Research & Extension

Impact assessment of agricultural research - Summary of an FAO e-mail conference

The Moderator's Summary (130 KB) of the FAO e-mail conference on “Approaches and methodologies in ex post impact assessment of agricultural research: Experiences, lessons learned and perspectives” was published in September 2014, providing an easily readable synthesis of the main discussion points and conclusions.

Over 600 people subscribed to this 4-week long conference, which ran from 5 May to 1 June 2014. They posted 109 messages which came from people living in 38 different countries - 58% were posted by people living in developing countries. Most discussions focused on issues related to micro-level impact assessment (typically looking at the impacts of a specific research project in one part of a country) rather than macro-level impact assessment (typically looking at the impacts of investments in agricultural research, or one of its sectors, at the national level).

The conference focused on the ex post impacts of agricultural research, where the term ‘ex post’ refers to the fact that assessment is done after the research-derived intervention has been completed (unlike 'ex ante' impact assessment, which aims to predict the impacts that a research-led intervention may have in the future).

The summary document shows that participants:

- Underlined the importance of planning to ensure that relevant and reliable data are available to allow the impacts of agricultural research to be assessed.
- Strongly supported participation of key stakeholders and beneficiaries in the impact assessment processes.
- Underlined the challenges of attributing changes that occur within complex and dynamic agricultural systems to specific research-derived interventions.
- While expressing some differing opinions regarding the relative merits of using quantitative methods (typically involving data recording and statistical testing) versus qualitative methods (typically involving interviews of key individuals or group discussions) for impact assessment, were in general agreement about the mutual benefits to be gained from using both.
- Mentioned that the two main motives for assessing the impacts of agricultural research were accountability and learning
- Supported the commonly-used definition of ‘impacts’ which refer to the long-term effects of a research-derived intervention, but did not seem to have a common understanding of what exactly ‘long-term’ means and consequently when impact assessment should be carried out.
- Underlined that, in addition to economic impacts, it was also necessary to assess the social and environmental impacts of agricultural research.
- Bemoaned the lack of resources and capacities for impact assessment of agricultural research and that the subject area was not given sufficient importance by researchers and research institutions.

To read more, see the 14-page summary HERE.

Background to the conference: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is one of nine partners participating in a project on the Impact of Research on EU Agriculture (IMPRESA), funded by the European Union (EU) Seventh Framework Programme. In IMPRESA, FAO is leading work package 1 (on Concept Development and Learning), which has as one of its main aims the establishment of a common framework to update concepts and methodologies for impact assessment of agricultural research. As part of the work package's activities, FAO hosted this moderated e-mail conference entitled “Approaches and methodologies in ex post impact assessment of agricultural research: Experiences, lessons learned and perspectives” from 5 May to 1 June 2014.

The background document to the conference was published on 30 April 2014 and can be downloaded HERE.

About 620 people subscribed themselves to the 4-week conference and 59 people of them (i.e. 10%) posted at least one message. Of these 109 messages, 30% came from people living in Africa; 29% from Europe; 15% from Asia; 13% from Latin America and the Caribbean; 7% from North America and 6% from Oceania. A total of 63 messages (i.e. 58%) were posted by people living in developing countries.

The messages came from people living in 38 different countries. The greatest number came from people living in Uruguay, Switzerland, the United States of America, Australia, Ghana, India, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, the Netherlands, Kenya and Nigeria (all with four messages or more).

A total of 25% of the messages came from people working in universities; 23% from national research centres; 22% from independent consultants; 14% from people working in the international agricultural research system (mostly CGIAR centres); 7% from people working in inter-governmental organizations (mostly FAO); 5% from non-governmental organizations and 5% from people working in Government ministries or Government bodies.

All the messages are also available in a single PDF document HERE (630 KB). Alternatively, the single messages can be read here or in chronological order, where the message archives are searchable, with a 'free text' search button on the right hand side of the webpage.

For more information, please contact AIS@fao.org