A Systems Approach for Supporting Inclusive Agricultural Research and Innovation Systems
This post is written by David Spielman, Nina de Roo, and Kurt Richter.
Agricultural research and innovation capacities are essential to achieving the U.S. Government’s Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS) objectives of inclusive and sustainable agriculture-led economic growth, resilience among people and systems, and a well-nourished population.
Most past and many current approaches to developing research and innovation capacities, however, have focused primarily on developing the technical skills of researchers. While necessary, neither researchers nor technical skills are sufficient. For an agricultural research and innovation system to function, a much wider and inclusive set of individuals and organizations must be brought to bear on a problem so that unique combinations of skills can be applied to translating research into social and economic value.
Functional skills are critical in this context. They are what gives individuals the ability to work with a diversity of actors, the capacity to adapt and reflect as situations change, and the skills to communicate strategically in the process of adapting research results into policy and practical application.
A useful way of understanding the interaction between technical and functional skills is to apply an innovation systems lens to strategies for agricultural research and innovation capacity development. An innovation system is a network of actors — both individuals and organizations — and the institutions and policies that bring new or existing knowledge into social and economic use, often in the form of technologies, practices, and processes. More often than not, it is an inclusive innovation system that successfully converts research into innovation for development.
A team from Michigan State University, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Wageningen University & Research, with support from USAID under the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy, apply this perspective in an interactive guidebook that brings together tools and resources to help researchers and practitioners design and implement capacity development activities with an innovation systems approach in mind.
The guidance provided in this new toolkit is not prescriptive. Rather, it offers practical applications from experiences that allow users to better identify capacity development opportunities and activities that continuously improve the innovation capabilities of agriculture and food systems.
Importantly, the “capacity development for agricultural innovation systems” (CD4AIS) lens offers an inclusive approach to problem-solving because it focuses on understanding a developmental problem from the perspective of the individuals impacted by problem. At the same time, the approach tackles the problem-solving process by engaging a wide range of diverse actors in seeking solutions — scientists, government decision-makers, civil society organizations, farmer associations, private companies, entrepreneurs, think tanks, and many others. This type of engagement requires carefully identifying and reflecting on the interests, relations, and power positions of different stakeholders early on in the process. This allows for issues of social exclusion or structural inequalities to be addressed along the way.
The guidance in this new toolkit also helps move conventional thinking and practice away from applications of singular and technical “quick fixes” and toward addressing systemic issues, inclusive facilitation, and collaborative engagement among diverse individuals, organizations, and networks to develop localized solutions to complex agriculture and food system problems. The guidance encourages extensive reflection throughout the process — reflection that opens the door to identifying stakeholders who might be otherwise excluded or marginalized, and to account for the myriad interests, relations, needs, and power positions in an innovation process.
We hope that researchers and development practitioners alike will be able to use and benefit from this resource to advance development impact through research and innovation. You can access the guidebook in the sidebar.
Acknowledgement. Contributors to the “Capacity Development for Agriculture Innovation: A Practitioners’ Guidebook to a Systems Approach” project were David Spielman, Nina de Roo, Jan Brouwers, Kurt Richter, Jia Ye, Domenico Dentoni, Rebecca Williams, Sandra Russo, Suresh Babu, Namita Paul, Nienke Beintema, William Heinrich, John Bonnell, and Elias Zerfu. Invaluable support was provided by Jessica Bagdonis and Clara Cohen at USAID; Zeleke Mekuriaw and Saskia Hendrickx at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems; Mark Lawrence, Harrison Karisa, Julius Nukpezah, Joe Steensma, and Elin Torell at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish; Jurgen Hagmann, Jeffrey Ried, Yvonne Pinto, and Doug Horton, who reviewed beta versions of the guidebook; Nahume Yadene, Kwaw Andam, Indira Yerramareddy, Mulugeta Bayeh, Jamed Falik, Tracy Brown, and Arpan Dahal at IFPRI; and Mywish Maredia and Eric Crawford from Michigan State University and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy.