Incorporating stakeholder perspectives: proactive interaction to enhance impact

How do you create a dynamic, interactive dialogue among 255 stakeholders, across three continents, in less than two months, when the goal is to design a new global program aimed at maximizing impacts? This was the challenge put to a team of collaborators from multiple organizations, which developed the CGIAR Research Program for Roots, Tubers and Bananas for Food Security and Income (RTB) last year. Their discovery: while not an ideal scenario, the pressures of a tight schedule, coupled with good will and new synergies, can sometimes lead to creative, successful outputs.

The CGIAR is a strategic partnership of 15 International Agricultural Research Centers dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger, improving health and nutrition, and enhancing ecosystem resilience. Its new portfolio of research programs (CRPs) reflects a system-wide ethos that emphasizes proactive consultation with stakeholders for program design and implementation.

Putting that principle into practice is described in a new publication, co-authored by collaborators from each of the four CGIAR centers involved in the Roots, Tuber, and Banana research program – the International Potato Center (CIP), Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Entitled, “Incorporating stakeholder perspectives in international agricultural research: the case of the CGIAR Research Program for Roots, Tubers and Bananas for Food Security and Income,” the publication provides an instructive case-study of successful stakeholder consultation. It describes the process used to engage stakeholders and incorporate their feedback into program design, with lessons learned and experiences that can serve others looking to replicate, adapt, or build upon this example.

“This document not only offers insights on how stakeholder consultation can effectively flag important priorities in the project design phase, but also what methods worked best in achieving quality interaction,” says Graham Thiele, CIP social scientist, who formed part of the intercenter group leading the design of the program proposal.

One interesting finding of the case-study regards the effectiveness of different methods for gathering stakeholder input. To be as inclusive as possible with limited time and money, stakeholder input was gathered via regional workshops, on-line surveys, and one-on-one interviews, for a total of over 200 participants. Among those methods, the on-line surveys proved to be surprisingly agile and effective for gathering and integrating responses in real time, including “new ideas.”

The CGIAR ICT-KM group helped set up a survey monkey which garnered replies from as many as 150 out of 228 survey respondents, many of them extremely detailed, novel, thoughtful – and highly useful for the program proposal. This comment from the leader of an international NGO in Africa gives a flavor: “Roots, tubers, and bananas are not usually well positioned within agricultural extension, as decision makers do not have a full appreciation of their true importance. Quality data on true level of production, perhaps through remote-sensing methodologies, is an essential starting point.”

Input from stakeholders served to reaffirm the importance of core components of the program, and also shed further light on cross-cutting issues, such as gender, climate change, knowledge sharing, and capacity strengthening.

“The perspectives of different stakeholders raised our ability to reflect a more integral understanding of challenges and opportunities. It makes the program planning more grounded, and ultimately more likely to achieve objectives that will result in real development impacts,” explains Vincent Johnson of Bioversity who led the consultation taskforce, adding “Without this perspective, we could never have delivered a convincing program proposal within the deadline.”