In the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) program, we do research to enhance food security and agricultural development in the face of climate change. But the pathway from research to impact is complex.
Impact pathways encourage scientists to join a network of partners to ensure that their work contributes to a larger vision. The partners work together to design the pathway. Usually scientists focus on the activities we’d like to do, and the outputs that will result.
By designing an impact pathway we focus on achieving outcomes – changes in behaviors, practice, beliefs, understanding, capacity, networks, policies and institutions that are needed in order to achieve lasting impact. Then we work backwards to outputs and activities. An impact pathway approach ensures that all the necessary steps are taken to achieve the desired outcomes.
Why focus on outcomes rather than outputs? Targeting outputs emphasizes processes, which makes it difficult to link changes, like increased maize production by smallholder farmers, to specific interventions that might have occurred during the process. Research may provide an improved variety of maize to farmers, for example, but their actual maize production is influenced by a variety of factors like access to inputs and the quality of extension services. If the fertilizer necessary to produce the improved maize can’t be accessed, or technical advice from extension agents is not available, then the desired impact – sustainable food security – won’t be achieved.
On the other hand, if we target outcomes that will lead to the desired impact we will have information about changes that are necessary to support sustainable food security for smallholders that adopt the improved maize. The network of partners ensures these changes are in place, and documents how the changes are achieved so that impact can be scaled up and out. The two most familiar impact pathway approaches are Outcome Mapping (OM) and Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA). While both end in the development of an outcome logic model, PIPA focuses on network design while OM focuses on partner challenges. Scientists in the CGIAR are using both.
The CCAFS regional programs recently embarked on an impact pathway process for the sites. Our overall objective is to strengthen the network of partners working on issues of climate change and food security and ensure progress towards our common vision of reduced poverty and hunger, improved human health and nutrition, and enhanced ecosystem resilience. We have combined elements of OM and PIPA, and are tailoring our approach to the unique attributes and needs of each region. The process is also being designed to ensure that our gender outcomes are integrated into the impact pathway of each site, and to develop a monitoring and evaluation plan that provides information regarding behavioral and policy changes within the partner network and their boundary partners.
In East Africa, we got together with regional partners representing six sites in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia for 1.5 days in late November 2012. After an introduction to outcome thinking, we developed preliminary impact pathways for each site. We started by describing our visions, and then the behavioral, political, institutional and networking changes that must be in place in order to achieve the visions. Based on these outcomes, we identified the outputs that could contribute to those changes and activities to produce those outputs.
Overall, we found it challenging to move away from our usual research orientation and towards outcomes that reflect changes in understanding and behavior. Outcome thinking is not easy the first time you try it! But the workshop had three major achievements. (1) We developed a strong sense of partnership and shared vision regarding our sites. (2) We gained awareness of activities taking place at the sites, which allowed for cross-fertilization and thinking outside the box. (3) We were introduced to how impact pathways are designed and why they are different from a log frame approach. The experience helped us understand the urgent need for monitoring and evaluation at each site, based on outcome rather than process indicators. The participants requested CCAFS to support development of impact pathways at each site in East Africa with the involvement of all partners.
In West Africa a different approach was taken. Our stakeholders had already worked together to develop visions for the five sites in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Senegal and Ghana. All categories of stakeholders were involved, including community members, and they identified creating more effective partnerships as the key to achieving the desired impacts of CCAFS. So we decided to focus at the site level, and on the network of partners at each site. In December 2012 we held our first three-day workshop with stakeholders in Yatenga Province, Burkina Faso. We worked with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to plan and facilitate the workshop, because of its expertise in participatory impact pathway design. The different priorities and needs of male and female beneficiaries were tackled by splitting the participants into gender-focused groups. We started by creating a vision for the network of partners at the Yatenga site – how we want the network of organizations in Yatenga to be seen in the future. Then we analyzed the current network of partners in terms of contributions to this vision. This allowed us to finalize the vision, and the partners called on CCAFS to serve as network facilitator. The high commissioner of Yatenga Province raised the authorities’ commitment to lead the process inside and outside the province.
The workshop in Burkina Faso succeeded in bringing us together and working towards a common vision. We learned that partners need plenty of time to engage in the process. The next step is to fully elaborate a pathway to achieving the vision identified by our partners. Our network needs more time to identify outcomes, determine what we will do to achieve them, and put in place a plan to monitor and evaluate our progress.
Next up is South Asia. Partners from the CCAFS sites in Nepal, India and Bangladesh will be getting together in February for 1.5 days to try their hand at outcomes thinking. Then we will get together for an after action review of our experiences, and develop a plan for creating and achieving impact pathways with our partners in all our sites and regions.
In the meantime, CCAFS has begun to share its expertise. In January we facilitated a workshop with the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT), the East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) to build a climate-smart agriculture consortium for eastern and southern Africa. What is thee consortium’s vision? Productive and equitable agriculture in eastern and southern Africa that is climate resilient and sustainable. This is a vision we can contribute to in all our regions!