By Brian Belcher, Senior Associate, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
In the new phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, the previous work under “Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Assessment” has been re-labelled as “Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment” (MELIA).
FTA is developing its MELIA unit as a core research and support unit with team members from each of the participating centers. In the new phase, FTA has a great opportunity to make significant theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions to help improve research quality and research effectiveness within FTA, the CG, and beyond.
The MELIA work will be organized in four main clusters of activities:
Foresight/ex ante impact assessment
This is a new area for FTA, in which we will develop tools and approaches for assessing strategic opportunities and estimating potential impact to help inform priority setting and planning. In 2017, MELIA will develop our approach, in collaboration with other CGIAR Research Programs such as Policies, Institutions and Markets and Roots, Tubers and Bananas and in conjunction with research priority setting work in the FTA Management Support Unit.
Ex post impact assessment
MELIA will use and adapt experimental and quasi-experimental methods to assess the impact especially of technical or policy interventions. In 2017, for example, FTA will undertake an ex post impact assessment of the Agroforestry for Food Security Program in Malawi with support from the CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment.
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MELIA will continue to develop, test and refine theory-based research evaluation methodology to assess research contributions in complex systems and to build a series of outcome evaluation case studies and a longer-term comparative analysis of cases. In 2017, at least four evaluations will be completed and four new studies will be launched. For example, an outcome evaluation of a gender-specific project focusing on women’s participation in forest management in Uganda will help improve the sensitivity of MELIA tools and strengthen FTA’s theory of gender transformative change in FTA landscapes. MELIA will also explore opportunities for collaboration with CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security(CCAFS) and other partners.
Indicators, monitoring & reporting
This work will support the ongoing development of indicators, indicator frameworks and data collection to support the five Flagships in their reporting of outputs, outcomes and indicators for monitoring and reporting. Overall, this work will foster an impact culture within FTA, help ensure that FTA’s work remains relevant and useful in rapidly changing and complex circumstances, learn lessons from the rich FTA experience and guide ongoing research, engagement and capacity development to maximize effectiveness. In 2017, MELIA will support a FTA-wide work to revise the set of FTA indicators and milestones.
Key outcomes of MELIA’s work in 2017 will be
- improved capacity and improved design, monitoring, evaluation and learning (DMEL);
- strengthened impact culture within FTA;
- stronger empirical evidence of contributions of FTA research; and
- better, more transparent estimates of potential impact leading to well-informed strategies and improved donor confidence.