From outputs to outcomes: achieving impact at scale
Stakeholder engagement is the key for research projects to bring about change and have durable impact.
It is quite an achievement to write reports, get some journal articles published, post a video and a few photos, then say you are done with a project. Take a moment to reflect, has your project changed people’s lives? How will the research bring about outcomes and impact, beyond the project outputs?
Stakeholder engagement is critical for expanding the reach and impact of research projects. ‘The more you can engage people at the start, the more projects will be successful’, said Tony Bartlett, Program Manager for Forestry at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), during the World Agroforestry Centre’s Science Week held in Bogor this September.
Engaging stakeholders should go beyond inviting them to meetings and asking them to assist you in reaching your target audience. You need to put time and effort into bringing stakeholders fully on board right at the beginning. The project team should understand the perspectives and drivers that push the stakeholders to act the way they do. Different stakeholders have, on the one hand, different needs which may be addressed by the project and, on the other, different abilities that could contribute to the project.
Mapping how stakeholders can contribute to projects and their outcomes is increasingly common. By conducting multi-stakeholder workshops, researchers provide platforms for different partners and beneficiaries to discuss and plan activities. The experiences and lessons learned from the project are then shared amongst the stakeholders as the project progresses, making it easier to identify what works in particular situations.
The Climate-smart, Tree-based, Co-investment in Adaptation and Mitigation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest) project is doing this through workshops with the various stakeholders in the project. The project team in the Philippines conducted an outcome mapping activity with the Payments for Environmental Services Working Group (PWG) they helped revitalise in the municipality of Lantapan. Another workshop with the PWG sub-group of sellers, as represented by the village leaders and municipal officials, was also conducted to identify ways they could recruit smallholder farmers as beneficiaries of the co-investment scheme the project is developing.
A new ACIAR-funded project in Uganda and Zambia is engaging private-sector partners in value-chain innovation platforms to improve food security. This involves mining companies and supermarket networks getting together with farmers and development organisations to co-invest in schemes to improve the income farmers get for their produce.
‘Champions’, who are typically enthusiastic farmers working with the project, are also important in bringing about change through promoting and advocating research within communities and to other organisations. They may help in spreading and advocating the use of research outputs whether these are new techniques, practices, schemes or other concepts.
More emphasis is being put on scalability of research, requiring the use of context-specific approaches. According to Simone Borelli, the agroforestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), research institutions should have champions not only at community level but also in the major multilateral institutions, like FAO, as well. Institutional champions, especially high-level ones, help embed research in development and expand options in a broad range of contexts.
Dr Fergus Sinclair, leader of the Systems Science Domain at the World Agroforestry Centre explained that in managing provision of ecosystem services the ground has moved from providing decision support for a few key policy makers to developing negotiation-support tools for use by a broader range of actors, including ecosystem-service providers, who are often farmers, intermediaries and those who receive the benefits, such as clean water, reduced flood risk or affordable food.
Exit strategies are often left until the end of projects but should really be considered from the outset so that research is a catalyst for durable development that can be maintained locally, otherwise there may be a risk of dependence on researchers during the project.
Stakeholders may come from different sectors and they may be found on different levels but what is important is to empower them, to help them make informed decisions and share their learning from projects with others.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry