This discussion paper is currently under review. We hereby publish the summary for discussion.
- Staiger, S. – Leader, Capacity Strengthening and Knowledge Management Initiative, CIAT, Cali, Colombia
- Dror, I. – Head, Capacity Development, ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya
- Babu, S. – Senior Researchers, Partnership, Impact and Capacity Strengthening Unit, IFPRI, Washington D.C., USA
- Rudebjer, P. – Acting Head, Capacity Strengthening, Bioversity, Rome, Italy
- Kosina, P. – Specialist, Knowledge Management and Training, CIMMYT consultant, Berkeley, California, USA
- Diop, NN. – Principle Investigator, Capacity Building, Generation Challenge Program, Mexico
- Maru, J.Capacity Development Officer, ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya
- Bamba, Z. – Head, Capacity Development Unit, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria
This paper is a contribution to the establishment of a new capacity development (CD)  strategy, a process that the Consortium Office will facilitate, with external input, during 2013. The paper explores the lessons learned from CGIAR’s experience with CD and reflects the findings of a working group that was brought together in late 2012.
The objective of the paper is to identify the roles that individual and institutional CD might play in CGIAR in order to increase CGIAR’s impact on the welfare of smallholder farmers and the sustainability of their farming systems. A number of case studies have been included; these indicate the need for a more comprehensive approach to documenting the lessons learned to date. The paper also discusses possible interventions by the Consortium to ensure that CD contributes positively to achieving development outcomes through the CGIAR Research Programs. While the paper gives only partial answers, the authors have found it to be an important opportunity to learn and start to re-engage as a CD community. The paper is intended in the first instance for an internal CGIAR audience, to inform strategic planning and decision-making on future CD investments.
A short history of capacity development in CGIAR
CGIAR’s approach to CD has evolved considerably over the past few decades, as agricultural research has come to focus more sharply on development. A decline in core funding led most Centers to reduce or eliminate training as a stand-alone activity, and to embed it directly into research projects. While this decentralized responsibilities for CD in Centers and weakened the role of training units, it also allowed research teams to develop and foster strong research and training partnerships with a wide range of institutions.
Current approaches to CD have their roots in two closely related theoretical fields: social learning and innovation systems. The trend towards results-based management in CGIAR includes a perception of CD as means to enable social learning and innovation and promote sustainable development as a collective achievement. Nevertheless, it appears that CD efforts by the many CGIAR Research Programs are not keeping pace. In current Program proposals and work plans, CD activities are scattered and rarely presented in terms of an innovation or systems approach, continuing to focus on rather isolated interventions by research theme. Furthermore, the CD activities are not seriously backed by resources for implementation, which weakens accountability within the system.
If CD is to live up to its mandate to support agricultural research for development (AR4D), CGIAR must see it as an important complement to research and create the organizational and management structures that will allow the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of appropriate CD interventions.
The role of training
Training is highly relevant to national capacity needs and a major contributor to achieving positive outcomes from research. An estimated 80 000 professionals have received such training from CGIAR since its inception; the system spends nearly a fifth of its funding on formal and informal training. A past emphasis on long-term courses strengthened partner knowledge and practical skills, provided deep insight into the complexity of research management and significantly influenced the attitudes, values and motivation of trainees. Such training has been an essential tool for expanding and strengthening CGIAR’s network of collaborators. CGIAR might consider creating a portfolio of training opportunities with partners on key AR4D issues. A dedicated network can help to share best practices with the CGIAR Research Programs and its partners and work with them to ensure a streamlined, comprehensive and sustained approach to such training.
While agricultural education and training (AET) systems in countries like Brazil have grown stronger and others, such as India, are currently discussing broad reforms, serious constraints to quality education on AR4D in many countries remain. Enrolment has declined and past neglect and low levels of investment have prevented many national AET systems from equipping graduates to meet the needs of modern agriculture and to contribute to agricultural innovation systems with a range of hard and soft skills. The needs of young people, in particular, must become a central focus of institutional CD programs. For its part, CGIAR needs to define the role it will play in agricultural higher education, beyond its involvement in post-doc and visiting scientists programs.
A common obstacle to CD is the absence of ‘off-the-shelf’ learning materials that can be used at various levels, from higher education and on-the-job training for professionals, to training at the community level. The transformation of research outputs into learning products for specific target groups is essential and should be part of the impact pathway design of the programs. Most Centers lack dedicated capacity for instructional design.
The Consortium could work on two fronts to increase the visibility and use of learning materials. First, with support from current knowledge management efforts, Centers and programs could enhance access to existing resources through improved and coordinated repositories and online information systems. Second, the Consortium could select a number of promising research outputs – with the help of the CD network – and develop a CD strategy for them, including learning resources that are matched by investments in awareness and training for enhancing their use.
Strengthening institutional capacity through agricultural research for development
Because of their size and scope, CGIAR Research Programs have excellent opportunities for embracing the consistently innovation system approach to CD, which puts a high priority on facilitating learning among people and institutions. This requires new knowledge, attitudes and skills to undertake collaborative research. It also raises the challenge of how to engage more systematically with a broader range of AR4D actors such as policy-makers in the public and private sectors, extension workers and NGOs.
A second important challenge is to develop the capacity of CGIAR researchers to undertake effective development-oriented research. For scientists and teams to conduct, for example, gender-sensitive research or to work in new partnership arrangements, many will need to acquire new skills.
The Consortium Office could facilitate consistent research on learning as a contribution to the evolving knowledge about collaborative efforts in AR4D. Research could concern, for example, partnership arrangements, institutional CD, whether and how CD supports the achievement of development outcomes; the role of ICTs in agricultural education, extension, farmer mobilization and empowerment; and the best social learning and multi-stakeholder models for a more equitable, sustainable and innovative agriculture.
CGIAR’s outcome orientation requires understanding how research outputs are used, transformed and adapted by a wide range of stakeholders. Facilitating and learning from scaling-up and scaling-out processes are critical to delivering on the intended outcomes. There is a need to ‘invest in the arrows’ that link outputs to outcomes and CD, together with knowledge sharing and partnerships, has a key role to play. The CD network can facilitate the adoption of a range of strategic approaches, one being capacity development for influencing policy effectively, a great opportunity for knowledge exchange and learning among members of the Consortium and a domain that CGIAR needs to excel in to make a difference in AR4D.
Monitoring and evaluating capacity development
CGIAR does not yet have a systematic approach to monitoring, tracking, and reporting CD activities. As a result, the assessment of CGIAR’s performance in this area is challenging and does not do justice to the efforts that have been undertaken over time. A mere head count of people who have attended training courses is not enough to capture the extent to which capacity has been strengthened at individual, institutional and system levels. Many participatory monitoring and evaluation (M&E) approaches focus on outcomes and learning. Such approaches can provide research managers with useful information on the efficiency, relevance, sustainability, impact and effectiveness of CD. Through a continuous, inclusive, and well-organized exchange of information and experience, M&E can strengthen partner ownership of a CD intervention, increasing the chances of adoption and sustainability.
In order to truly understand CGIAR contributions to CD, it is necessary to identify specific inputs (human and financial resources expended on CD) and outputs (direct results of CD actions), using an impact pathway approach. There are numerous ways to collect information on inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts. The difficulty of tracking these indicators will vary across CGIAR Research Programs, specifically among programs with a commodity, systems, natural resource management or policy focus. Effective documentation is needed to record the contributions of researchers and research teams to CGIAR’s CD goals.
There are three entry points for Consortium Office-led initiatives: people, processes and products:
People: To be successful, the CD network will need broad buy-in from Centers. The active participation of partners and a range of staff with diverse skills are key to ensuring a comprehensive approach to CD. Collective action should be based on a thorough needs assessment and require fund raising through the Consortium Office.
Processes: The Consortium Office can facilitate CD advances in priority research areas. Research on CD has to be encouraged as well. Innovative approaches and significant indicators on different aspects of CD have to be developed. Experiences have to be documented and shared broadly as CD becomes part of CGIAR’s advocacy and communications strategy
Products: The Consortium Office should explore – with help from the CD network – the value of offering CD on themes of interest to multiple CGIAR Research Programs. It should set up a strategy with partners to influence higher education, and should make learning resources more visible and accessible through an on-line information system. A common monitoring and evaluation system of CD needs to be developed.
 In this paper, we have chosen to use the term capacity development as opposed to capacity building (which refers to a process that supports only the initial stages of building or creating capacities) or capacity strengthening (which tends to focus on scaling up existing capacities). Capacity development implies a process of creating and building capacities and their use, management and retention.