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  • FTA Highlight No. 17 – Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment

FTA Highlight No. 17 – Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment

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Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment (MELIA) has been a key focus of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) over its decade of work.

FTA’s MELIA Program has adapted, developed, tested and refined a comprehensive set of concepts and methods. These include participatory theories of change and developing and refining outcome evaluation methods.

They also include systematically reviewing, defining and assessing the quality of research that crosses disciplinary boundaries; and developing a quality assessment framework suitable for research for development (R4D).

This decadal work has generated a body of research and valuable lessons about research design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation within FTA and beyond.

Download the volume! [PDF]
As part of “FTA’s highlights of a decade,” a new series focusing on its main results since its inception in 2011, FTA is now publishing the volume on Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment (MELIA).

The CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) embodied a fundamental shift in the approach to research for development (R4D). CRPs assume shared responsibility for achieving economic and human development outcomes, a shift that required new ways of monitoring and evaluating research (R4D).

When the Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) program was established in 2011 it responded to this approach with a plan to develop and use theory-based approaches for monitoring and evaluating outcomes and impacts.

PHOTO GALLERY

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Over its ten years FTA has recognized the importance of monitoring and evaluation, not only as an important management tool, but also as a field of research in its own right.

From the beginning, FTA’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment (MELIA) strategy included a core research component. FTA’s impact orientation and MELIA work were strongly supported by FTA governance. More engaged, transdisciplinary approaches to research involve stakeholders in order to deal with complexity and increase potential impact.

FTA’s research approaches aim to contribute to reduced poverty, improved food security and nutrition, and improved management of natural resources and ecosystem services through technical, institutional and policy innovation. Monitoring is a key element of FTA’s adaptive, learning-oriented approach, from the project level to the program level.

Research activities operate within a program-level theory of change (ToC), and each activity has its own particular context, design and implementation, and specific ToC.

This multi-level approach creates an excellent opportunity for learning how research contributes to transformative change within complex social and environmental systems.

MELIA has focused its work on five key global challenges.

  1. accelerating rates of deforestation and forest degradation;
  2. high prevalence of degraded land and ecosystem services;
  3. unsustainable land-use practices;
  4. persistent rural poverty, with increasing levels of vulnerability;
  5. rising demand for and need for nutritious food.

FTA has developed a set of user-friendly and time-efficient monitoring tools for use at the project scale. The tools facilitate systematic collection of data on engagement with stakeholders, knowledge generation, uptake and use, and progress toward higher-level outcomes and impacts.

FTA’s MELIA team also contributed to the development of the Quality of Research for Development (QoR4D) framework. The framework guides and enhances research at all levels, and contributes to outcomes and impacts.

Download the publication to learn more about FTA’s approach to monitoring, FTA’s integrated outcome evaluations, case studies, results and lessons learned. FTA’s work on MELIA sets the ground for future initiatives to build and design projects integrating theory-based evaluation towards a transdisciplinary model of research impact.

Published volumes until today include:

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  • FTA Highlight No. 15 — Advancing gender equality and social inclusion

FTA Highlight No. 15 — Advancing gender equality and social inclusion

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Over the course of its 10 years of research, FTA has shown that effective management of forests, trees and agroforestry systems can help address gender inequalities and support social inclusion and sustainable landscapes. FTA research focuses on the dynamics of forest-dependent people and the power norms that affect decision-making and benefits.

Advancing gender equality has proven positive effects on the estimated 1.6 billion people in the world who live in or near forests.

As part of “FTA’s highlights of a decade,” a new series focusing on the program’s main results since its inception in 2011, FTA is now publishing the volume on Advancing gender equality and social inclusion.

The FTA program has a key focus on policies, institutions and governance. Gender inequalities present structural barriers to the change that is needed to support sustainable and equitable development solutions in landscapes and along value chains. In many of the contexts where FTA works, youth and women do not share equally in the benefits that treed landscapes offer.

In addition to conducting research specifically on gender and on women’s and men’s empowerment, FTA has mainstreamed gender throughout its research portfolio, aiming to make transformative change at multiple scales, from the local to the global level.

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This highlight volume outlines FTA’s achievements in this area, including extensive information on gender in relation to forest, land, and tree tenure and governance.

Based on FTA’s Gender Strategy, gender research and action is characterized by two mutually supportive strands of work.

Using this approach, FTA seeks to effect changes in five ways:

  1. create accessible tools and resource materials for integrating gender in project design;
  2. strengthen capacities for gender analysis and research through workshops and training;
  3. establish a Gender Research Fellowship Program;
  4. position gender research within the Flagship Programs; and
  5. hold interdisciplinary dialogues within FTA.

Tools and resources to integrate gender have positioned FTA as a knowledge broker on gender in natural resources management for policymakers, practitioners, academics and students. FTA’s gender team has delivered capacity-strengthening training to FTA scientists, partners and other stakeholders.

Research in the context of the Gender Fellowship programme studied a range of issues and spread learning across the FTA portfolio.

Interdisciplinary dialogues helped ground gender research in specific forest, tree and agroforestry issues. FTA has shared this learning process with other development and environmental organizations who seek to meaningfully integrate gender.

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  • Young scientists’ training builds foundation for future forests, trees and agroforestry research

Young scientists’ training builds foundation for future forests, trees and agroforestry research

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Intensive training for young scientists demonstrates key angle of capacity development and value of investments for longer term returns

Shaping a sustainable future

For a group of students in the Democratic Republic of Congo, university learning took on a whole new dimension when they were selected to participate in an innovative capacity development program involving the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS), Forests and Climate Change in the Congo (FCCC) and supported by scientists from CIFOR, ICRAF, CIRAD, University of Cambridge, Musee Royale d’Afrique Centrale and Jardin Botanique de la Belgique.

More than 180 students have since graduated with master’s degrees, while 35 students have successfully defended article-based theses obtaining a PhD. A total of more than 40 peer-reviewed articles have been published by UNIKIS graduates since FCCC was introduced.

Melissa Rousseau with MSc students Chalay Azenge Bokoy and Muyisa Mbusa Wasukundi at the wood biology laboratory in Yangambi – DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

During the four-year, capacity development and governance-focused project, novel teaching methods, joint local and international supervision of students, staff training and an annual “Science Week” held alongside a media training event, which led to a Green Journalists’ Network were introduced.

“This is what capacity building is all about,” said Wardell, who coordinated the program from 2013 to 2016. “A solid education creates a solid foundation on which to develop skills and human resources to better address national and sub-national development objectives.”

Another capacity development program in East Africa financed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), currently supports 11 Ph.D. candidates with fellowships, but has a broader reach, funding other students and a variety of projects.

In 2015, CIFOR and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), joined forces to design the CIFOR-USAID Indonesia Forestry Fellowship Program. It helps train a new generation of Indonesian environmental scientists, managers and leaders.

Through the program, students joined masters-degree, multi-disciplinary graduate programs at U.S. universities to study forestry, biodiversity, economics, natural resources governance. Students chosen through the program’s competitive selection process studied on site at four universities recognized for their leadership in forestry and environmental education, including: Northern Arizona University; the University of Missouri; the University of Florida and Yale University.  Between 2015 and 2019, 20 students graduated and returned to Indonesia.

Other initiatives include ICRAF’s African Plant Breeding Academy of the African Orphan Crops Consortium and training guide of forest genetic resources, which incorporates a Biodiversity International’s gender research fellowship program. Courses and technical workshops hosted by the Global Landscapes Forum Landscape Academy and the Wageningen University & Research Center for Development Innovation have been well-attended and will continue, while the ICRAF-led “Stakeholder Approach to Evidence and Risk-Informed Decision making” serves as a framework for long-term relationship building to integrate research into policy processes.

These initiatives and others support strengthening partnerships and aligning priorities with both National Agricultural Research Systems and new networks, including the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Africa and the African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education.

Pisciculture workshop in Yanonge – DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Media training courses and science workshops related to covering forestry, trees, and agroforestry are also under development. An infusion into the media workforce of journalist experts who have been exposed to natural resource management theories can inspire new ideas and methods for delivering messages to the general public.

Let’s not forget the younger generations! Ennviromental awareness campaign at a primary school in Yangambi – DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Training and capacity development of staff, partners, stakeholders, journalists and students is a key point of the theory of change of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry.

Yet, while capacity development has resoundingly been recognized as a vital part of the theory of change, further human and financial resources are required to fully facilitate the adoption of research results into development policy and practice, Wardell said.

“Organizational capacities remain one of the most significant bottlenecks in the research and development sector,” he said. “Thwarting the overall lack of capacity and inadequate use of existing capacities are enormous challenges for research, analysis and development practice, especially in Least Developed Countries.”

This is why the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) developed a specific plan of action.

FTA Capacity Development Plan of Action 2020-2021 [PDF available]
FTA’s Capacity Needs Assessment Report [PDF available]
Following a consultative process that began in 2018, it details a roadmap to support people, organizations and societies to obtain, strengthen and maintain capabilities so they can set and achieve their own development objectives over time. It follows a capacity needs assessment jointly authored by CIFOR principal scientist Andrew Wardell and the late Mehmood Ul-Hassan (1964-2020), who was head of capacity development at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) from 2012 until March. Mieke Bourne and Sabrina Chesterman with the Stakeholder Approach to Risk Informed and Evidence-based Decision-making (SHARED) at ICRAF were also authors.

 

Overall aims include contributing to the overall CGIAR Strategy and Results Framework (SRF) and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through five “flagship” themes:

  1. Tree genetic resources to bridge production gaps and promote resilience
  2. Enhancing how trees and forests contribute to smallholder livelihoods
  3. Sustainable global value chains and investments for supporting forest conservation and equitable development
  4. Landscape dynamics, productivity and resilience
  5. Climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities in forests, trees and agroforestry

“Building agroforestry and forestry capacity both within our institutions and with our national partners and future researchers, technical staff, media and policy makers is critical for achieving our ambitions goals and for bringing about real and lasting change – this plan of action will help guide these capacity development efforts,” Bourne said.


This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Outcome Evaluation Approach – 5 Case Studies from FTA

Outcome Evaluation Approach – 5 Case Studies from FTA

Yordana Yawate, carries a sack of sago pith to be filtered on the banks of the Tuba river in Honitetu village, Maluku province, Indonesia. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/CIFOR
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Two recent publications discuss how to effectively assess the impact of transdisciplinary (TDR) research and apply these methods to 5 case studies.

The creation of the CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) was aimed to increase the social, economic, and environmental impacts of research. These programs have intentionally developed broader and deeper partnerships with a wide range of policy and development actors (i.e., international conservation and development organizations, NGOs, policy actors, other stakeholders), as well as with other researchers and research organizations. These efforts mirrored a shift in the broader research environment toward more engaged, problem-centred research. Such research, known variously as Transdisciplinary Research (TDR), Mode 2 Research, and Sustainability Science, among other terms, actively involves stakeholders to help ensure the relevance of the research, incorporate a broader range of expertise in the research process, and promote the co-generation of knowledge with research users.

In theory, engaged TDR approaches should help address complex sustainability problems and contribute to more and better outcomes. However, the increased complexity of these approaches makes impact assessment even more challenging than for traditional research approaches. Research impact assessment is chronically challenged by the fact that the uptake and use of research-based knowledge is incremental, with multiple steps and other intervening factors, often with long time-lags. Measuring and attributing impact are difficult. CGIAR research impact assessment has typically attempted to measure the benefits of improved technologies generated by CGIAR research; this assumes that the main contributions of the research are bundled within an improved plant variety or other technology package. TDR deliberately aims to contribute to several impact pathways simultaneously, by supporting capacity-building and empowerment among partners, facilitating dialogue and political processes, co-generating knowledge that will be implemented directly by partners, as well as through more conventional research products. However, empirical evidence of whether and how transdisciplinary approaches contribute to (more) effective scientific and social outcomes remains limited.

CIFOR Senior Associate Scientist Brian Belcher and his team in the Sustainability Research Effectiveness Program (SRE) at Royal Roads University have developed methods to assess TDR. The SRE Program has also conducted a series of case studies of completed FTA research projects to investigate the link between transdisciplinary research and societal effects. They recently published two papers to share lessons from their work.

A refined method for theory-based evaluation of the societal impacts of research [pdf]
A refined method for theory-based evaluation of the societal impacts of research” (Belcher et al., 2020) provides a detailed description of concepts and a method for assessing the relationship between research processes, outputs, and outcomes. The Outcome Evaluation Approach uses an actor-centred Theory of Change as the analytical framework, and accounts for complexity by recognizing the role of other actors, context, and external processes in change. The article provides stepwise guidance on how to:

  • document a theory of change;
  • determine data needs and sources;
  • collect data;
  • manage and analyze data; and
  • present findings.

 

The paper responds to the need for appropriate methods to demonstrate (for accountability) and analyze (for learning) whether and how research projects contribute to change processes, in an effort to make research more effective in addressing complex sustainability challenges.

Linking transdisciplinary research characteristics and quality to effectiveness [pdf]
Linking Transdisciplinary Research Characteristics and Quality to Effectiveness: A Comparative Analysis of Five Research-for-Development Projects” (Belcher et al., 2019) reports lessons from outcome evaluations [1] of five FTA projects. The five projects:

  1. Brazil Nut Project (BNP)
  2. Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP)
  3. Fire and Haze Indonesia (F&H)
  4. Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform-Peru (GCS-FTR), and
  5. Support to the Development of Agroforestry Concessions in Peru (SUCCESS)

 

 

represent a wide range of research approaches, social and policy contexts, and outcomes. Each case study used the Outcome Evaluation Approach described in Belcher et al. (2020) to document the project’s Theory of Change and assess whether and how outcomes were realized. The analysis also used Belcher et al.’s (2016) Transdisciplinary Research Quality Assessment Framework (QAF) to characterize each project by the degree to which its design and implementation conformed with transdisciplinary criteria.

Each project had a deliberate focus on moving beyond knowledge production to influence policy and practice. To do that, the projects employed a variety of strategies that crossed disciplinary bounds and engaged a range of partners and stakeholders at different levels. The results demonstrate that projects employing more transdisciplinary characteristics make more diverse contributions as they tend to leverage more diverse mechanisms of change. The participation of various system actors contributed to projects’ relevance and strongly contributed to the uptake and use of the research. Projects that invested most in developing and facilitating participation (e.g., the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform-Peru and the Support to the Development of Agroforestry Concessions in Peru projects) were the most successful in generating social learning and building coalitions. Projects that employed the most traditional scientific models (e.g., the Brazil Nut Project and the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program) but still invested in outreach and engagement, were able to realize significant outcomes. Research project efforts to support social processes helped translate and broker knowledge outputs and made substantial additional contributions through capacity-building, initiating and supporting discourse, and relationship-building.

Given the results, it is clear that research aiming to influence policy and practice change should consider integrating and reflecting on TDR characteristics more intentionally from the early planning stages and throughout the whole research process. This new Outcome Evaluation Approach will help linking outcomes, outputs and TDR more effectively, justifying the need for more transdisciplinary science, with an increase in overall results and global benefits.

[1] Two individual  project outcome evaluation reports have been published (Brazilian Nut, SWAMP), while the others are forthcoming (F&H, GCS-FTR, SUCCESS).


FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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