Putting the people back into planning

Current agricultural research is guided by impact pathways – a graphical description of how research will ultimately affect the livelihoods of people. They are based in part on a causal model that links project outputs to outcomes (or results), and eventual impacts in a linear way.

However, reaching a farmer and influencing his pesticide practices, for example, is a complicated process, involving a whole spectrum of players within the research-to-development framework.

Graham Thiele, leader of the Social and Health Science Division at CIP and co-author of a recent article on PIPA, is keen to point out another important dimension to the pathway: “Change occurs through complex linkages between people and not through some sort of dry logical sequence,” says Thiele “Often the impact pathway gets collapsed back to the linear component, which loses the richness of those linkages.”

PIPA uses participatory workshops, which bring together a broad group of stakeholders beyond the researchers. “The stakeholders are asked what it is they want the project to achieve,” explains Thiele, “and then they go through the process of looking at how people would have to link with each other for this all to happen, so we don’t lose track of the people dimension. This can be nicely displayed in a network map showing the connections between all these actors.”

Workshops typically last 1-3 days, and ideally include project implementers along with partners from national research institutes, NGO’ s, farmer representatives, and government players (e.g., those who set standards for seed quality or regulatory departments in the Ministry of Agriculture). However, the PIPA tools can also be used in a shorter session as part of a project or program workshop.

Participants often discover that the impact pathway appears deceptively simple at first. The PIPA approach exposes them to a more nuanced understanding of the change process. As an illustration, Thiele points out, “To say we want adoption of new varieties of crops is not enough. We also have to ask: what are the steps along the way? What about the availability of seed, or the varietal release system? People realize that what they thought was relatively straightforward actually isn’t. They identify things they hadn’t thought of previously.”

Participants map out the important relationships between people necessary to bring results. They detail the changes in attitudes, knowledge, skills, and practice needed, explaining why they are important and who needs to do what to make them happen. They are encouraged to identify expected impacts very specifically and in ways that are measurable, attributable, realistic and time-bound, so that project results can be monitored and evaluated.

Previous research has proven that information and technology are more likely to be used when they are co-developed with the people who will use them. PIPA workshops are building the essential common understanding and commitment with stakeholders which makes for effective impact.

PIPA workshops help participants to:

  • reach mutual understanding, and communicate their project’s intervention logic and it’s potential for achieving impact
  • understand other projects working in the same program, and identify areas for collaboration
  • generate a feeling of common purpose
  • produce a narrative describing the project’s intervention logic and possible future impacts
  • produce a framework for subsequent monitoring and evaluation