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Our Approach

The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food defined research for development as ‘an engagement process for understanding and addressing development challenges defined with stakeholders.’ Stakeholders are champions and partners in the research process as well as the main supporters and actors in bringing about the change.



Over the course of twelve years CPWF developed a unique research-for-development (R4D) approach that evolved into a discrete strategy during the program’s second phase (2009-2013).

At the heart of CPWF’s R4D approach was a focus on identifying well-defined development challenges in clearly delineated areas, for example a river basin or an eco-region.  This allowed for a programmatic research approach that drew on subject-matter research from multi-disciplinary and topic perspectives.  CPWF’s problem-solving research also integrated policies, processes, and institutional and technical innovations across scales.

Another innovative aspect of CPWF’s approach was the use of a theory of change in conjunction with impact pathways. The application of these tools allowed researchers to map their project work to anticipated development outcomes. Each project and basin research program expressed its theory of change by describing pathways along which research was expected to contribute to changes in stakeholders’ knowledge, attitude, and skills, thus supporting innovation processes ranging from the people-to-people spread of technology, to institutional and policy change. Fostered by interactions among stakeholders and partners, technological and institutional innovations resulted in or progressed towards the social and economic change that was initially plotted in CPWF’s theories of change.

The sections that follow describe portions of CPWF’s approach, thinking and learning.  There are some elements of research for development, which the CPWF team agreed on and developed over the course of its implementation. Each element includes an introduction and brief summary of how learning progressed on that topic, along with examples of how it was applied in CPWF’s work and suggestions for further reading. The section on fostering innovation presents different approaches, activities and funding methods that were employed at the programmatic, basin and project levels as part of CPWF’s efforts to conduct outcome-oriented research. A set of research-for-development tool profiles highlight unique examples of CPWF’s application of tools, and lessons learned through their use. Finally, perspectives on R4D showcase the wide spectrum of experiences and thinking held by CPWF staff and contributors.

Browse the circles above to learn more.


In 2012, CPWF basin leaders and project leaders began a process to learn and reflect on the diversity of approaches applied in research for development.  They developed the definition above and a framework of guiding areas, which are explained in more detail as the CPWF’ elements of research for development.  Thus the definition and framework described with its elements, listed below, was developed in retrospect, inductive and ex-post.

Elements of CPWF’s Research-for-Development Approach

Theory of change, which defines pathways for CPWF’s work.  The use of impact pathways guided CPWF’s research approach and evolved over time.

Knowledge management, which places importance on participatory, innovative, learning focused monitoring and evaluation, knowledge sharing, and communicating about and for the program throughout the research process, rather than at the end.  Beginning with good knowledge management processes from the outset was necessary in order to share and exchange lessons among project partners.

Partnerships and networking, which reflect the importance of working with and through partners to ensure that CPWF achieved the widest possible impact.  Likewise, CPWF emphasized the need to understand mandates of different actors and entry points for ensuring research is relevant to those who need it.

Policy and engagement, which emphasizes the art of engaging in development processes and getting decision makers and development actors involved in the research process. CPWF recognized that engagement must be initiated from the outset so that all actors can define and take responsibility for the research agenda.

Adaptive management, which incorporates the need to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.  Goal posts shift, opportunities emerge, things change in unexpected and non-linear ways.  CPWF’s partners and staff at all levels were attuned to their environment and were able to change, learn, and adapt.

Gender and diversity, which recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for diverse social, economic, and ecological settings.  We recognize that power relations are ingrained in all negotiation processes and solutions need to take into consideration diversity and pluralism.

Capacity development, which focus on mentoring, young professionals, and learning-by-doing rather than conventional research capacity building focused on PhD and Masters.  The CPWF’s approach was going beyond capacity building and looking at it more from a professional and institutional transformation perspective.

Research on R4D, which sees innovation systems and the process of R4D as a science onto itself.

Learn more about each element by browsing the tabs to the left.

Theory of Change


A range of conceptual frameworks, their application and evolution features across CPWF’s program of work. However, dominating CPWF’s approach is its application of theory of change thinking, moving beyond an initial CGIAR-wide adherence to impact pathways (itself a shift from the donor driven logical framework approach). CPWF’s experience with ToC thinking, emerging explicitely in Phase 2 of the programme and reflected in a series of monitoring, evaluaton and learning tools, approaches and accountability  mechanisms. The experience itself has differed from basin to basin much as it has evolved over the time of the programme.

As succinctly put by Comic Relief, “theory of change represents people’s understanding of how change happens – the pathways factors and relationships that bring and sustain change in a particular context” (2007). Starting from a Program Theory which is a model of how an intervention such as a project, a program, a strategy , an initiave or a policy contributes  to a chain of intermediate results and finally to the intended or observed outcomes; the thory of change is about the central processes by which change comes about for individuals, group or communities. It could derive form a formal research-based theory or an unstated tarcit understanding about how things  work (Funnell and Rogers, 2011).

Patricia Rogers points out that, “every programme is packed with beliefs, assumptions and hypotheses about how change happens –about the way human’s work, or organisations, or political systems, or eco-systems. Theory of change is about articulating these many underlying assumptions about how change will happen in a programme”.

CPWF itself describes ToC in its monitoring and evaluation guidelines as: “The CPWF adopts a Theory of Change (ToC)-based approach to M&E, impact assessment and communications.  A theory of change is the causal (or cause-effect) logic that links research activities to the desired changes in the actors that a project or program is targeting to change.  It describes the tactics and strategies, including working through partnerships and networks, thought necessary to achieve the desired changes in the target actors.  A theory of change provides a model of how a project or a program is supposed to work. In other words it provides a road map of where the project is trying to reach.  Monitoring and evaluation tests and refines the road map while communications helps in reaching the destination by helping to bring about change.  The value of testing and refining the model is that it challenges pre-conceptions, aids reflection and helps staff regularly ask themselves ‘are we doing the right thing to achieve the changes we want to see?  Regularly asking this question, and responding to the answer, is essential good practice for any research-for-development project or program.”

ToC thinking refers to a systematic questioning of four dimensions – ideas, personal values, context and related strategies – and making explicit one’s assumptions and position. By investing in such reflection, we assume that the relevance and effectiveness of chosen strategies will improve – and timely adaptation en route will be possible. Such reflection means working with different people and groups to make more explicit their underlying ideas, opening spaces for mutual accountability, being more focused and critical about situation analysis, and being more questioning when identifying strategies.

While much has recently been written on theory of change thinking CPWF’s applied experience is key in demonstrating the value of collective inclusive reflection, adaptive management, recognition of the subjective and cultural nature of explicitly stating assumptions and presenting change in relation to identified actor groups … all pulled together in accessible narratives. CPWF’s use of Outcome Logic Models, reflection meetings, MSC stories, etc combine to see ToC put into practice, applying theory of change thinking at project, basin and program levels.

Learn More

  • CPWF Theory of Change–M&E Guide
  • Harnessing Complexity to Trigger a Blue Revolution: The CPWF’s Theory of Change
  • Dealing with Complexity, Adaptability and Continuity in Agricultural Research for Development
  • Strengthening CPWF Project Evaluations: Assessing Research-for-Development Impact

Knowledge Management


Knowledge management was approached in a new way by CPWF, which saw it as part of the innovation process that facilitates the transition from research outputs to development outcomes. In contrast, past CGIAR programs might have considered knowledge management an important practice, but also often regarded it as a mere organizational support function.

Within CPWF, knowledge management concerned the production and management of knowledge to influence the attitude and behaviors of research implementers and stakeholders. In other words, knowledge management became an important mechanism by which CPWF expected to achieve both its research and its development goals.

Knowledge management was guided by the concept of learning as well as by theories of change and impact pathways—methodologies that helped the program link research outputs to development outcomes. At the heart of this process was stakeholder engagement, networking, partnerships, and a focus on changing knowledge, attitudes, and skills to influence development processes.

CPWF’s knowledge management efforts involved three complementary disciplines:

Monitoring and evaluation

CPWF regarded monitoring and evaluation as a strategic function that supported its adaptive management strategy, by allowing the program and its projects to continously review and adapt their work. This meant that monitoring and evaluation was not only about collecting information to report but to actively reflect on how activities were implemented and how teams were engaging out to key targets to achieve their impact pathways.  Annual reflection meetings amongst basin teams allowed projects to review their theories of change update their workplans. Annual and semi-annual reporting was focused on having projects reflect on lessons and improve planning for the coming year. Projects were allowed to redirect outputs and plans based on this reflection(not only compliance).

Thus, monitoring and evaluation tools were closely tied with the theories of change and impact pathways. CPWF focused on implementing a complete monitoring and evaluation system, particularly focused on research-for-development processes, learning, and reflection. Monitoring and evaluation consisted of a number of processes, which combined compliance, reflection and learning.

Some of the tools used included most significant change stories; impact pathways; and theories of change, social network analysis.


CPWF used communications to to influence knowledge, attitude, and skills in support of behavioral change. The program as a whole took an unconventional approach to communication by moving beyond public relations and employing communication for development principles, which linked communication activities to the strategic objectives of the research. This approach meant that communications focused not only on products, but also on processes that could influence and engage stakeholders.

Information and data management

To CPWF, information and data management was about making sure the right information was in the right place at the right time in order to support decision making.  CPWF employed a triple-A framework, which aimed to ensure that information was accessible, applicable, and available. Beyond setting up data and information systems, CPWF also ensured that learning processes were documented and shared widely. Sharing knowledge and information ensured that lessons were fed into monitoring, evaluation, and communications work.

The program also invested in a number of collaboration tools, such as Yammer, wiki-spaces, blog spaces, and online document repositories.

How It Was Applied


The Nile took an integrated approach to communication and knowledge management and was often seen as a guide to other basins. It developed regular communication channels between researchers including a blog-like website to document processes and learning from activities. It also held regular sharing and learning meetings between researchers and ensure all external and internal meetings were facilitated by professional facilitators to improve learning and sharing opportunities.

One of its main areas of support was to support knowledge sharing between and amongst researchers through an  ‘open wiki’ accessible to all project staff and visible to all. The wiki proved to be a highly successful platform for sharing plans and information needed to coordinate NBDC. As of early December, 2013, there were over 250,000 views, 2,500 unique visitors per year, and 2,000 edits over the past three years. The significant changes in researchers’ perceptions and behavior have resulted in the adoption of new tools by most staff and the gradual willingness to share on these platforms instead of the traditional email conversations. Stakeholders have a richer knowledge base on which to draw and everyone can contribute to ongoing project activities.

At the local level, communication was used to ensure local voices were heard using particapatory video. Partners in Ethiopia used participatory video to allow farmers who could not participate in meetings to have their say in implementing sustainable land management. Local farmers (women) produced the videos to inform stakeholders on unrestricted grazing, water stress, and government-led soil and water conservation. The video received a highly positive response from the local government authority.

Likewise, the teams experimented with digial story telling. Digital storytelling refers to short films composed of digitized still and moving images, sound and text. This is a highly effective way of presenting compelling stories in an engaging format.  A number of stories have been or are in the process of being developed to highlights lessons from the Nile BDC.


The Mekong took a very different approach to communication seeing it as an integral part of the research engagement process. Its Mekong Forum on Water and Food Series brought all actors in the hydropower sector to dialogue around evidence based resaerch. This was found as a ‘safe’ and effective way to build trust amongst different actors.

In addition, A State of Knowledge series of publications was developed to provide decision-makers with short summaries of the key issues related to hydropower. They have included: sediment flows, impacts of hydropower on fisheries, corporate social responsibility and China’s influence on hydropower development in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Another innovative aspect was the use of film to engage different actors. A full project to develop a number of films on Mekong-related issues and use them to dialogue around were developed. These films were shown on National TV throughout Mekong countries, in science film festivals as well as used a dialogue tool in high level policy discussions.

Program level

At the program level, CPWF sought to use communications to influence and engage different stakeholders.

From 2010 to 2012, CPWF attempted to influence global-level debates on water and food. In 2011, CPWF was active in global policy engagement. The program director was involved in discussions at the World Water Forum as well as at the Bonn Conference on Water-Energy-Food Nexus in November 2011. In addition, CPWF supported partners to organize a session on rainwater management at the Bonn Conference.

The most significant impact was from a media campaign centered on findings from the Basin Focal Project research, carried out under CPWF’s first phase. The Basin Focal Project, published in two special issues of the International Water Journal, was an exhaustive study looking at the interlinkages of water, food, and poverty across ten river basins. The communications team developed messages that focused on the untapped potential of water and need for better water management—rather than water scarcity being a central point. The counter-intuitive message resonated globally as it was a more positive message on water and water management than the usual alarmist messages centered around scarcity. The campaign received widespread coverage in local and regional media with 14 wire stories (Reuters, AFP,  etc.); 4 radio broadcasts; 25 original online stories; and hundreds of online pickups in multiple languages. A senior European Union negotiator picked up on these findings and used them in the EU’s Rio+20 messages. This in turn helped us enter into the Water, Food, and Energy Nexus discussions.

The program’s communications team also repackaged research for different target groups. A two-year long process to develop specific materials from CPWF’s first phase of research resulted in the production of number of materials. The objective was to ensure the utilization of our research on different levels, ranging from enhancing policy influence of research outputs to spurring extension workers to find suitable products to communicate to farmers.

The resource package includes:

  • Key message posters that emphasize core messages and statements derived from research with a nicely illustrated picture. The posters are targeted to educator and students and  clearly define the key messages of CPWF.
  • Outcome stories that outline specific lessons and changes as a result of the program’s research. The target audience includes donors, policy makers, and planners.
  • sourcebook based on CPWF’s first phase (2004-2008) that presents best practices, research methods, and tools. The book targets trainers, development professionals, and researchers.
  • Briefing notes that are based on the core messages and synthesized across projects, focused on both the methodological as well as technical issues. The briefs target academics, policy makers, planners and development administrators.

Learn More

Partnerships & Networking


Partnerships and networks were central elements in CPWF’s research-for-development approach; both were found to be essential to foster innovative solutions to the water and food problems that CPWF aimed to address.

Networks wherein people are encouraged to learn from each other and come up with new ideas can foster development, adaptation, or rejection of innovations. CPWF realized that establishing new links between people and organizations is a prerequisite to innovation and therefore an indispensible part of the program’s mandate. At the same time, CPWF wanted to build on already existing networks, and program, basin, and project leaders all prioritized building strong partnerships with global and regional organizations.

Partnerships with development agencies facilitated taking innovation to scale; partnerships with government agencies lent credibility and fostered new initiatives; partnerships with other research institutions introduced a diversity of ideas and approaches; and partnerships with potential end-users kept CPWF’s research relevant and increased the chances for uptake. Finally, CPWF invested in partnerships and networks to ensure that innovation and adaptation could continue beyond the program’s lifetime.

CPWF often engaged in partnerships and facilitated networks by establishing itself as a convening power, trusted broker, or both. Connecting people and organizations in new ways—whether through multi-stakeholder platform forums or at smaller scales—fostered dialogue between stakeholders and gave CPWF the opportunity to bring its research in front of decision- and policy makers.

CPWF learned that fruitful partnerships are built on trust. Many key staff within CPWF found that personal contacts, social capital, and networking were necessary priorities for accelerating research-for-development. However, building trust—and therefore partnerships—takes time, and the short timespan of the CPWF program was sometimes a challenge. Partnerships are also vulnerable to external shocks, such as budget cuts.

See the brief ‘Research with Development Ambitions–Partnering with Non-Researchers’ for more information.

How It Was Applied


CPWF worked to optimize the use of reservoirs and to foster sustainable hydropower development in the Mekong River basin. Here, the debate on hydropower—a contentious and highly political topic—has long been polarized and unproductive. CPWF set out to create a more mature, more reasoned, and less speculative dialogue on hydropower. It aimed to foster an enabling environment for sustainable solutions.

Realizing the need to establish itself as a trusted actor within this context, CPWF-Mekong prioritized partnerships from the outset. The basin program, with 19 projects, contracted 76 different partners and signed memoranda of understanding with seven government agencies in the region. The MOUs provided access for CPWF field teams, formalized relationships between Mekong region countries and the program, and fostered new partnerships and initiatives.

CPWF did achieve the status of trusted broker and neutral convening power in the Mekong region. First, CPWF-Mekong was independent of its hosting organization (the International Water Management Institute), and the basin program’s (semi-) autonomous office and organization allowed it a fresh start with stakeholders. Second, CPWF-Mekong provided neutral platforms for dialogue to take place, most notably the annual Mekong Forum on Water, Food, and Energy. By facilitating dialogue between stakeholders, who in the past did not engage in fruitful exchanges, and by inputting new knowledge into this dialogue, the CPWF-Mekong created conditions under which sustainable hydropower is a possibility.


In the Andes, CPWF benefitted from being hosted by CONDESAN, which was established as a convening power and trusted partner in the region long before CPWF began. Further, the concept of benefit-sharing mechanisms was not new to stakeholders in the Andes (in the past, payment for ecosystem services schemes were the focus of attention, and while the two concepts differ, the overall principles are similar). The familiarity of the topic allowed CPWF-Andes to create a strong, common vision, which in turn enabled partners, including national institutions, to lead innovation and change, with CPWF offering support through relevant research results.

Further, one CPWF project in the Andes had a pre-existing, strong relationship with the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Peru. The project was diligent to maintain its influence, and when the project team realized that ministers have uncertain tenure, it built relationships with others in the ministry to protect the partnership from unforeseen changes. That same, strong relationship also paid off when the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources needed external expertise on how to establish a benefit-sharing mechanism in the Cañete River basin. CPWF and its partners put their research into use by advising the Ministry on the design of the trust fund that governs the benefit-sharing mechanism, the valuation of ecosystem services, and identification of priority areas for ecosystem conservation investments.

Learn More

  • Research with Development Ambitions–Partnering with Non-Researchers’ (brief)
  • Piloting Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms and Influencing National Policy in Peru
  • Summary of CPWF Research in the Mekong River Basin 
  • What Happened at the 3rd Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy?
  • Dialogue Poster: Importance of Networks
  • Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region
  • Improving the resilience of agricultural systems through research partnership: A review of evidence from CPWF projects
  • Linking partnerships at different influence levels
  • Stories of Change and Innovation in the Volta Basin Development Challenge Program 
  •  Map of VBDC Stakeholders

Policy and Engagement


Resource poor farmers need more than new technology to escape poverty. Research-for-development aims to achieve long-lasting impact by changing policies and institutions in favor of more equitable development. But how can researchers influence decision- and policy makers?

In research-for-development, the entire research process serves as the basis for strategic engagement with decision makers. Engagement strategies aim to involve decision makers, development actors, and other change agents and to influence their knowledge, attitude, and skills. Engaging decision makers from the outset allows them to contribute to defining the problem, setting priorities, and designing and implementing solutions.

CPWF has used partnerships and platforms as its two most prominent vehicles for engaging with decision makers and influencing policy.


CPWF found that partnerships were important for accelerating innovation and that engaging decision makers in its research facilitated taking innovation to scale.

Oftentimes, the program engaged in partnerships and facilitated networks by establishing itself as a convening power, trusted broker, or both. Connecting people and organizations in new ways fostered dialogue between stakeholders and gave CPWF the opportunity to bring its research in front of decision- and policy makers. At the same time, CPWF wanted to build on already existing networks, and program, basin, and project leaders all prioritized building strong partnerships with global and regional organizations.


CPWF used several types of platforms, all of which were focused on engagement. In general, an engagement platform is a space where individuals and organizations with different backgrounds and interests can come together to diagnose problems, identify opportunities, and implement solutions.

In the Limpopo, Nile, and Volta River basins, CPWF used innovation platforms to link researchers, end users, and boundary partners with a range of technologies. Multi-stakeholder platforms, which CPWF established in the Mekong River basin, allowed people from different groups with different interests to meet and discuss contentious issues.

Engagement platforms can address a single issue or complex problems involving a wide range of people. A platform can only work when its individual members have an incentive to contribute. The most successful engagement platforms are demand driven, solution oriented, evolve over time, and embrace multiple perspectives. Finally, excellent facilitation is needed to turn engagement platforms into win-win endeavors.

How It Was Applied


In water-scarce Burkina Faso, integrated water resources management exists on paper, but local authorities struggle to implement the concept. One CPWF project partnered with one of more than thirty local water committees in the country; the committees are the institutional structures for implementing integrated water resources management at the local level.

The project team and its partners organized a series of multi-stakeholder meetings at the local, sub-basin, regional, and national level to discuss the local water committee’s mandate and tasks. The meetings brought together all kinds of stakeholders: farmers, pastoralists, fishermen, miners, women, youth, civil society, policy makers from the provincial, regional, and national level, and members of the committee itself.

As a result of the meetings, committee members came to realize the important role that the local water committee could play, namely to ensure that the needs of all water users in its sub-basin were being met. By facilitating exchanges between the committee and all its stakeholders, the research team helped the committee to assume its role in integrated water resources management implementation.


In Peru, one CPWF project leveraged pre-existing partnerships to gain influence on policy. The project had a strong relationship with the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources and was diligent to maintain its influence. When the project team realized that ministers have uncertain tenure, it built relationships with others in the ministry to protect the partnership from unforeseen changes.

That same, strong relationship paid off at later occasions when the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources needed external expertise. When the ministry wanted to establish a benefit-sharing mechanism in the Cañete River basin, it came to CPWF for advice. CPWF and its partners put their research into use by advising the ministry on the design of the trust fund that governs the benefit-sharing mechanism, the valuation of ecosystem services, and identification of priority areas for ecosystem conservation investments. Similarly, when the ministry began drafting a new, proposed ecosystem services law, it again approached CPWF for input. CPWF and its partners advised on scientific, technical, and linguistic aspects of the new law. The Peruvian congress is scheduled to vote on the ratification of the law during 2014. If approved, the law is expected to create a much stronger enabling environment for equitable sharing of water benefits across the country.


In Zimbabwe, one CPWF project built upon a preexisting innovation platform. It brought together value chain actors, including input suppliers, farmers, traders, and processors, and allowed these actors to explore challenges and opportunities.

Through innovation platform exchanges, participants found solutions that helped align farmers’ production and market requirements, typically by finding ways to improve food and cash crop production, dry season feed, animal heath, or market performance. Notably, a strong local market for goats, which helped raise the value of one goat from US$10 to US$60, was established through the innovation platform. The project found that after a functional market had been established, better and more reliable pricing served as incentive for smallholder producers to invest in improved production systems. The innovation platform spurred a virtuous cycle in which farmers’ self-esteem and confidence improved and a more bio-diverse and productive farming system emerged.

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Adaptive Management


CPWF saw adaptive management as a structured, iterative process of decision-making designed to adapt to the long-term, non-linear processes of social development and policy change within which its research for development projects operated. The goal of adaptive management is to reduce uncertainty over time via system monitoring, thereby improving management outcomes in the long run. A basic assumption is that natural resource management policies and management actions are adjusted in response to new scientific and socio-economic information. Adaptive management is deliberate experimentation, not ad-hoc or simply reactionary. However, flexibility in the approach is important in order to allow the creativity that is necessary for dealing with uncertainty and change.

The adaptive management process is often portrayed as a six-step cycle. Successful adaptive management requires all six steps. Within each step, further elements are identified. Although the full suite of elements may not be implemented for every project, it is important to understand them and the implications of omitting any.

In Phase 2 (2010-2013) CPWF placed adaptive management at the center of its research for development approach. The program defined its core principles for Phase 2 based on lessons derived from the mid-term external review of Phase 1 and its internal reflection and evaluation of Phase 1 projects. Adaptive management was identified as one of the core principles. In order to respond to non-linear and unexpected change, CPWF’s partners and staff at all levels had to be attuned to their environment, and be able to change, learn and adapt. This principle was embedded in key program documents including CPWF Standard Clauses and Procedures, CPWF Monitoring and Evaluation Guide, the Basin Development Challenge program description as well as the overall CPWF theory of change. Each basin’s Coordination and Change project was tasked with putting in place a framework and incentive structure to allow for cumulative learning and change.

While CPWF took great care to design the systems and mechanisms necessary for adaptive management, the success of implementation varied across projects.

How It Was Applied


CPWF’s Monitoring and Evaluation Guide states, “Adaptive management involves early identification of opportunities, threats and unexpected consequences together with taking appropriate action, including the redrafting of research agendas, and the proper documentation of this learning.” As part of its adaptive management policy, basin Coordination and Change projects were required to put in place a framework and incentive structure that would allow for cumulative learning and change to take place.

Regular bi-monthly meetings for project leaders and key project staff allowed the Ganges BDC to monitor BDC performance, reflect on emerging research results and adapt to an evolving understanding of next user needs. The Ganges BDC adjusted its research questions several times as they better understood the complex interrelationships between system intensification, the component technologies of the farming systems, the coordination and timing of water control, the design, repair and management of rural infrastructure, and the overlap between national and local government policies and priorities. Adaptive management allowed the program to capitalize on the innovation that arose as its five inter-dependent programs with broad, diverse partnerships progressed.

Program Level

With the shift from Phase 1, where CPWF started off with a wide range of relatively independent projects that addressed development problems around water and food, to a strategic programmatic approach to address a specific development challenge and achieve impact in a focused geographic region,

Between Phases 1 and 2 of CPWF shifted from a wide range of relatively independent projects that addressed water- and food-related development challenges to a strategic programmatic approach centered on unique, pre-identified development challenges in river basins—the Basin Development Challenges. This shift reflected in part CPWF’s reflection on how projects are contracted, and who they are contracted to, to be one of the biggest determinants of whether or not research projects progress towards development outcomes.

In order to ensure that this learning was effectively capitalized on during its second phase, the program had to ensure that the projects contracted to work on each Basin Development Challenge were designed from the beginning with an awareness of their interdependence and integration. As such, Phase 2 projects were commissioned and projects were given clear guidelines of what was expected from lead institutions and partners during the proposal writing stage. Projects were also asked to bring one to two collaborating partners to the proposal development workshop in order to ensure early buy-in.

Learn More

  • CPWF Monitoring and Evaluation Guide
  • Adaptive Management for More Resilient Food Production Systems 
  • Adaptive Management in the CPWF Basin Development Challenge Coordination and Change Projects
  • Role of Adaptive Management in the Program-Level Outcome Logic Models 

Gender and Diversity


Women play a critical role in agriculture in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 50 percent of the smallholders cultivating rain-fed agriculture are women, and women produce 70-80 percent of domestic food in most societies. Yet until recently, women have been almost invisible in agricultural research and development efforts.

During the past 20 years researchers have begun focusing on how to improve the lives of rural women, their families, and their communities. Ultimately, gender is about power—who gets to decide and who gets to benefit from new opportunities? Shifting the power balance in favor of women often means challenging existing power structures and redistributing access to natural resources, production means, and opportunities.

Gender and diversity were a couple of the key principles behind the research-for-development approach that CPWF deployed during its second phase of programming (2008-2013). CPWF formally recognized that one-size-fits-all approaches are inefficient in diverse social, economic, and ecological contexts. Rather, considering the power positions of women and other disadvantaged groups in the negotiations that precede innovation and change is paramount to ensuring equitable development.

Therefore, CPWF encouraged inclusion of gender in the initial project proposals for its second phase of research. The program also mandated the coordination and change projects in each river basin oversee the implementation of gender inclusion. However, for the first few years, the focus on gender barely extended beyond ticking boxes on a checklist. Then, in 2011, CPWF revived its focus on gender by adopting a program-wide gender initiative. While perhaps too late to foster large-scale change, CPWF did manage to raise awareness, generate interest, and support some excellent gender work.

How It Was Applied


CPWF promoted benefit-sharing mechanisms in the Andean system of river basins. Benefit-sharing mechanisms aim to redistribute the benefits of a healthy watershed among all water users—typically by ensuring that relatively wealthy water users, who live downstream, reward the poorer water users, who live upstream and who maintain the ecosystem.

However, in many watersheds the power balance between stakeholders is skewed; the poor, women, and other marginalized groups have limited access to information, lack negotiation skills, and are often excluded from decision making. To achieve equitable agreements that can contribute to poverty alleviation, all stakeholders must be empowered to make informed decisions.

A CPWF project in the Andes worked to develop hydro-literacy among disadvantaged groups, including women. The project promoted the use of conversatorios: a framework that can help stakeholders improve their knowledge, capacities, and abilities to negotiate conflicts.

In the case of the Coello-Combeina Rivers basin in Colombia, the CPWF project helped voiceless communities to become informed participants in decision-making. After achieving hydro-literacy, the people in these communities, particularly the women, were able to take on active political roles and demand attention to the lack of collective services and goods in their communities. Local stakeholders negotiated with more than 15 local, regional, and national institutions and contributed to 28 binding agreements on investments and management for the conservation and protection of strategic areas, reconversion of productive systems, and basic sanitation and potable water. Most remarkably, institutions now listen and answer to previously voiceless communities. 


The Guyu-Chelesa irrigation scheme is located 40 km south of Gwanda town in southern Zimbabwe. This area receives limited rainfall—below 500 mm per year—and crops need to be irrigated to thrive. The farmers, who collaborate to manage the irrigation scheme, grow maize, wheat, tomatoes, groundnuts, and other crops on their plots. About two-thirds of the plot owners are women, and it is women who cultivate practically all the plots. However, despite the majority of farmers being women, extension workers were targeting information and trainings toward men.

Therefore, a CPWF project in the Limpopo River basin engaged agricultural extension workers in the area to advise them on how to make agricultural extension services available to women. For example, collecting firewood was an activity that took up a large part of female farmers’ time. After the establishment of a scheme that eased women’s access to firewood, women had more time available—time they could spend participating in trainings and meetings aimed to increase agricultural productivity and production. In the same way, extension workers realized the benefit of scheduling meetings and trainings at times that did not collide with women’s other responsibilities, such as sending children off to school, farming, and cooking. With meetings taking place at times that were convenient to women, more women were able to participate.

The CPWF project aimed to recognize female farmers’ vast contributions to agricultural production and to ensure that they were able to control the fruits of their labor. Practical evidence shows that if women are empowered and have control of the benefits derived from farming, household livelihoods will improve.

Learn More

Capacity Development


Capacity development was one of the most central components of CPWF’s research-for-development approach. The program assumed that capacity development, along with institutional change, is the main vehicle for achieving impact and fostering sustainable solutions to pressing water and food problems.

During the first phase of CPWF research (2003-2008), the program mainly aimed to strengthen the capacity of researchers and of students from developing countries. With the kick-off of CPWF’s second phase (2009-2013), capacity development was institutionalized as a programmatic principle and its importance for achieving outcomes was formally recognized.

During the second phase, CPWF expanded its capacity development efforts to encompass collaborators, farmers, extension workers, development professionals, and others—in sum, anyone who with increased knowledge and skills could contribute to outcomes.


To ensure the success of its research-for-development model, CPWF put significant efforts into developing the capacity of its own researchers. The program introduced tools that could help researchers ensure impact and uptake. Many researchers who had never used the tools before found them beneficial to the process of designing research projects with the aim of achieving development outcomes.

Students and young professionals

CPWF included students in its research projects, expanding their capacities and contributing to building a new generation of researchers. During the second phase, CPWF deliberately changed its terminology and replaced “students” with “young professionals” in recognition of the value that young minds bring.

Next- and end- users

Particularly during the second phase, CPWF researchers realized the importance of including next- and end users—farmers, local officials, and others—at the outset of the research process. Capacity development of next- or end users was often achieved through participatory research approaches, such as action research.

Enough examples exist across CPWF projects to warrant naming increased capacities—of researchers, young professionals, and end users—the key outcome of the CPWF program.

How It Was Applied


In the Mekong, CPWF partnered with the Mekong Program on Water, Environment and Resilience (M-POWER) to implement a fellowship program. The program awarded one-year fellowships to more than 60 professionals, researchers, government officials, and others interested in expanding their expertise within the field of water governance. Each fellow was assigned a mentor, who worked with fellows to ensure the quality and relevance of their research. Fellows were required to participate in regional CPWF events, engage with other research institutions, and present their results to potential users.

The fellowship program increased the number of research outputs generated by CPWF in the Mekong region and diversified CPWF’s research. In addition, it helped CPWF expand its network and establish connections with more than 60 people working in regional universities, government agencies, and non-government organizations. Most importantly, fellows are likely to stay in the region after completing the program, as fellowships were awarded almost exclusively to people who originate from and were already working in the Mekong region. The fellowship program helped to sustainably increase regional capacity on water governance issues.

Program Level

In its first phase (2004-2008) CPWF introduced a capacity building program with a strong focus on involving students in projects and supporting their international exposure and participation in cross-basin learning events like the International Forum Series.  In Phase 2 (2009-2013) capacity building became a principle of CPWF’s approach. The program chose to view students as ‘young professionals’ and placed greater emphasis on their work and contributions. Capacity development in Phase 2 was also broadened to include professional and organizational transformation of project members and partners. The program worked to connect such efforts to its use of impact pathways and theory of change at both the project and programmatic levels.

Learn More

Research on R4D


Phase 2 (2009-2013) research (2009-2013) was carried out through Basin Development Challenges (BDCs). The BDCs sought to achieve change by fostering innovation processes in which basin actors put new knowledge to use.  In order to foster innovation, BDC staff needed to understand how research does and does not trigger innovation processes.  Hence, research to understand change processes (innovation research) was identified as an activity to be carried out by the basin coordination projects. Innovation research was both internal and external to the BDC:

  • Internal: The BDC and the projects that made it up were experiments in putting research into use.  Outcome and impact pathways provided hypotheses that were tested as part of project and BDC monitoring.  The basin coordination project would coach other BDC projects on monitoring, and analyze the data gathered to extract useful principles.
  • External: Much can be learned from on-going, successful and unsuccessful innovation processes. For example, some projects sough to determine which agricultural water interventions worked where, and why.  Answering this question involves understanding where existing technologies have worked and failed, i.e., research into what drives and constrains innovation.

The coordination project for each basin was asked to lead internal innovation research and coordinate external innovation research. Through this process, it was hoped that the following research questions would be answered (an indicative but not exhaustive list):

  • What mechanisms does research trigger, in which contexts, in efforts to transform research into developmental outcomes?
  • How far does a trans-disciplinary, integrated approach contribute to development outcomes?
  • When and where does networking, in the form of engagement in multi-stakeholder platforms and other modalities, work to link research to generation of outcomes?
  • What effect does BDC research have on research and development networks in the basin (e.g., in links between agriculture and water sectors in government), and what is the developmental contribution of these links?
  • How can dialogue and negotiation in stakeholder platforms be most effectively informed regarding the likely consequences of different strategies?

In answering these questions, the coordination projects would conduct their work within the framework of CPWF principles of capacity development and gender mainstreaming. The project would conduct audits of capacity building required in BDC projects and in key partner organizations, and then be proactive in meeting capacity building needs.  It would also ensure that issues of gender are mainstreamed across the areas and projects in terms of process, participation and monitoring.

 How It Was Applied

In brief, this was the process CPWF envisioned by which innovation research, or research on R4D, would be conducted. As Phase 2 progressed, BDC innovation research efforts were sidelined due to budget cuts in all but one basin. The Volta BDC was successful in carrying out a number of innovation research activities. Those efforts culminated in the publication of CPWF working paper entitled ‘Stories of Change and Innovation in the Volta Basin Development Challenge’. At the program level, as of early 2014 efforts are being undertaken to capitalize on CPWF’s research on R4D through different means, including a cross-basin writeshop. Funding for these activities is provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

Learn More

  • Stories of Change and Innovation in the Volta Basin Development Challenge (Working paper)
  • Change and Innovation in the Volta Basin Development Challenge Program (Presentation)
  • Program Level Outcome Logic Model (CPWF M&E Guide)


Over the course of its research for development efforts, the Challenge Program on Water and Food employed numerous tools.

The following list is not exhaustive, but is representative of some of the tools employed by CPWF at the programmatic and project levels.

Program Level Management Tools

  • Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA)
  • Outcome Logic Models
  • Innovation Funds
  • Most Significant Change
  • Outcome Target Indicator Baseline as part of Monitoring & Evaluation
  • Institutional History

Engagement and Dialogue Tools and Approaches

  • Innovation Platforms
  • High-Level Dialogues
  • Networking Mapping
  • Conversatorios

Participatory Tools and Approaches for the Field

  • Participatory Video
  • Agro-Economic Analysis Methodology
  • Participatory Drawing
  • Thai Ban Research

Modelling and Simulation Tools and Approaches

  • Companion Modelling
  • Nile Goblet Tool
  • Wat-a-Game
  • Happy Strategies Game
  • Basin Challenge Simulation Game

Browse the tabs on the left to view a selection of tool profiles.



Participatory impact pathways analysis (PIPA) is a project planning and monitoring and evaluation approach. It is a relatively young and experimental approach that draws from program theory evaluation, social network analysis and research to understand and foster innovation. It is designed to help the people involved in a project, program or organization make explicit their theories of change—in other words how they see themselves achieving their goals and having impact (Douthwaite, 2008).

PIPA begins with a participatory workshop where stakeholders make explicit their assumptions of how their project will achieve an impact. Participants construct problem trees, carry out a visioning exercise and draw network maps to help them clarify their ‘impact pathways’. These are then articulated in two logic models. The outcomes logic model describes the project’s medium-term objectives in the form of hypotheses: which actors need to change, what are those changes and which strategies are needed to realise these changes. The impact logic model describes how, by helping to achieve the expected outcomes, the project will have an impact on people’s livelihoods. Participants derive outcome targets and milestones which are regularly revisited and revised as part of project monitoring and evaluation. PIPA goes beyond logframes and the traditional use of logic models such as those commonly used by the CGIAR by engaging stakeholders in a structured participatory process, promoting learning and providing a framework for ‘action research’ on processes of change (Douthwaite, 2008).

How It Was Used

PIPA was first used in January 2006 when seven projects funded by the CPWF met for three days to co-construct their respective impact pathways. The exercise was led by the PIPA group pat CIAT and was undertaken so that CPWF could get a better idea of what impacts its projects where aiming to achieve, and how. To date, the PIPA group at CIAT has facilitated 20 workshops for over 400 participants.

PIPA (or its tools) has been adopted for project planning and M&E by EULACIAS – The European-Latin American Project on Co-Innovation in Agricultural Ecosystems—an EU-funded project in Latin America; the Knowledge Sharing Project of the CGIAR ICT-KM Program; and is being adapted and used by the International Potato Center for ex-post evaluation purposes in its Andean Change Project.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


PIPA goes beyond the traditional use of logic models and log frames by engaging stakeholders in a structured participatory process, promoting learning and providing a framework for ‘action research’ on processes of change. The two logic models provide predictions of future impact that can be used in priority setting. They also provide impact hypotheses required for ex-post impact assessment. The specification of impact pathways, using PIPA or outcome mapping, is now a recommended good practice in the CGIAR for monitoring and evaluation and as a precursor activity to ex-post impact assessment.


  • Clarifies thinking about how to bring about desired changes.
  • Highly participatory.


  • Needs cross-referencing with other methods.
  • Outputs depend on “who is in the room”.

Learn More


  • Participatory impact pathways analysis - Wikipedia


Alvarez, S. and B. Douthwaite 2009. Impact assessment of research in the CPWF. CPWF Project Report. Colombo, Sri Lanka: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Douthwaite, B., Alvarez, S., Cook, R., Davies, P., George, J., Howell, R., Mackay and J. Rubiano, J. 2008. Participatory  impact pathway analysis: A practical application of program theory in research for development. Canadian  Journal of Program Evaluation, 22, 127-159.

Douthwaite, B., Alvarez, S., Thielel, G. and Mackay, R. 2008. Participatory impact pathways analysis: A practical  method for project planning and evaluation. ILAC Brief No. 17. Maccarese: Institutional Learning and Change Initiative.

Flood, R.L. 1999. Rethinking the fifth discipline. London and New York: Routledge.

Harrington, L.W., Gichuki, F., Bouman, B.A.M., Johnson, N., Ringler, C., Sugunan, V., Geheb K. and  Woolley, J. 2006. CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, Changing the way we manage water for food, livelihoods, health and the environment: Synthesis 2005. CPWF Synthesis Report. Colombo, Sri Lanka: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Rbiano, J. and Garcia, J. 2009. Improving knowledge for targeting interventions: willingness of individuals to participate and calculation of institutional environmental indices. Working Draft.

Schiffer, E. 2007. The power mapping tool: A method for the empirical research of power relations. IFPRI Discussion Paper 00703. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.


  • Boru Douthwaite,
  • Sophie Alvarez,
  • Ron Mackay,
  • Katherine Tehelen,
  • Diana Cordoba,

Outcome Logic Models


Outcome logic models (OLMs) take Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis into the next phase, which is to build a theory of change (ToC).  It describes how a project is expected to achieve some desired changes through its activities, outputs, outcomes (behavioral changes) and impact and their inter-relationships. A project’s ToC can be made explicit in an Outcome Logic Model. The main difference between an OLM and other ways of making the outputs-to-outcomes logic explicit is that the OLM is actor-based with a strong focus on the people perspective, i.e. the ones who make the changes possible.

Once completed, the OLM becomes the basis for the Outcome Target Indicator Baseline or Plan in which the project team defines suitable indicators and ways to measure progress toward the desired changes.

How It Was Used

The OLM was chosen by the CPWF as the tool to discuss, make explicit and adapt project and basin-level theories of change. PIPA was developed in Phase 1 as a commissioned project and used for all Phase 2 projects at both basin and program level.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Program OLMs are a good basis for reporting to senior managerial bodies (e.g. boards) and donors. Even knowledgeable stakeholders often gain insight from reviewing OLMs.
  • OLMs help program and project evaluators organize data, understand how the program works and guide data collection.
  • Can be used for a single evaluation or to bring together evidence from multiple evaluations.
  • If you are overseeing an evaluation (managers or commissioners) a logic model can be a very useful way of bringing together existing evidence about a program, and clarifying where there is agreement and disagreement about how the program is understood to work, and where there are gaps in the evidence.


  • OLMs can be very flexible. They can be developed before a program starts, and used for planning, to develop monitoring systems, and for evaluation and reporting.  They can also be developed during implementation and even after a program has finished, and the can be modified as a ‘living document’ as the project progresses along its timeline.
  • Clarifies thinking about how to bring about desired changes.


  • Can become a ‘straight jacket’ if not treated as a ‘living document’.
  • Not all relevant factors can be easily quantified (see Most Significant Change as an example of a qualitative tool).

Learn More


  • CPWF OLM Project Workbook
  • Examples of CPWF project-level OLMs
  • Limpopo Basin Impact Pathway Workshop Report. 15 to 17 November, 2007. Birchwood Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Nile Basin Impact Pathway Workshop Report. 10 to 12 May, 2008. ILRI Campus, Addis Adaba, Ethiopia.
  • Outcome Logic Models: What They Are and How to Use Them (blog post)


Better Evaluation: Steps for Developing Program Theory/Logic Model

In Defense of Logic Models


  • Tonya Schuetz,
  • Boru Douthwaite,

Innovation Funds


Change does not happen according to a schedule and often happens in unanticipated and unexpected ways. Innovation funds are a mechanism by which programs and projects that apply adaptive management principles can take advantage of arising, unforeseen opportunities in order to foster desired changes

How It Was Used

The CPWF Innovation Fund was established in 2011 to spur innovation and catalyze change in CPWF research-for-development projects by building capacity and supporting emerging and unanticipated opportunity.  The Fund announced its first round awardees in August 2011.  Eight projects of less than one-year duration were awarded grants for a total of about USD 165,000 spread over five of the six basins where CPWF worked: Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta.


The project worked with a coastal community in Bangladesh to establish a pilot watershed. The pilot sought to demonstrate how crop production benefits could be achieved through improved management of water in polders. The project was successful in achieving most of the above objectives, including improved water management during the winter crop.


The Limpopo innovation project set out to develop a web-based decision support system for agricultural water management of small reservoirs and small water infrastructures. 


The project piloted rainwater management interventions in three districts of Ethiopia: Diga and Jeldu in Oromia, and Fogera in Amhara Region. All three platforms independently decided to focus on aspects of livestock feed/grazing management. These interventions were identified to fill a gap in ongoing government (and in one case donor) soil and water conservation projects in the three sites, with the simultaneous aim of conservation and improving livestock feed availability by planting appropriate multi-purpose species.


In Vietnam, innovation funds were used to build provincial-level capacity to assess the implications of socio-economic development plans on water demand in the Sesan River. The project also aimed to support an emerging opportunity arising from the strongly expressed recognition by the provincial line departments that the design and adoption of socio-economic development plans had never examined the implications for water demand. Provincial authorities learned to use a simple software program for calculating and integrating water need with consideration of the socio-economic development strategy and sectoral master plans, in order to ensure the sustainable use of this natural resource.

Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Supports adaptive management processes
  • Allows project managers to take advantage of opportunities that arise out of practice
  • Produces impressive outputs and outcome for the relatively small amount of money provided


  • Time consuming to administer and manage.

Learn More



Alemaw, B.F. and M. Motlhala. 2012. A database of small reservoirs developed by IF project is used as a rehabilitation and maintenance tool. CPWF e-letter article – L2/L4 IF project Significant Change Story. University of Botswana.

CPWF Innovation Funds Project Completion Report: Oiling the wheels of innovation: seed funds for local Innovation Platforms

CPWF Innovation Funds Project Completion Report: Participatory video: a novel mechanism for sharing community perceptions with decision makers

CPWF Innovation Funds Project Completion Report: L2i Small Grant Project on Building Provincial Capacity to Understand the Water Demand Implication of Socio-Economic Development Plans in Central Vietnam

CPWF Innovation Funds Project Completion Report: Implementing community-level water management in coastal Bangladesh – a case study in polder

CPWF Innovation Funds Project Completion Report: Development of a web based decision support system for agricultural water management of small reservoirs and small water infrastructures in the Limpopo Basin


In the Limpopo

  • Berhanu F. ALEMAW, ,

In the Nile

  • Josephine TUCKER, ODI,

In the Mekong

  • Vu Xuan Nguyet Hong,
  • Yumiko Kura, WorldFish,
  • Samonn Mith, WorldFish,

In the Ganges

  • Elizabeth Humphreys, IRRI,
  • Manoranjan Monday, IRRI Bangladesh,


Most Significant Change


Most Significant Change stories (MSC) are a potentially useful evaluation tool given its simplicity and its use of storytelling to communicate experiences of change, and the who, where, how and why of an event or situation. This relatively new technique is based on a qualitative, participatory approach, with stakeholders involved in all aspects of the evaluation. It therefore represents a shift away from conventional quantitative, expert-driven evaluation methods toward one more focused on the human impact of interventions. MSC is particularly useful for understanding if and how behavior change has occurred and how an intervention has contributed to the change.

MSC involves the generation of stories of significant changed caused by an intervention. The stories can be told by various stakeholders and can also be adapted to pick up on unexpected changes that may not have clear causal links to interventions. The ‘more significant’ of these stories are then selected by the stakeholders for in-depth discussion. These discussions draw stakeholders’ attention to the impacts of the intervention that have the most significant affects on the lives of the beneficiaries (Davies and Dart, 2005).

Due to the relative simplicity of the approach, which is easy to explain and can be communicated well across cultures, and its emphasis on encouraging project participants to share their stories and experiences in a relatively unstructured and informal way, MSC is thought to be particularly relevant as a means to identify unexpected changes—both positive and negative. CPWF found MSCs elicited a number of unexpected, positive project impacts from participants (see for example Sheriff and Schuetz, 2009).

How It Was Used


In the Nile, two rounds of MSC stories were drafted in October 2011 and October 2012. The stories selected considered collective hydrological monitoring, use of innovation systems, working at landscape scale, using mapping and games. The rounds involved staff members and partners who identified very different kinds of changes. The method was not applied systematically and perhaps with not enough ‘storytellers’ and not enough diverse selection criteria, resulting in potentially biased results. However, the exercise still helped capture insights about where the team and partners felt change was happening as part of NBDC. They also helped tease out communication products to share with a wider audience on the Nile’s website.


In Bangladesh, a Ganges project (PN35) helped stocked fish production reach 400 kilograms per hectare at Beel Mail village in Rajshahi District. This represented an increase of 133% compared to the baseline and brought significant changes to the community. The village’s story is told in the community-produced film ‘The Island of Dreams and Success” (see the link for Community-based Fish Culture in Seasonal Floodplains and Irrigations Systems below). During focus group discussions and Most Significant Change interviews, beneficiaries also reported that cooperation in the community has increased.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • MSC is time-consuming but can bring very good results in combination with other M&E methods that provide more quantitative results.
  • MSC is a great way to look into changes that may not have been recorded by the team because they were not on their mind originally (e.g. in the project design).
  • In general, ‘forcing’ an arbitrary number of stories per project results in some ‘desperate’ attempts to get something out. This can lead to some disappointing results. It’s better to get a few very good stories than many substandard ones.
  • The CPWF guidelines or template could be revised to help authors focus on and present in summary form the actual change and what the story is about.
  • It is a challenge to capture the processes, and the ‘back stories’ behind the stories that get presented.


  • Easy to explain and can be communicated well across cultures.
  • Brings to the attention of stakeholders the impacts of an intervention that has had the most significant affects on the lives of the beneficiaries.
  • Helps to identify unexpected changes–both positive and negative.
  • Quantification of changes can be integrated into the collection of stories (See step 8 in Davies and Dart, 2005).


  • Time consuming.
  • Requires good interviewing skills. Many people have commented on the difficulty of eliciting good stories. This is often associated with how the question has been translated, particularly the word ‘significant’. People using the tool must be able to engage with people and elicit their views. If the question isn’t working, then you may need to re-phrase it carefully.
  • Storytellers may feel, “Nothing has changed, so what can we report?” This response may suggest that respondents are looking for changes that can be defined as significant in some sort of absolute sense. It helps to ask respondents to look for any changes at all and then to identify those they think are the most significant, in relative terms, of all the changes they have noted.
  • Stories can be open to broad interpretation and “reading in” significance that appeals to the evaluators.
  • If the pool of people contributing stories is not large enough, the stories do not reveal patterns and key trends – and everyone tends to focus on their part of the work.
  • As a standalone M&E tool, it provides very patchy results.

Learn More


  • Community-based Fish Culture in Seasonal Floodplains and Irrigations Systems (The Island of Dreams and Success)
  • CPWF Significant Change Stories. Six-monthly reports 2012 (Oct.2012)
  • More information about using MSC in the Nile BDC
  • Most Significant Change is now widely used by development aid agencies, especially NGOs. The original MSC Guide has since been translated into 13 languages (Arabic, Bangla, French, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesian, Japanese, Malayalam, Russian, Sinhala, Tamil, Spanish and Urdu), typically by organizations working within those language groups. See Translations of the Most Significant Changes” Guide.
  • Since 2000 there has been an active and global community of practice that shares experiences with the use of Most Significant Change in different settings. As of 2013 the Most Significant Change egroup has 1,500 members. Members have accumulated a collection of more than 80 documents describing the use of Most Significant Change across 28 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.


Dart, J. and Davies, R, 2003. A Dialogical, Story-Based Evaluation Tool: The Most Significant Change Technique”. American Journal of Evaluation, 24 (2): 137–155.

Davies. R. and Dart, J. 2005. The Most Significant Change (MSC) Technique: A Guide to Its Use. CARE International, United Kingdom, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, Australia, Government of South Australia, Oxfam New Zealand, Christian Aid, United Kingdom, Exchange, United Kingdom, Ibis, Denmark, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS), Denmark, and Lutheran World Relief, United States of America.

Sheriff, N., and Schuetz, T. 2008. Monitoring for change, assessing for impact: the WorldFish Center experience. Paper submitted for the workshop on Rethinking Impact: Understanding the Complexity of Poverty and Change, Cali, Colombia 26‐29 March 2008. WorldFish Center, Penang, Malaysia. And International Water Management Institute, Accra, Ghana.

Willetts, J. and Crawford, P. 2007. The most significant lessons about the most significant change technique. Development in Practice, 17(3): 367–379.


  • Michael Victor, 
  • Ewen LeBorgne, 
  • Marina Apgar, 



The Outcome Target, Indicator and Baseline (OTIB) plan helps project planners and managers quantify the outcomes which they believe will contribute, specify what those changes will be; and then describe how they will measure their contribution of their project to those changes.  A good OTIB plan should be, above all else, ‘doable’. Developing an OTIB plan involves:

  • Choosing two to four outcome pathways where the project expects to make the most contribution;
  • For each outcome pathway set an outcome target, or targets ;
  • Select one or more indicators that will measure progress towards each outcome target;
  • Describe the practicalities of doing the measurements; and
  • Describe how the project would establish the starting conditions (the baseline) against progress that will be measured.

How It Was Used

In Phase 2 (2009-2013), all projects were required to complete an OTIB plan by the time of submission of their inception reports (six months after contracting). What projects actually implemented depended on negotiations between the Project Leader and the Basin Leader as part of developing a basin program-level monitoring system.

The result-based Management Advisor for the Asia Pacific Region of IFAD, one of CPWF’s donor partners, thought the OTIB was a very useful tool to quantify outcomes and introduced it to their project managers in selected countries.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


It is easier to put numbers to targeted behavioral changes for development projects than for research projects. Many CPWF project research teams found it difficult to be specific about targeted outcomes and quantify them.  In contrast, projects from development agencies like IFAD who tend to focus more on behavior change interventions found it easier to quantify their outcomes.


  • OTIBs are very useful in helping project teams focus on proposed project outputs and how this can lead to changes in behavior.
  • OTIBs work well with an adaptive management approach.


  • It was difficult to follow through on the use of the OTIB in the course of project implementation, due primarily to time and budget constraints.
  • The format for the OTIB needed improvement in some cases where it was overly theoretical. Some project found it difficult to define the OTIB adequately from the outset of their project.
  • OTIBs require some professional guidance and support, e.g. in finding meaningful indicators for project and basin.

Learn More


OTIB overview in CPWF M&E guide

CPWF OTIB worksheet [XLS] 

Innovation Platforms


An innovation platform (also referred to as engagement or multi-stakeholder platforms) is an opportunity for individuals and people representing organizations with different backgrounds and interests to come together to diagnose problems, identify opportunities and implement solutions. They may engage in design and implementation as a platform, in smaller groups, or individually.

Innovation platforms contribute to changes in knowledge, attitudes, practices of multiple people and organizations through collective learning about what works where, why and under what conditions. Monitoring is critical to improve the functioning of the innovation process, document specific activities and make sense of results. Nonetheless, this process can be a challenge. The use of mixed methods is recommended, as is the active participation of different members of the innovation platform. Well-functioning monitoring systems contribute to better results and more effective research in development connections.

How It Was Used


Innovation platforms were a major entry point for Phase 2 CPWF projects in the Limpopo. Innovation platforms were built around crop-livestock value chains and at various connected hierarchic levels where the major mechanism that facilitated research for development, as well as participatory monitoring and learning and scaling up and out. Tools and frameworks for integrated analysis of rainwater management systems, farming systems, gendered livelihoods and value chains were developed, tested and adapted. The findings informed the development of guidelines for integrated and targeted rainwater management options in specific domains.


CPWF-Nile established innovation platforms to develop integrated rainwater management strategies in three districts in the Ethiopian Highlands. Members included government line departments, agricultural research centers, NGOs and community representatives. Innovation Funds were used to support a number of pilots on livestock fodder.


As part of the Integrated Management of Rainwater for Crop-Livestock Agro-Ecosystems project (V2), the CPWF-Volta did an assessment of the impact of their innovation platform to improve crop and livestock production in four villages in Yatenga Province, Northern Burkina Faso. The innovation platform was comprised of 57 members. Results showed a strong, positive impact of the innovation platform on members’ knowledge and practices, and led to better exchange of information and knowledge and better joint planning among members.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • There is no ‘blueprint’ for innovation platforms; one of the strengths of these approaches is the way they allow for things to change.
  • Allow people to join (or leave) along the way as needs and interests change.
  • Two-way dialogues between what researchers think/learn and what policy makers or local communities need/want are an important parts of what we want to achieve. Researchers must cultivate their capacity to listen.


  • Involves a range of stakeholders, which increases the sense of ownership, which leads to sustainable outcomes.


  • Time consuming
  • Difficult to manage well
  • Multiple definitions
  • “Innovation” not the same as an “innovation platform”
  • Dealing with complex dynamics between stakeholders
  • Institutionalization (resources for continuity)
  • Often difficult for researchers to adapt to this approach

Learn More


  • A brief on Innovation Platforms in the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC). Presented by Beth Cullen, Zelalem Lema, Aberra Adie and Mulugeta Lemenih on the Training of Trainers (ToT) on the use of Livelihoods Characterization/ Benchmarking Tool (SLATE), Jeldu, Ethiopia, 1-5 April 2013.
  • Nile BDC shares lessons on innovation platforms at Africa Agricultural Science Week
  • Catalyzing African Innovation through Engagement Platforms. 16 July, 2013, CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, an event at Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, 15-19 July, 2013.
  • Are Innovation Platforms Improving Crop-Livestock Value Chains in Ghana?  Side event at Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, 15-19 July, 2013.
  • Multi-stakeholder and innovation platforms: Group reports from the IFWF3. ILRI. 2011. Multi-stakeholder and innovation platforms: Group reports from the IFWF3. Video. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.
  • Innovation Platforms writeshop. ILRI campus, Nairobi, JVC Auditorium, 27–29 May 2013. Contains links to papers and posters. 
  • Seven lessons learned to catalyze African innovation through engagement platforms


In the Nile

In the Volta

  • Gabriel Teno,
  • Olufunke Cofie,

Network Mapping


Network mapping is a tool for social network analysis that uses interviews and mapping to help people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes. Network analysis helps to better understand the implications of the position of individual actors in a social structure. Individuals create network maps using materials from a physical toolkit.

Actor names are written on post-it notes and distributed on a large sheet of paper. Lines are drawn to link the actors and reveal how they are connected or not connected, and “influence towers” are built to reflect the relative power of each actor (the higher the influence tower, the greater the influence).

NETmap is a specific application of network mapping that was developed as part of the CPWF-Volta project ‘Integrating governance and modelling’ (PN40).

How It Was Used


The development and use of the NETmap method with the White Volta Basin Board played a significant role in the organizational development of the Board and in increasing the ‘social capital’ of its members. Board membership was diverse in terms of expertise, position in the governance system and process understanding and Board members had widely differing ideas of the purpose of the Board and their own role in it. Individual and group mapping exercises allowed the Board members to exchange knowledge and increase their social capital by becoming aware of all linkages that individual board members had. It helped them understand who their core partners were and why, and develop strategies for interacting with those partners as well as other network members.

Program Level

At the program level, networking mapping was used as a planning and evaluation tool. During First and Second Round Evaluations that took place in 2008, project network maps were created as part of a participatory process of constructing project logic and network models.  Staff from each of the 32 first call projects in Phase 1 were invited to one of the Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) workshops held in eight of the nine river basins in which the CPWF worked. No workshop was conducted in the São Francisco River basin as there was only one first call project in that basin, and this project joined the nearby Andes workshop. See the link for “impact assessment of research in the CPWF basin focal project below.

CPWF held a NETmap Summer School in June 2011. Participants used case studies from their own practices as material for learning to use NETmap to understand complex issues that involve many different actors with different goals, formal and informal links, and different levels of influence.

NETmap (a specific application of network mapping) was used in PIPA workshops in the Volta and Limpopo River basins .

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


Network mapping helps researchers and stakeholders visualize the relationships among and between actors involved in an intervention. It often reveals ‘hidden’ and less obvious connections among partners that offer valuable insight into local power relations and dynamics.

Network mapping is a good discussion and learning tool. The network map presents linkages and influences visually, but the understanding comes from the discussion of the analysis and learning of the network presented.

More successful projects tend to have comparatively larger networks, i.e. more network capital.  The more successful projects tended to disperse funding to more partners, and those partners had more links to other organizations than less successful ones, in particular more research links to Advanced Research Organizations and CGIAR Centers (see Douthwaite et al. under References).

When using network mapping:

  • Ensure that stakeholders are consulted in identifying related initiatives.
  • Develop a comprehensive database of organizations prior to the development of the network map to capture the ‘richness’ of the network.
  • Ensure that the project team has partners from within the basin, which are influential and know the local situation.
  • The team should involve enabling institutions that will be responsible for the scaling out and scaling up of research results.


  • Highly participatory.
  • Promotes discussion and better understanding among stakeholders.


  • Requires a skilled facilitator with expertise in social network modelling.

Learn More



Douthwaite, B. Alvarez, S., Tehelen, K. and Barr, A.  Linking network structure with project performance. Paper presented at the Symposium on Innovation and Sustainable Development in Agriculture and Food, Montpellier, 28 June – 1 July 2010.

Schiffer, Eva. (2007) “Organizational learning in multi-stakeholder water governance.” Netmap Case Study Series. International Food Policy Research Institute: Washington, DC.

Schiffer, Eva; J. Hauck; and M. Abukari. (2007) “Influence Network Mapping: Mapping linkages of Water Users’ Associations in IFAD-supported LACOSREP in Northern Ghana.” International Food Policy Research Institute: Washington, DC.

Schiffer, E. and J. Peakes. 2009. An innovative approach to building stronger coalitions: the Netmap Toolbox. Dev. Pract. 19(1): 103–105. 


  • Bing Bayot 
  • Sophie Alvarez 

Participatory Video


Participatory video is a form of participatory media in which a group or community creates their own film. The rationale is that making a video is easy and accessible, and is a great way of bringing people together to explore issues, voice concerns or simply to be creative and tell stories. It is therefore primarily about process, though high quality and accessible films (products) can be created using these methods if that is a desired outcome. This process can be very empowering, enabling a group or community to take their own action to solve their own problems, and also to communicate their needs and ideas to decision makers and/or other groups and communities. As such, participatory video can be a highly effective tool to engage and mobilize marginalized people, and to help them to implement their own forms of sustainable development based on local needs.

The objective of participatory video is to create a climate that encourages individual and group development. The specific technical and organizational skills learned, and the video produced are part of the work, but it is the positive change that participants go through during the process that is the most important outcome. This informs the activity and approach at every stage of the work. Participatory video can have far-reaching benefits and can be a potent tool for group empowerment (Shaw and Roberson, 1997).

How It Was Used


In 2011, CPWF-Nile awarded a grant through its Innovation Fund to investigate and document the effectiveness of participatory video as a tool to bring local issues to the attention of planners and implementers of rainwater management interventions in Ethiopia. The resulting video made by community members from three sub-districts in Fogera District was recently shown to members of the Fogera Innovation Platform. The video, titled ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’, captures community views on land and water management and focused on three issues: unrestricted grazing, water stress and government-led soil and water conservation work. The film received a positive response from members of the innovation platform who seemed to gain some insight into community perspectives.


In Bangladesh, a Ganges project (PN35) helped stocked fish production reach 400 kilograms per hectare at Beel Mail village in Rajshahi District. This represented an increase of 133% compared to the baseline and brought significant changes to the community. The village’s story is told in the community-produced film ‘The Island of Dreams and Success” (see Community-based Fish Culture in Seasonal Floodplains and Irrigations Systems below). During focus group discussions and Most Significant Change interviews, beneficiaries also reported that cooperation in the community has increased.


The CPWF-Mekong project ‘Improving Mekong Dam Dialogues: A Participatory Assessment of the Impact of Dams on the Livelihoods of the Mekong (MK9)’ contributed to the growing field of tai baan research by analyzing and recording community-level experiences. The project team produced 16 short films in Laos, four in Cambodia and four in Vietnam. Films were technically edited by project officers, however, villagers identified topics, wrote the scripts, shot video footage and finalized the films.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


“Empowering” people brings into question an array of ethical issues. The poor and marginalized are caught up in a complex web of politics and power dynamics that extend from the family and community level to issues at national and regional levels. Those who undertake participatory video need to consider (Tritz, 2009):

  • What responsibilities does one have when using a camera?
  • What is an acceptable way to approach someone when you want to photograph or video them?
  • What types of situations or images would you want to avoid capturing?
  • What happens to the photographs/ videos after the project?

Production crews need to be aware of the possible disempowering conditions that the asymmetrical knowledge, skills and experience conditions could present in a community production environment. Under such methods, the subject communities are seen to have a certain level of control in the film production process and are able to have some input into the production such that they are able to influence some representations in the documentary (Mhando, Undated).


  • Intensity of engagement
  • Iterative: action and reflection
  • Process of consent
  • Energizing format
  • Antidote to “research fatigue”


  • Can be physically challenging
  • Difficult to track large-scale spatial or temporal processes

Learn More


  • Participatory Video Wikipage
  • A Rope to Tie a Lion video
  • Beth Cullen, 2012, ‘A Rope to Tie a Lion’: Community voices on livestock, water and soil management expressed through participatory video
  • Beth Cullen, 2012, Participatory video for ‘vertical communication’ between farmers and policy makers


Mhando. M. R. Undated. Participatory Video Production in Tanzania: An Ideal or Wishful?

Moletsane, R. Mitchell, C., Stuart, J., Walsh, S. and Taylor. M. 2008. Ethical Issues in Using Participatory Video in Addressing Gender Violence in and Around Schools: The Challenges of Representation.

Milne, D., Mitchell, C. And de Lange, N. 2012. Handbook of Participatory Video. AltaMira Press: Maryland, USA.

Shaw, J. and Robertson, C. 1997. Participatory Video: A Practical Approach to Using Video Creatively in Group Development Work: A Practical Approach to Using Video Creatively in Group Developmental Work. Routledge: London, New York.

Tritz, J. 2009. Using Photovoice & Participatory Video with Youth. CYFAR Conference, Baltimore, MD, May 21, 2009. 


In the Nile

  • Beth Cullen,

In the Mekong

  • Phoutthasinh Phimmachanh,
  • Tep Bunnarrith,
  • Dương Thu Hằng,

Participatory Drawing


Participatory drawing is an approach that uses drawing as a means of fostering better communication and improved mutual stakeholder understanding of the aims, views and goals of a proposed activity. Water-user communities are asked to draw their reservoir systems, it brings out and illustrates their views and perceptions.  Such drawings are external representations of collective ideas or memories of water-user communities (Rogers, 1997). They are representational media similar to writings, paintings or photographs: works of communication that record what people see or think (Fiske, 1990).  The drawing approach helps water users take a larger role in the design and implementation of reservoir improvements. It introduces the water users’ perspectives into problem identification and the design process. By clarifying messages and focusing the discussion this tool can facilitate the development of improved water management strategies.

How It Was Used

A participatory drawing approach was employed by a PhD student on the CPWF small reservoirs projects (PN46). Entitled ‘Creating Common Ground for Dialogue’, the method was created in close consultation with monitoring and evaluation officers from the Ghanaian Extension Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Upper East Region. The tool was used to assist Volta River basin implementers who were planning interventions at the early stages of reservoir planning and exploring how to improve existing reservoirs. It can also be used at stages of project revision or reflection.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Can draw attention to issues that merit follow-up.  By focusing on parts of the drawn reservoir system, stakeholders can more clearly indicate the area they are discussing.
  • Enthusiastic and proficient facilitators, and full group participation, are needed to make the drawings clear, comprehensive and useful.


  • Offers ‘social insights’ to engineers who tend to think in terms of cost-benefit only.
  • Encourages communication among stakeholders.
  • Allows researchers to approach the challenges and research questions at hand in a more integrated, interdisciplinary, and demand-driven way.
  • Drawings can be used as a springboard for encouraging in-depth stakeholder discussion.


  • Some problems, for example, problems associated with plant diseases, may be too difficult to represent in drawing. Managerial problems and social issues may also be difficult to represent via drawing. For example, participants may find it difficult “draw” issues of water access or land division.
  • Drawings do not eliminate the need for discussions nor can they substitute for them.
  • Community members who are “too shy” to draw or who do not like to stand in front of the group will not volunteer to draw, and thus some important opinions or ideas may be missed.

Learn More


  • PN46: Small Reservoirs Toolkit: and Participatory drawing is one of the tools presented in the Small Reservoir Project’s Small Reservoirs Toolkit. The toolkit supports the planning, development, and management of small reservoir ensembles on the basin level and the use of small multi-purpose reservoirs.


Poolman, M.I. 2007. Drawing to start exchange of technical knowledge. IN: TU Delft. 2007. Commemorative publication for the 33rd quinquennial jubilee of the TU Delft, the Netherlands. Delft, The Netherlands: TU Delft: 70-81.


  • Tonya SCHUETZ, ,



Targeting AGwater Management Interventions (TAGMI) is a decision support tool that was developed in response to partner and stakeholder demand for decision support in order to scale out three different agricultural water management (AWM) technologies in the Limpopo and the Volta River Basins. The online tool uses the influence of social and bio-physical factors to display the likelihood of success of implementing different AWM technologies. It is based on a Bayesian network model that was developed iteratively in collaboration with local researchers and experts. It merges knowledge pools from technical experts, to local agriculture extension agents.

TAGMI helps to answer the question: Will an intervention successfully applied in one location have a reasonable chance of success at other locations given similar social and biophysical conditions? The answer, provided with a measurable degree of certainty, suggests a way forward for scaling-out AWM interventions.

How It Was Used

TAGMI was intended for users who want to know which parts of the Limpopo and Volta river basins have conditions suitable for successful implementation of a planned AWM intervention.

TAGMI was used in conjunction with the following agricultural water management interventions: soil and water conservation (Volta Basin, V1); conservation agriculture (Limpopo Basin, L1); small-scale irrigation and small reservoirs (both basins).

TAGMI was officially launched at World Water Week in Stockholm in 2013.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Explicit combined biophysical and social economic factors facilitate out-scaling.
  • Combines knowledge from researchers in a consultative process of developing each technology model.
  • Provides users with upfront uncertainty measures of prediction. (Most models require additional assessments to have a range of uncertainty measures and most GIS tools do not provide any measure of uncertainty.)
  • The TAGMI principles were developed for AWM technologies, but one could use a similar approach for other out-scaling, for example, fodder strategies and climate change adaptation.


  • Combines the biophysical factors with socio-economic factors to enhance decision-making.
  • Combines multiple knowledge sources: tabular data, GIS layers, and key stakeholders’ knowledge and expertise.
  • Integrates quantitative and qualitative data about social, institutional and biophysical aspects of a district and the people living there.
  • Measures the certainty with which it has calculated the likelihood of success by assessing the ‘strength of evidence’. Strength of evidence reflects the quality of the knowledge and data underlying the calculated likelihood of success.


  • The model’s predictions are only as good as the data that goes into it.
  • Requires modelling expertise to use effectively.
  • It is challenging to validate TAGMI models. What we consider important today in out-scaling may not necessarily be an important decision factor when investment happens.

Learn More


  • Main TAGMI portal
  • TAGMI Limpopo mapping tool
  • TAGMI Volta mapping tool
  • SEI webpage on TAGMI
  • A Tool for Targeting and Scaling-Out Successful Agricultural Water Management Interventions (blog)


  • Dr. Jennie Barron, 

Basin Challenge


The Basin Challenge is an online, interactive, single- or multi-player game. The Basin Challenge is designed to give participants the opportunity to experience some of the potential short- and long-term benefits and costs associated with the development of a river basin.

The game can be played with two players developing half the basin each, or in one-player mode, where one player develops the entire basin. In two-player mode, one-player must finish their turn before the other player can play. There is a time limit of two minutes per turn.

Each player begins with a USD2 billion budget. The game is played over 50 turns with each turn representing one year. Each player must use the “Catchment Manager ”, “Water Statistics” and “Game Statistics” tabs at the bottom of the screen to manage the Verden River basin.

The Verden River basin is a hypothetical basin, but the choices available to players represent many of the real choices available to decision makers in river basins around the world. The benefits and costs of these choices have also been modelled from real environmental and social data.


The game code was adapted, with permission, from Catchment Detox, an ABC Science game.

How It Was Used

The Basin Challenge was developed as a main output of the CPWF-Mekong project ‘Improving Hydropower Decision-Mekong Processes in the Mekong Basin’ (MK8). The game was premiered at the Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Hanoi in November 2013 where it was received with great interest. The game is freely available online.

The Basin Challenge is a part of the program for the Third Meeting of the Amu Darya Basin Network, “Triggering Cooperation across the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Central Asia” to be held in Istanbul, Turkey on July 28, 2014.

Lessons, Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Because the game is based on a fictional basin, participants are more relaxed and more forthcoming in their opinions. They are also more open to sharing and exchanging information.
  • Negotiation through simulation games often provides more equitable and efficient (or integrative) results compared to negotiations in ‘real life’.
  • A skilled facilitator should be on hand in a workshop setting to answer the variety of questions that could be posed by players and to ‘rescue’ the game if technical problems occur.
  • The desire to learn and understand, an environment of fun and play, and the perception of validity and accuracy of a game are important to maintain gaming motivation.


  • Puts real life decision-making in a non-threatening context.
  • Basin Challenge is open access online, which greatly expands its potential reach.
  • Game design and rules of play allow participants with widely different backgrounds to play the game.


  • Requires a fairly substantial time commitment to complete the 50 rounds of the full game.

Learn More


  • Online Interactive Basin Challenge Game


  • Nathanial Matthews, 


Throughout its lifetime, CPWF invested time and resources in cultivating a shared understanding and ongoing discussion of what it meant to conduct research-for-development work. This section is meant to provide a voice to the many people and opinions that contributed to the Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Contribute Your Own Thoughts--Post on the Board Below

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What is R4D?

What exactly do we mean when we say ‘our take on research-for-development’?

by Tonya Schuetz, former Project Coordinator, Information and Data Manager and current IFAD Grant and Knowledge Manager

When we talked about research for development, we realized in the course of our work that we all come from different schools or understandings.  Additionally there are a few other terms used – often interchangeably – and without paying lot of attention to what the underlying principles are with each of the slightly varied terms.  This piece is meant to clarify and be a bit more explicit about what we mean when we use the word research and research for development.

In our work over the past ten years we have identified five areas of research or different types and categories of research, with each having their own unique selling propositions, their special focus and processes involved, and contexts of where they work best and are strongest to be used.  The main difference becomes clear in terms of who is driving and setting the research agenda.  Below is a brief description and differentiation between these categories:

Research for development (R4D) – There are two different broad ways of thinking on this around in the CG and possibly beyond as far as I have observed and understood it.  One that has very much its origin in the more traditional way of the CG and its mandate as it has been in the beginning and following decades.  It is very similar to Research for research (R4R) – scientists identifying research questions that are of long-term and strategic interest to them and some funding agencies.  In this line of thinking science and research are undertaken – geared towards development in developing countries, to make development countries self-sufficient in their food production, and to address global food security with the envisioned increase in population over the next decades to come.

The outputs are mostly scientific articles published in well acknowledge journals, publically accessible and available for everybody in the development arena to ‘take it up’, use it.  These groups are then referred to e.g. development agencies, NGOs, government agencies, extension service officers, communication people, whose mandates is to communicate and take the research and scientific results to people who would need to know about them and make use of them.  When doing R4D along this thinking there is a focus on up-take and scaling with an up-take / scaling strategy and implementation plan.  This is built on the basis that the research produces some results or some ready to use technologies, i.e. sound scientific outputs will lead to impact.

Within the understanding of R4D as described above some donors have started to support Research into Use (RiU) programs. This requires the identification of tested and promising (pieces of) research results or technologies and where else these have potential impact.  And then to come up with a strategy as to how to make it available and used.  Here too would be a strong focus on an uptake strategy, looking at what kind of good quality and most promising research / technology has been produced and is available to be useful in a given development context to address a perceived development need.  This often entails some refining of the research and making the already tested results or technologies fit into the new context.

The bridging and taking research results from a journal article to actually make a change on the ground for or better with people in (rural) development areas is a long way and iterative process.  It requires several steps of repackaging materials, e.g. from scientific articles to communication materials and finally to – what we started to refer to as – people products (e.g. participatory videos, pamphlets, manuals and guidelines, step-wise detailed descriptions – most of these in the respective local languages).  And this iterative process for repackaging is better done if some continuity is provided in terms of the involvement of the different groups of people.  E.g. researchers accompany the repackaging of materials to ensure that the research findings stay in line with their findings and to get their findings validated in a wider application, communications people that can with tailoring messages to a specific audience, users that can help with testing messages and understanding as well as validate the usefulness of the results.  It requires a different set of activities and strategic engagement to ensure contextualization and adaption.  In this case research actively engages with users of research results and the practical development side.  It is also referred to as Research in Development (RinD) to set it aside from the more traditional thinking.

As mentioned above there is another take on how to understand and define Research for Development (R4D).  This has evolved from one of the CG experiments that were started as Challenge Programs at the turn of the century.  In 2002 the Challenge Program on Water and Food was tasked to find new ways of doing research for development and this way pilot and test a way of reforming the CG system.  There were two more Challenge Programs that started at around the same time and a couple that were started later.

The CPWF take on Research for Development has evolved over its implementation period with some key external and internal drivers.  Right from the beginning in its original and approved proposal there was the proposition of bringing in a greater variety of partners into the research projects.  And this was built right into the call and contracting for projects undertaken and funded through the CPWF.  I.e. projects were asked to suggest a wider range of institutions across the CG centers and organizations beyond the CG Centers, especially involving national partners in the regions.  So that a minimum of 30% of the total project budget had to go to in-county organizations.  In a survey done at the end of Phase 1 with Project Leaders and key program staff, this was one thing that was undisputedly found as a great added value and win (Sullivan, A. and Alvarez, S., 2009).  There has always been an underlying focus on outcomes (i.e. changes in Knowledge, attitude, skills and behavior and practice) along the way to impact (improved livelihoods) right from the beginning.  However, the understanding of the complexity when starting to unpack what it needed to get to outcomes has deepened and increased over time.

The CPWF had a first external review in 2006 and gotten out of it some very valuable recommendations that the program took very seriously to make three major changes:

  • Use of impact pathways with the addition of a strong people/ actor focus to create a greater programmatic coherence across the wider range of projects contracted in and across ten benchmark river basins.
  • Giving a clear priority to basin focus and align research topics along the development demand and needs identified.  This was closely linked to strengthening the demand driven agenda setting and narrowing the geographic as well as thematic scope of work within a river basin (from ten – Phase 1 – to six – Phase 2)
  • From the program management/ governance side this led to some changes in staffing:  Phase 1: Program Director, Science Director (coordinating Theme Leaders), Basin Network Coordinator (coordinating Basin Coordinators), and a Program Manager,

Phase 2: Program Director, Research Director and Impact and Innovations Director (to have development angle alongside the research), and a Program Manager;  Basin Coordinators became Basin Leaders with a changed profile, the Themes became Topic Working Groups across the six basins.

The Challenge Program on Water and Food had support in its thinking from the some central CG functions like the Information and Communication Technology Knowledge Management (ICT KM) through and initiative called Knowledge Sharing in Research and its Institutionalization in Phase 1 and Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) in the beginning of its Phase 2.

The understanding of Research for Development (R4D) in the CPWF has evolved to research in service of and for development.  The main focus is on identifying development needs and demands and what research is required to meet the defined development challenges.  Research gets aligned key development challenges that were identified by mandated local and regional organizations.  The identification of problems, research demands/ questions as well as the mutual development of innovations and solutions is an iterative process in which engagement strategies and different engagement formats become a key focus of the work.  In this setup it required coordination of the different technical research projects was required and the coordination unit would need strong regional networks and expertise in policy and engagement.

Within the CPWF/ WLE RiU program we had identified a tool, called Companion Modelling, which has been developed and refined by CIRAD since 1996 and with some funding through the CPWF since 2003.  With this methodology the term Research after Development (RafterD) has been forged since it first creates spaces for stakeholders to get together and define:

  1. A common development challenge (or goal);
  2. Necessary answers and information they would need to address this challenge (research questions); and
  3. Required actors to get to the solutions and identified goal.

Research comes into play only in a second step to help solve the identified challenges together and within the group of stakeholders.  Another mechanism that follows a similar principle are Innovation Platforms.  Here too, CPWF has started to contribute to already promising work done e.g. by ICRISAT in Zimbabwe since 2004 (CPWF since 2010) and started new innovation platform initiatives in West Africa, Ghana and Burkina Faso around small reservoirs, and East Africa, Ethiopia for rainwater management in the Ethiopian highlands.  In the latter two cases, work has been done in the regions by other organizations, e.g. West Africa, FARA and CP-SSA. Both these approaches have been used on various levels from local communities to national level.

These different types of research with their specific niches should be seen as complementary (and not in competition with each other).  They are part of a whole and in reality overlap and have some blurred boundaries.  It is not so much a continuum as rather a circle or pie (see graphic).  However, making the differences explicit and being conscious about each of their strengths and best usages and which type of research we are pursuing, what (research) skills and competencies are required at a certain stage might make the work at hand more effective and efficient than a less conscious approach.  As a Research for Development program it requires a strategic and healthy mix of the different types of research to capitalize of the strengths of each of them.

A 'PASEO' Approach

Regionally contextualized and integrated engagement, dialoguing, knowledge sharing and communication

By Tonya Schuetz and Abby Waldorf


In research for development (R4D) and programmatic research work for development knowledge sharing and knowledge management, engagement and networking is essential for achieving behavioral change.  R4D is about making sure research is contributing to positive development agendas and changes.  We need to engage and communicate internally within our projects with the potential users of our results who can influence and implement change.  It is important to clearly distinguish—from the beginning—the difference between this ‘internal communication’, what we will refer to as the ‘paseo approach’, and corporate communications.

Mining in the AndesCorporate communications is a management function responsible for overseeing and coordinating the work done by communication practitioners in different specialist disciplines, such as media relations, public affairs, copywriting, and graphic design.  Van Riel (1995) defines corporate communications as “an instrument of management by means of which all consciously used forms of internal and external communication are harmonized as effectively and efficiently as possible, with the overall objective of creating a favorable basis for relationships with groups upon which the company is dependent.” The key terms in this definition are ‘favorable’ and ‘harmonized’. Corporate communications will always put a ‘positive spin’ on any unfavorable news and will always present a ‘unified’ image of the organization. Corporate communicators in research institutions often adopt the discourse of the private sector, hence the references to ‘target audience’ and ‘repackaging’ and ‘information products’.

This document will elaborate the key characteristics/principles/good practices of what we aim for in internal project communications, the ‘paseo approach’, and what it requires in terms of processes, competencies and skills in the people who undertake it.  The paseo approach requires much more than communications.  There will be elements of key requirements and also indications of training sessions in particular to develop awareness and competencies within the teams, and to allow them to practice and learn amongst themselves before moving to a wider audience.

In the first part, we will explain where we come from and the coining of the new term ‘paseo’ to avoid any association and connotations with the term ‘communications’ or ‘communicators’.  The second part gives an overview of the key spectrum of responsibilities and tasks that are necessary to introduce, as there is a need for additional hands-on, project-integrated and supportive regional knowledge sharing and engagement-focused activities.  The third part lays out why it is important that we improve on the complementary responsibility and role of a ‘paseo’ within a R4D context.  In the fourth part, we discuss some practical approaches for how to engage in the paseo approach.  Case examples from four CPWF basin programs are presented in an annex.

Read the full document [PDF] or browse the sections below:

For more information contact Tonya Schuetz (t.schuetz(at) or Abby Waldorf (a.waldorf(at)

Non-Research Partner Roles

Research with Development Ambitions—Partnering with Non-Researchers

Lived experience from the Limpopo and Volta River basins


To deliver on a development mandate it is necessary to partner. Partnerships should be based on achieving a common goal, through the partners working on complementary objectives. Partnerships should be based on related objectives, where single organisations will not be able to achieve the goal alone, and where the partnership can lead to more rapid achievement of the goals. Preferably partnership should be objective specific, temporary by nature and dynamic.

No one entity can completely address the complexity of real world problems—yet they often propose to do just that. Time and money should be invested in diagnosing pathways to impact, including identifying potential partners with mandates to deliver within those areas of impact. Plan for and invest in the long and enlightening process of engagement with partners, including those who will appear (and disappear) along the way.

Q1. Is it necessary to partner?

No it is not. Business as usual with the same incentive structures, processes and goals can be done within existing arrangements. If you want business as usual than stop reading this brief!

If however, the goal is to move beyond outputs to development outcomes and impact for sustainable change then access to new kinds of technical and financial capacity, political responsibility, organisational willingness and convening power will be necessary. Unless an organization can be completely transformed and re-oriented to play all roles along the pathway, then YES it is necessary to partner. So, keep reading.

Q2. Why partner?

If our goal is sustainable development (focussing for example on water management, natural resources management or agriculture) it requires multiple changes at numerous “places” within the system. No single organisation can address all of these at once, because these are diverse in nature (maybe technical, procedural, policy orientated or management or governance related). No organisation can do all of these effectively, and no single intervention on its own can bring about large-scale effective and sustainable change.

Q3. Who to partner with and how to decide?

This depends on the intended outcomes and impact and an honest assessment of starting and entry points into the process.  What is the pathway diagnostic? Which sectors are involved in the intended sphere of impact, who are the key actors within those sectors, and what are their roles and responsibilities?

Invest and engage in a process of understanding the pathways to the desired change including policy processes, actors, issues, entry points and context—and plan (and budget) to regularly go back, reflect and revise them.

Assume that organizations currently exist whose job it is to answer the questions and address the problems being explored. Ignoring them and their mandates suggests a lack of willingness to engage in the legitimate processes and systems in place. Failure to engage them limits the likelihood of outputs leading to outcomes and eventually to impact.

Engaging existing institutions, systems and processes may be frustrating—but this is where meaningful partnerships are built. Partners’ capacity, systems, and goals will not mirror your own and must therefore be well understood, appreciated and supported when necessary. Are there intermediaries who can play this role? Are they willing to do so? Getting to outcomes and impact may take significant investment to level the playing field and generate mutual understanding between partners—for long-term benefit. Is there a willingness to look outside of the tradition partners usually included and to share resources with them?

Q4. How good of a partner are you? Why would others want to partner with you?

Conceptualize and describe your efforts and investment as part of an on-going or long-term change process that includes myriad other actors. If you do not bring them anything that they believe they need, then go back to question 1 and reconsider.

Q5. How to become the kind of partner that others will want to work with?

Working towards outcomes and impact will take more than two or three years unless it builds on existing platforms and success.  If uncertain of long-term prospects or if focus is likely to change due to reform or restructuring, then think carefully about the requests of partners. Who bears the risk of shifting targets, goals and funding and are they aware?

Other positive changes to the system may be required before your specific intervention becomes relevant or effective. Infrastructure may need to be developed, knowledge may need to be shared, or capacity established before other interventions become effective. Your contribution may not be able to effect change alone, or within a reasonable timescale. Partnering with organisations that can facilitate your contribution being relevant may be highly effective in achieving overall change.

Engaging new kinds of partners may require flexible contracting, capacity development and an adaptive approach to sharing resources. Partners will have their own goals, targets and mandates and have a lot to teach—for a mutually beneficial relationship.


Taking on and engaging meaningfully with partners is no small thing. Making that shift within your organisations demands consistent leadership courage, understanding and buy-in from across the organisation and an ability to listen and take a back seat when partners must drive processes.

Amy Sullivan, research-for-development consultant and former Limpopo Basin Leader for the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water & Food, based in Pretoria,  

Amanda Harding, development consultant and change agent, based in Paris, France,  and;

Andre van Rooyen, senior researcher, ICRISAT, based in Bulawayo, ;

and Alain Vidal, Senior Partnerships Advisor, CGIAR Consortium, based in Montpellier, former Director of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food,

Download a PDF version.


CPWF believed that in order to translate research outputs into development outcomes, research and development had to be undertaken hand in hand.

The program viewed development through an impact and innovations lens. It sought to encourage anticipated innovations and foster behavioral change, and invested considerably in activities to help it do so. A variety of mechanisms and initiatives were tested and employed in order to encourage the creativity and innovations necessary to solve the development challenges identified by CPWF. This section provides an overview of some of these programmatic mechanisms and initiatives. Where possible, it elaborates on CPWF’s lessons and evaluation of their efficiency and effectiveness.

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Contracting R4D Projects


When working on programmatic research-for-development (as opposed to subject matter research projects conducted by more or less one institution), project outcomes are often determined by to whom and how projects are contracted. In Phase 1 (2004-2008) CPWF started off with a wide range of relatively independent projects that addressed development problems around water and food.  Mid-way through Phase 1, motivated in part by an external review, the program started to shift to a more strategic programmatic approach to addressing specific development challenges in focused geographic regions. CPWF realized that the how and who of project contracting is one of the biggest determinants of project outcomes.

For example, it became important to ensure that projects that were working programmatically towards a development goal were designed right from the beginning to be aware of their integration and cohesion with each other.  CPWF felt that commissioning projects and giving clear guidelines of what was expected from lead institutions and partners would help with integration of projects from the proposal writing stage on.  Projects were also asked to bring one to two collaborating partners to the proposal development workshop in order to ensure early buy-in from partners and enhance project team building.

Lessons Learned

Some of the major lessons to be drawn from CPWF’s ten years of experience contracting research-for-development projects are listed below.

  • Use commissioned, not competitive processes if you strive to build coherent research-for-development programs.
  • Be as clear as possible about partnership and budget share expectations right from the start.
  • Invest time and resources in proposal development, as room for manoeuvring is much smaller once contracts are signed, and shared vision of change is fundamental.
  • Ensure that (external) proposal reviewers are part of the proposal development process and have an overview of the whole program and not only singular components.
  • Think creatively about partnership beyond the usual suspects; use network maps and an inventory of on-going initiatives to help you.
  • Ensure that project members’ staff allocation and diversity in disciplines matches what the project proposes to achieve.
  • Check that the project proposal considers activities that lead to (research) outputs as well as activities that have more of a strategic engagement purpose for the project’s outputs.
  • Make this a collaborative and accompanied process.
  • Build programs around compelling development challenges with a clear theory of change.
  • Work with theory of change from the beginning: in planning, priority setting, monitoring, communications and evaluation.
  • Retain funds for emerging opportunities and knowledge management (including M&E, data-and information management and Communications), exchange visits and cross-site learning, and reflection mechanism.
  • Plan for flexibility in project and program work plans, within contractual restrictions – but stay true to your principles.

Learn More

See detailed documentation of the contraction of the second set of Basin Development Challenge programs (Limpopo, Volta, Ganges).

Small Grants for Impact


CPWF started with a major investment ‘first competitive call’ that led to the contracting of over 30 large projects in June 2004.  As these projects commenced, CPWF management became aware of three needs that could be answered by a relatively modest investment in locally-focused, small-scale projects that aimed to achieve adoption of improvements in the way ‘water and food’ were handled by farmers. These needs were:

  • Immediate examples of the impact that could be achieved by working on better water productivity for smallholders – rather than waiting several years for the first results of the large competitive call research projects;
  • Stronger involvement of national NGOs with CPWF, including the opportunity to connect those in large-project research with reality on the ground by connecting them to people involved in development; and
  • Better understanding of how adoption of ‘water and food’ improvements occur.


In early 2006 CPWF contracted fourteen Small Grants for Impact covering seven of its benchmark river basins. Projects operated for periods of 12 to 18 months.  For a total investment of under USD 1 million—less than the equivalent of one typical three- to five-year CPWF project in Phase 1—the small grant projects made significant inroads. Their contributions included:

  • Identification of water and food technology for specific end-users (thus showing the potential of CPWF research in general);
  • Improved understanding of adoption processes;
  • Stimulation of NGO-conducted research; and
  • Improved connections between CPWF researchers and the reality of development processes.

Four of the small grants were outstanding in their contribution across all four of these criteria; six others made significant contributions to one or more, representing a high success rate for the original investment.  The quality of many of the 126 eligible proposals received was sufficient to have identified at least 20 more projects suitable for immediate funding at the time. Unfortunately, other demands on CPWF funding and priorities on research set by the Consortium Steering Committee made it impossible to support these.

Lessons Learned

Two years after the conclusion of the Small Grants projects, CPWF commissioned a review. This was a belated recognition that, despite plans originally made and interest of CPWF management in the topic, the weight of other responsibilities had resulted in under-exploitation of the small grants experiences by the CPWF. The review, conducted by former CPWF Program Director Jonathan Woolley, concluded that ten out of the fourteen projects could be considered to have been a worthwhile investment. Benefits for end-users were likely and all ten also contributed to an understanding of adoption, research or policy, or to several of these.  The review indicated a very high success rate for relatively inexpensive and potentially risky investments, and advocated strongly for further small grant investments to be considered by CPWF in the future. The least successful small grant projects were those that focused on infrastructure investment; it recommended that future infrastructure investments should not take more than a part of the grant, if any, and must present a clear research protocol.

The review concluded that, “calls for small grant proposals are an effective way of obtaining local impact and of connecting a wide range of relevant institutions to the efforts of a network such as CPWF…Final documentation provided by small grant projects was very variable in amount and quality.  Some of the best documentation was concise; other projects reported in excessive detail but not necessarily answering the key questions…Small grant investments appear to be a remarkably productive way of investing part of CPWF or similar funds.  For less than the cost of a single ‘typical CPWF three to five year research project’, results from 14 small grant projects included tangible options for farmers in ten different areas of four basins and contributions to the understanding of adoption in eight different cases.  Although fixed costs are a higher proportion of total costs in such a portfolio, where the amount of each grant is relatively small, compared to portfolios of large projects, this was compensated by the very good value for money of many small grants.  To minimize administrative costs, disbursement was done in only two tranches, while reporting requirements were very light, except at project conclusion.

Cross-Basin Learning


In CPWF’s first phase (2004-2008), cross-basin learning was built into the program primarily through two main mechanisms.  Firstly, calls for projects included a request for projects to propose activities across more than one of the river basins where CPWF was to work. Secondly, CPWF’s International Forum on Water and Food series would bring together the international CPWF community and partners to share results and lessons.

The International Forum Series continued into Phase 2. However, in reflecting on its first phase, CPWF recognized that commissioning projects that worked across multiple basins was a less effective mechanism for fostering cross-basin learning. The problems and potential solutions that projects studied were very contextual, and often specific to a single river basin.

For its second phase, CPWF chose to promote cross-basin learning through Topic Working Groups. Topic Working Groups were conceptualized as communities of practice that addressed specific, well-defined water and food challenges across multiple river basins. They aimed to facilitate cross-basin learning and research, and help build capacity of basin teams through sharing of experiences and mentoring.  Selection of topics evolved from program-level identification of key emerging issues of global importance as well as the needs of on-going CPWF basin research.

Four Topic Working Groups were initiated:

  • Learning to Innovate
  • Resilience in Water and Food Systems
  • Global Drivers of Change
  • Spatial Analysis and Modelling

Other Topic Working Groups were proposed, including Multiple Use Systems, Africa Initiative, Policies and Institutions, and the Water Food and Energy Nexus/Hydropower.

A ‘topic champion’—a nominated or voluntary scientist, practitioner, manager or policy-makers from within or outside of a CPWF project—led each Topic Working Group.  Ensuring effective internal and external communication and sharing of information and knowledge was given strong emphasis.

The four CPWF Topic Working Groups each held their first meeting, in most cases in conjunction with an event for a global community of practice for the topic.  Project representatives noted some benefits as a result of their involvement, such as the triggering of new thinking and introduction of innovative ideas into their projects. When CPWF was integrated into the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), the budget for Topic Working Groups was shifted to WLE. WLE planned to continue with the Global Drivers of Change and Resilience in Water and Food Systems Topic Working Groups.

Examples of Cross-Basin Learning

Learning to Innovate Topic Working Group

The Topic Working Group on Learning to Innovate (L2i) continued to operate under CPWF until the program’s closure. Launched in January 2011, L2i was a community of people who work in research-for-development projects to design and implement knowledge management processes that help make research more relevant to would-be users. This group set out to support the co-development of Knowledge Management processes by sharing lessons learned and providing advice and assistance. A Learning to Innovate Google website was set up as a virtual hub to support CPWF Knowledge Management. The L2i Topic Working Group was led by a Steering Committee made up of CPWF’s six Basin Leaders and representatives from CPWF Management Team, Research Team, Knowledge Management team and the CGIAR Institutional Learning and Change Initiative (ILAC).

Knowledge Management and Communication Community of Practice

While not an ‘official’ topic working group, CPWF established a Community of Practice on knowledge management (KM) and communications. The first meeting of the community occurred in May 2011. A group of basin communication coordinators, program-level knowledge management and communications staff and program team members worked to develop a common understanding of how KM and communications could support each basin program in fulfilling its Theory of Change (the causal logic that links research activities to desired changes in actors). The group also established KM and communications standards to be used across basins. The initial meeting led to quite of bit of exchange on a number of tips and tools. Suggestions included the use of wikispaces for collaboration amongst basin projects and across the entire program, and the establishment of feeds for different project and basin websites so that information from all basins could be easily aggregated.

Peer learning continued beyond the meeting as the community strengthened. Staff from the Nile supported the Volta in the development and implementation of their communications strategy, and staff from the Mekong shared extensively with the Ganges. The group hosted five online peer assists to help brainstorm solutions for KM or communications challenges faced by other members. Dissemination of materials across the basins was aided by support from the group. A final meeting was held in December 2013, during which the community shared experiences, highlighted achievements and discussed lessons learned.

Lessons Learned

Establishment of the Topic Working Groups was quite slow and it took a lot of time (and some contractual obligations) to convince project teams to allocate  representatives join and participate. However, one of the more frequent remarks in project completion reports was that projects regretted the fact that Topic Working Groups were cut from Phase 2.

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Water Forum Series


The CPWF held three International Forums on Water and Food in 2006, 2009 and 2011. The Forum was one of the central mechanisms for sharing results and lessons from CPWF research. The event brought together all CPWF projects as well as prominent people in related sectors and organizations.

Each forum was run in an interactive and dynamic way. Reflecting the research-for-development focus of CPWF, forums emphasized learning and interaction, rather than just presentation of conventional scientific research. The agenda ensured that CPWF research results were examined in light of development and policy implications for the river basins where CPWF worked.

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Research into Use Program


CPWF designed a Research into Use (RiU) program to explore opportunities to generate impacts from high-potential Phase 1 projects (2004-2008) that were not built upon in Phase 2. RiU projects were outside the focus of the Phase 2 Basin Development Challenge programs.

The objectives of the RiU program were to:

  • Facilitate adoption of innovations through scaling-out and scaling-up;
  • Capture and characterize high potential innovations, mechanisms and approaches;
  • Test with development partners the relevance and acceptability of research results;
  • Further develop innovations in the areas of technologies, policies, institutions, and infrastructure; and
  • Further synthesize learning from CPWF Phase 1 experience.

Selection and Contracting Process

Projects to be selected had to fullfil the following criteria:

  • Potential for substantial scaling out and up of an innovation – high impact potential
  • Presence of a strong “next-user partner” exerting demand pull for the research to go into use
  • Evidence of policy interest
  • Clear added value of further CPWF involvement
  • Research partnerships and leadership available
  • Good project performance in Phase 1 evaluations

Potential candidates were selected based on their availability, ideas and continuity of lessons learnt on innovative technical outputs and project management from Phase 1. Candidates were invited to put a team together and submit a full proposal, which was internally and externally reviewed and improved during a workshop. This workshop served a four-fold purpose: 1) review of initial proposals; 2) peer assist in cross-cutting challenges; 3) participatory full proposal development, and; 4) inception and kick-off of the RiU program.  The RiU projects operated from January 2012 through April 2014.

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Research into Use Projects

IFAD Grant

In September 2011, IFAD awarded the Challenge Program on Water and Food a grant to capitalize on our promising Phase 1 research results. CPWF Phase 1 ran from 2004 to 2009 and comprised more than 68 projects working in 10 river basins. Many of the results that emerged from this work are considered to be useful for a wide range of development interventions around the world, but have not been made widely available for development-oriented audiences. The goal of the project is to contribute to improved food security and livelihoods in poor rural communities by ensuring information sharing between agencies and institutions involved in water management, as well as uptake of promising development interventions. Over the course of two years, four types of activities will be carried out.

Research into Use

‘Research into Use’ grants were awarded to four CPWF Phase 1 research projects that exhibited high potential for future impact. The projects were:

Repackaging of CPWF Materials

CPWF resources from Phase 1 are in the process of being repackaged for a number of different stakeholders. The repackaging efforts focus on three types of materials:

  1. Outcome stories
  2. Dialogue posters
  3. Sourcebook articles

An additional facet of the repackaging effort focuses on CPWF Phase 2 results and materials. These efforts include a CPWF book, entitled Water Scarcity, Livelihoods and Food Security: Research and Innovation for Development, as well as institutional histories for each of the CPWF basins programs.

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Participation in Regional and IFAD Events

CPWF and its partners used organized by IFAD and other regional partners as opportunities to communicate key research findings and promote uptake of successful strategies.

Contributions to strategic regional events

  • 2013, Nov. 12-14: Mekong Forum on Water Food and Energy, Hanoi, Vietnam, Knowledge Reservoir as a Share Fair contribution to the overall and bigger Forum.  With some launches of repackaged materials from projects and under the IFAD grant.
  • 2013, Nov. 4-8: Katoomba Group Meeting (Andes);  Through it’s Andes partner, CONDESAN, CPWF has an opportunity to contribute to an event organized by Katoomba (an international network of individuals working to promote, and improve capacity related to, markets and payments for ecosystem services). The group serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas and strategic information about ecosystem service transactions and markets, as well as site for collaboration between practitioners.
  • 2013, Oct. 22: Volta Basin Authority Forum of Parties Meeting, we contributed a half a day hands on demonstration the three key outputs from the Volta Basin work, Targeting AGricultural Management Interventions/ Investments (TAGMI) tool, Innovation Platforms and a participatory modeling tool (Companion Modelling)
  • 2013, Sep. 17-19: Knowledge Fair organized for policy and decion-makers during the Volta Science Week, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
  • 2013, Sep. 12-13: CPWF event on ‘Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Remuneration of Positive Externalities / Payments for Environmental Services’ at FAO Headquarters, Rome
  • 2013, Sep. 3-7: FANRPAN Regional Dialogue, Lesotho.
  • 2013, Jul. 16: FARA science week, CPWF side event on CPWF’s experience on the importance and various forms of Engagement Platforms in Research for Development; Accra, Ghana and launch of a collection of briefs on Innovation Platforms experiences, see the following articles from this event:
  • 2013, May 30: FANRPAN Partner meeting, Tswane, South Africa
  • 2013, May 21: IFAD Water-related Grants Share Fair, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
  • 2013, Apr. 15-18: CPWF MetaSynthesis writeshop, Analysis and synthesizing of CPWF projects and findings into a book, Montpellier, France
  • 2013 throughout, upon request: Incubator Initiative (Andes); see more at Watershed Services Incubator Projects  launched by the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (Minam), working with Forest Trends and with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The Ministry of Environment of Peru is interested in CPWF lessons, findings and results on benefit sharing mechanisms.  CPWF-Andes will collaborate and contribute regionally to this initiative and the mainstreaming of applicable research for development findings.
  • 2012, Nov. 12: a manned booth with materials on at the share fair for the IFAD West and Central Africa regional annual meeting Banjul, The Gambia
  • 2012, Nov. 10-11: session component at the two-day training organized by IWMI IMAWESA grant team on Agricultural Water Management Challenging Contexts projects
  • 2012, Nov. 5: Special Session on Mainstreaming Innovations at the Fresh Water Governance Conference in the Drakensberg, South Africa, with technical inputs about Small Reservoirs and Multiple Use System in South Africa

Organization of Sharing Events

In 2013, CPWF and its partners organized a number of regional sharing events that targeted development practitioners.

  • 2014, Apr. 29: Knowledge Fair, Ghers and Sarjons: Climate change and the art of farmer land-water landscapes (Ganges);   Creative management through farmer innovation has resulted in systems being made more productive, more diversified and more resilient to the future changes in the area.  These farmers’ land-water landscapes innovations, such as ghers and sargon systems, which are critical to future farming in this area, have not received enough attention and will be the focus of this farmer-oriented knowledge fair
  • 2013, Nov. 8-9: Knowledge Fair: Women in the Brackish Water Shrimp Zone of Southwest Bangladesh: Challenges and Opportunities (Ganges);  The CPWF-Ganges has been working with researchers and farmers to address issues of aquaculture productivity, crop productivity and resilient agriculture systems within a region defined by salinity challenges.  Not all community members share equally in the potential of these systems nor the focus of current research and extension efforts.  Organizing a knowledge fair is an attempt to bring greater voice to those who are less empowered, particularly women, to discuss and prioritize opportunities and innovations that provide a more equitable share of the benefits.
  • 2013, Sep. 11: A CPWF event on ‘The evolution of payment for environmental services to benefit sharing mechanisms’ will be organized to share and discuss CPWF experiences with interested IFAD staff. CPWF-Andes basin leader, Miguel Saravia, and Andes 2 project leader, Marcela Quintero will present their stories.
  • 2013, Jul. 14-15: Participatory Action Research: State of the Art for Research in Development (Ganges);  This 2-day learning event brought together a diverse group of researchers and practitioners in Bangladesh who have been engaged in participatory action research with farmers and farming communities in an effort to better link technology and knowledge development in the formal research sector with efforts of the CGIAR to support farmer and community-led research, knowledge generation and scaling up.
  • 13 March 2013: Launching of the first set of CPWF Outcome stories at IFAD Head Quarters, Rome, Italy
  • 2013, Apr. 17-18: IFAD project start up workshop, Xia Xia, Mozambique; linking IFAD to some CPWF regional experts to participate and explore potential for sharing, learning and collaboration.
  • 2013, Apr. 10: Ganges Reflection Workshop, Dhaka, Bangladesh with various stakeholders participation.

Repackaging Outputs


Ideally, the repackaging of project findings and products for a variety of different users and stakeholders is built into project activities from the onset. This ensures that repackaging occurs within the lifetime of the project while all the expertise and institutional knowledge is still with a project team that is tied together through signed agreements.

At the end of CPWF’s first phase (2004-2008), the program found itself with an extremely rich and wide range of project products. The outputs were substantial; Phase 1 included 68 projects working in 36 countries across 10 river basins. More than 275 partner institutions were formally involved. The total five-year investment was US$ 64 million from 12 different donors. CPWF was faced with a large number of project products that needed to be processed in order to be useful for different audiences, such as donors, development practitioners and professionals, and teachers.

The Materials

CPWF set out to produce a number of complimentary communication materials target to different target audiences:

  • Dialogue Posters: Hand drawn posters to inspire discussion on water and food thinking; for students, teachers, trainers
  • Sourcebook: Concepts, methods, approaches and tools; for development professionals
  • Briefing notes: Synthesizing cross cutting issue; for policy makers and managers
  • Outcome stories: Stories of impacts and change; for donors and journalists
  • CPWF Book: The history of CPWF as a program and its thematic coverage from Water Productivity, Water Scarcity to unpacking and solving of ‘wicked’ development challenges; for development professionals, donors and fellow researchers

The Process

Repackaging of Phase 1 materials started in 2010 with the collection of outputs from all 68 projects.  An iterative process between CPWF staff, artists, editors and experienced consultants was employed to identify and repackage materials.  A workshop was held in October 2011 to test materials and discuss dissemination with key audience groups for their feedback and criticism.

Lessons Learned

  • Knowledge management is about utilization, application and adaptation of research-derived materials, which is a central element to the research-for-development approach.
  • The review workshop validated the quality and usefulness of the materials and generated interest amongst next users.
  • The repackaged materials provide a prototype and entry point for partners and CPWF basin teams to use and adapt these materials to their own context.
  • Contextualizing the materials is an essential step.
  • Future exercises should include those who produced materials from the outset, since we found that the materials collected did not always provide the best information for repackaging.

Innovation Fund


The CPWF Innovation Fund was established in 2011 to spur innovation and catalyze change in CPWF research-for-development projects by building capacity and enabling projects to respond to emerging and unanticipated opportunities. The fund announced its first round awardees in August 2011.  Eight projects of less than one-year duration were awarded grants totalling more than US$ 165,000 in five of the six basins where CPWF worked: Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta.

The grants and the corresponding funds were awarded to eight projects in 2011.

Learn More

  1. Mainstreaming gender in the CPWF: Benchmarking and addressing immediate needs
  2. Development of a web-based decision support system for agricultural water management of small reservoirs and small water infrastructure in the Limpopo basin
  3. Volta Storylines and Scenarios: A mouthpiece for interventions to enhance livelihoods
  4. The wheels of innovation: local challenge funds for rainwater management interventions
  5. Participatory video: a novel mechanism for sharing community perceptions with decision makers
  6. Building Provincial Capacity to Understand the Water Demand Implications of Socio-Economic Development Plans in Central Viet Nam
  7. Sharing Lessons on Hydropower Development Processes and Stakeholder Engagement between Cambodia and Lao PDR
  8. Implementing community level water management in coastal Bangladesh