The what’s, where’s and how’s of Agricultural Innovation Platforms
Marc Schut from the CGIAR International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University (WUR) recently published a book with Guidelines for Innovation Platforms. In this blog he shares the main findings from the book and his own opinion on Innovation Platforms.
Innovation Platforms are fast becoming part of the mantra of agricultural research for development projects and programmes. They are increasingly being proposed and used since they provide space to farmers, agricultural service providers, researchers, private sector and other stakeholders to jointly identify, analyse and overcome constraints to agricultural development. Although Innovation Platforms have been successful in addressing agricultural challenges, there is a risk that they are promoted as a panacea for all problems in the agricultural sector. This would clearly be a big mistake. In my opinion, we need to think more critically about when, how and in what form Innovation Platforms can meaningfully contribute to agricultural development impacts.
The “Guidelines for Innovation Platforms in Research for Development” contributes to this. Some time ago, I noticed that I was becoming increasingly annoyed with the Innovation Platform approach being opted as silver bullet solution in agricultural research for development programs; especially for the sole purpose of disseminating (technological) agricultural innovations. Colleagues working in CGIAR institutes and other organizations had similar concerns and were willing to share their experiences on the use of Innovation Platforms. In total 12 of the 15 CGIAR centres provided input and this gives the publication and the key message it conveys extra weight.
The Guidelines aim to support agricultural research for development (AR4D) colleagues and organizations in: 1) Reflecting on when and under what conditions Innovation Platforms are an appropriate mechanism to foster collective action and innovation for resolving agricultural development problems and capitalizing on opportunities; 2) Designing Innovation Platforms, including the definition of realistic goals, facilitation mechanisms, timelines, responsibilities, and how to measure outcomes and impact; 3) Allocating necessary resources, creating the enabling conditions required for the effective implementation of Innovation Platforms, and developing metrics to assess their impact.
Some of the key findings from the Guidelines include:
- Composition? Innovation platforms seek to bring together different stakeholder groups (e.g. famers, private sector, government) across different levels (e.g. community, national). But is this always needed? The composition of Innovation Platforms should be tailored to the platform’s specific innovation objective. Our findings provide an incentive to think innovation-outcome-oriented about the innovation platform composition, rather than striving for equal participation of stakeholders across different levels.
- Impact at scale? The Innovation Platform’s promise is that the integration of scientific and local knowledge results in innovations that can have impact at scale. Many studies have uncovered how Innovation Platforms work in various countries, value chains and themes. The conclusion is clear: Innovation Platforms generate enthusiasm and can bring together stakeholders to effectively address specific problems and achieve ‘local’ impact. However, for Innovation Platforms to contribute to impact at scale, they need to be firmly embedded in or linked to public/ private extension channels.
- Innovation Platforms organized by research organizations? Implementation of Innovation Platforms can create tensions in AR4D organizations. For example, innovation platform members may prioritize activities that do not correspond with the mandates or priorities of AR4D organizations, or decide to change the focus of the activities before publishable results have been achieved. Supporting Innovation Platforms requires a certain degree of flexibility in AR4D organizations to respond to (changing) stakeholder needs and interests. If this flexibility is not there, then there is a high likelihood that AR4D organizations will fail to effectively support Innovation Platforms that are truly demand-driven.
- Costs? Innovation platforms are not cheap, and require substantial human and financial resource investments. Furthermore, research and development donors will require evidence on the return on financial and human resource investments against outcomes and impacts. Mapping the costs of Innovation Platforms is an important first step towards conducting cost-benefit analysis and showing whether Innovation Platforms can provide value for money. If there are no funds available for supporting the platforms, then other approaches should be considered.
The Guidelines seek to support development funders and project developers in thinking about when and in what form Innovation Platforms can contribute effectively to achieving research and development objectives. It provides information on key design and implementation principles, the financial and human resources that need to be made available, and it makes suggestions for more effective monitoring, evaluation and learning. The Guidelines also contain reference materials, Frequently Asked Questions and a decision support tool for research, development and funding agencies.
The Guidelines are available from the website of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots Tubers and Bananas (RTB). Please refer to the Guidelines as:
Schut, M., Andersson, J.A., Dror, I., Kamanda, J., Sartas, M., Mur, R., Kassam, S., Brouwer, H., Stoian, D., Devaux, A., Velasco, C., Gramzow, A., Dubois, T., Flor, R.J., Gummert, M., Buizer, D., McDougall, C., Davis, K., Homann-Kee Tui, S., Lundy, M., 2017. Guidelines for Innovation Platforms in Agricultural Research for Development. Decision support for research, development and funding agencies on how to design, budget and implement impactful Innovation Platforms. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University (WUR) under the CGIAR Research Program on Roots Tubers and Bananas (RTB), Kigali, Rwanda. pp 87.
This work was carried out under the framework of the Consortium for Improving Agricultural Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) that is funded by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD). CIALCA forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). We would like to acknowledge RTB and the CGIAR Fund Donors (http://www.cgiar.org/about-us/governing-2010-june-2016/cgiar-fund/fund-donors-2/) for their provision of core funding without which this research could not have been possible.