Effective science-policy engagement to scale up climate-smart agriculture: lessons from 6 years of CCAFS research

CCAFS has developed an approach for effective science-policy engagement, based on lessons generated from 6 years of agricultural research for development efforts around climate-smart agriculture.

As climate change impacts on agriculture have become evident, and threaten the achievement of global food security, and as agriculture itself poses a threat to the achievement of global climate goals, business-as-usual efforts in agricultural research for development (AR4D) will no longer suffice.

A new and radically different approach to AR4D is needed, and CCAFS has developed such an approach, based on lessons generated from 6 years of science-policy engagement efforts to scale up climate-smart agriculture with governmental and non-governmental partners. The approach proposes the allocation of resources in thirds, in three broad areas:

Engagement with partners and stakeholders: Supporting researchers to join in key processes, actively participate and ultimately identify ways to navigate the stakeholder networks and institutional dynamics. This engagement helps make the research demand driven and ensures that research products are co-designed with next users.

Developing scientifically credible evidence: Research to develop evidence should allow for opportunism and flexibility to take advantage of quickly emerging needs along the impact pathway. This has traditionally been where the bulk of research efforts have focused, but it needs to be balanced with engagement and outreach efforts.

Outreach through communications and capacity building: This includes communicating research outputs in formats that can be understood and used by the next users, and capacity building to enable use and to ensure sustainability of the outcomes generated.

Program theory for effective science-policy engagement. Source: Dinesh et al. 2018.

Developing the ‘three thirds’ approach

CCAFS was developed to respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change in a concerted manner, and invested USD 414 million from 2011 to 2016 on AR4D in relation to climate-smart agriculture. CCAFS adopted a theory of change approach to achieve development outcomes, and science-policy engagement efforts are at the heart of this approach.

A group of authors including reflexive practitioners from CCAFS and participating CGIAR centers, together with science-policy engagement experts the University of Utrecht, analyzed 34 successful case studies of science-policy engagement efforts during this period. Based on lessons derived from the case studies, we critically assessed and refined the program theory of the CCAFS program, leading to a revised and improved program theory for science-policy engagement for AR4D under climate change.

Not without challenges

While the proposed approach may offer a promising new way to achieve development outcomes, large-scale adoption of such an approach will depend on the existence of incentives for researchers. Current systems for measuring scientific quality limits researchers’ engagement in processes that generate societal impact. New ways of measuring scientific performance, including measuring actual societal outcomes, as practiced by CCAFS, could help make a shift. Such a shift is inevitable if we are to overcome the mega-challenges of achieving food security, adapting to climate change and mitigating emissions from agriculture. Data from such efforts can also be used to learn lessons, which is crucial as we attempt to improve in the face of these challenges.

Read more: