to new outcomes. In Cambodia IDE is continuing to improve service delivery and diversify markets. The work in Colombia has continued under the guidance of CIAT in the Andes.
The main lesson that we have learned is that outcomes take time to generate, are iterative and not linear. There are not magic bullet solutions in getting to outcomes.
Over the coming months CPWF will be capitalizing on its ten-year research for development experience. Identifying ways to achieve ‘islands of success’, in all their shapes and sizes, is just one way CPWF can contribute to CGIAR’s envisioned ‘ocean of change’. In its quest to reach millions, CGIAR must focus on the essentials: working through partnerships, engaging with development actors, building trust and listening to the problems at hand rather than just identifying big science-based solutions. What other lessons can we offer to help contribute to this change?