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Transition Management Team Interview: A Reform 'with Legs'?

Is the CGIAR change process getting traction? An interview with the Transition Management Team gets to the heart of the matter.

tmt group

Ren Wang, Jonathan Wadsworth, Stephen Hall and Mark Holderness, members of the CGIAR Transition Management Team (TMT) meeting in Penang, Malaysia, in March 2009. The strength of this team comes from its collective determination to get this transition work done-and done right-and the diversity of the opinions of its members, each of whom has significant experience working agricultural research for development .

The CGIAR is changing its business model and processes to meet a global climate that is changing fast in financial, social, climatic and environmental terms. The Transition Management Team (TMT), is overseeing the process that will articulate the next level of detail of the reform and ensuring that each proposed changes adds value to a new and improved CGIAR that is more effective in delivering positive development outcomes and higher impacts on poverty and hunger.

At the TMT's recent meeting in Penang, Ellen Wilson, Director of Burness Communications, interviewed the Team to learn their views on the need for change, their personal commitment to the change process, progress to date, and their vision for the new CGIAR. Susan MacMillan, Head of Public Awareness at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), created the following summary with photos by Klaus von Grebmer, Director of Communications at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

camera Click here to see watch the video of the interviews online.


1. Why are we changing the CGIAR?
2. Why are you personally committed to this change?
3. Where are we in the change process?
4. What are the challenges of this change process?
5. What is your vision for the CGIAR

QUESTION 1 - Why are we changing the CGIAR?

Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research

'The CGIAR is changing to meet today's-changing-needs.'

The world is going through big changes. We've been through a food crisis, a financial crisis. The expectations of agricultural production systems grow and grow. The national agricultural research systems themselves are changing. They are taking on new roles and responsibilities and capabilities. So the role of the CGIAR has to change. It has to be current. It has to be meeting today's needs rather than those of previous decades.

  QUESTION 2 - Why are you personally committed to this change?

Jonathan Wadsworth, Senior Agricultural Research Advisor to the UK Department for International Development (DfID)

'A mature organization with a mission I believe in is transforming itself for greater impact on problems that matter, problems I am passionate about solving.'

I believe in the mission of the CGIAR. I believe the CGIAR has achieved great things in its almost four decades of existence. It's an organization which has reached maturity. We are up for transformation to do a great deal more-and do it effectively.


Ren Wang, Director of the CGIAR

'Change can help us capture the synergy and collective power of the CGIAR.'

The world needs an organization such as the CGIAR, devoted to the core business of developing global public goods and strengthening national agricultural research and delivery systems.


Stephen Hall, Director General of World Fish and Chair of the CGIAR Alliance of the 15 Centres

"The whole business of doing sciene becomes easier and simpler when you've got clarity around roles ...and how different parts fit together. For me that's the payoff ."

What we're striving for here is to develop the right framework for investing in science, which will include a much simpler and clearer set of reporting lines and frameworks. That's a huge payoff for scientists-not having to dance to multiple tunes. In the same way, we hope to develop within the Consortium the right set of shared services, the right set of platforms to deliver more efficiently and effectively the services everybody working in the CGIAR needs. The key to reducing bureaucracy isn't just cutting three or four units doing a job down to just two - it is answering three questions. Is it clear what the roles are? How do they fit together? And how does that deliver value? I think this new model has a much greater chance of getting that right than the current one.

Mark Holderness

'The new CGIAR is a catalyst for wider change in the global agricultural-research-for-development system.'

If we can reposition the CGIAR to be more effective as a partner in development, in working with others to deliver against development objectives, then it can really bring out the value of research in achieving agricultural and rural development, in reducing poverty and hunger. This process is a catalyst for a wider change in the whole global agricultural-research-for-development system.

  QUESTION 3 - Where are we in the change process?

Ren Wang

" I think we are on track in developing the major building blocks for the new CGIAR ."

We passed a milestone with the unanimous endorsement by all members of the CGIAR, in principle, of the reform plan at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the CGIAR in Maputo, Mozambique last December. Then we set off to implement the change. I think we are on track in developing the major building blocks for the new CGIAR, including establishment of a legally constructed Consortium of the Centers, a new CGIAR trust fund and, to achieve the new vision and strategic objectives of the CGIAR Centers, a Strategic Results Framework linking CGIAR research to big development targets. We are also developing programs to implement the Strategic Results Framework.

Mark Holderness

" We thought last year we'd done the hard part; I think we actually did the easy part last year. Now we have the job of putting the plan into practice."

Last year we achieved a tremendous amount of coherence. People accepted that there were compromises to be made all round towards reshaping our agendas and institutions. We got common agreement among all the members of the CGIAR, and the CGIAR's partners broadly agreed on the sort of body that they wanted to work with. Now we have the job of putting that into practice. That means individual scientists, individual departments and individual Centers looking at how they can work differently towards creating a more focused and more development-focused CGIAR.

Jonathan Wadsworth

"We are in the process of making things happen. By the end of 2009, we will have tangible results that people can see."

The reform process has reached a tipping point. During 2008 we worked hard with a lot of stakeholders through various working groups putting together a proposal for reform, which was approved at the AGM in December 2008. After December we got going quickly with a small TMT to work on ensuring that "the trains are on time', making sure that this transition really has got the impetus, the momentum and the stamina to keep going for probably what will be a 12-month period to reach clear and observable milestones by the end of 2009. From the value proposition developed by many people around many tables in many parts of the world in 2008, we are now in the process of making things happen. By the end of 2009 we will have tangible results that people can see a changed CGIAR.

Stephen Hall

"Making it work: filling in the detail and then (maybe) drawing breath (for a couple of hours)."

Some key decisions have been made. The broad outlines of how the change needed to look have been defined. But the detail under that's missing. Where we are right now is setting in motion all the processes that are needed to get that detail. We've started to talk about how this new Consortium will work with the people who need to be consulted right now-the directors general and the board chairs of the CGIAR. We've started to talk about how this Fund is going to work and to get a sense of the real levels of commitment from donors to align their investments to really make this happen. And we've started to assemble teams to think about development of these Mega Programs and the consultations that we need to have with the GFAR community and the rest of our partners to ensure that the strategy we develop and the results we're trying to deliver really are what's needed.

  QUESTION 4 - What are the challenges of this change process?

Jonathan Wadsworth

'Intellectually and conceptually, the biggest challenge of the CGIAR reform process to date was developing a proposal we can all live with..."

In 2009, our biggest challenge looks to be getting resources and time and energy to see this reform through. One of the principles of change in any organization is to do things quickly while people have energy and while people still believe in it. This time around, we've got to see this change through to the end-to the new state of the CGIAR. We can't content ourselves with less than that.

Stephen Hall

'Keeping the research agenda going while we change, keeping everybody involved and making the right decisions-meaning having the right conversations with the right people at the right times.'

Any change brings with it uncertainties. Any change brings with it risks. We'd be foolish to imagine that this is not a hard thing to do. We're climbing a mountain here, let's not kid ourselves. One challenge is bringing everyone along. People have different appetites for change and different appetites for uncertainty. One of the challenges is ensuring that we keep the really good work that we're doing going. We need to keep the research agenda going. We need also to ensure that as we move forward we keep everybody involved, having the right conversations with the right people at the right time so that good decisions get made. So the challenges are about keeping people informed, they're about ensuring there is continuity in the things that need to continue, and that we make good decisions by having the right people having the right conversations.

  QUESTION 5 - What is your vision for the CGIAR?

Jonathan Wadsworth

'The CGIAR is a solid global fund; for investors, it's a safe bet- a sharp instrument for development.'

Speaking with some authority about donor needs, my vision of the CGIAR is an organization that is effective, efficient, trustworthy and a safe bet. Things have changed recently in the donor world: we've got the 'Paris Declaration of Harmonization', we've got greater emphasis on aid effectiveness, and we've got the 'Accra Agenda', where donors have come together to make our resources work better for the global good. My vision is that the CGIAR becomes a sharp instrument. I see the CGIAR evolving into a solid global fund with all the checks and balances in place, accountable to all its stakeholders, and demonstrating how science investments help create public good. My vision from the donor perspective is that the CGIAR is a safe investment, an effective investment and a good return on our aid money.

Ren Wang

'I envision that the CGIAR will continue to boe the primary source of global public goods in agricultural science and technology.'

I envisage that the CGIAR will continue to be the primary source of global public goods in agricultural science and technology. It will have the increased confidence of the donors, with at least a doubling our resources, as recommended by our global leaders such as the President of the World Bank, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, all of whom have been saying that the CGIAR should be a one-billion-dollar organization.

Mark Holderness

'My vision is that the CGIAR is an effective partner playing a key role at the hub between more advanced science and its real application in development.'

My vision is that the CGIAR is an effective partner. It plays a key role at the hub between more advanced science and its real application in development. It plays a key role in developing capacities in national systems. It equips and empowers societies to deal with their own development issues. There's a change here towards the CGIAR playing a catalytic, supporting role as one partner in a bigger development continuum, one partner that recognizes that for research to deliver in development terms requires investments in associated capabilities, it requires national capacities and it requires the infrastructure to get technologies out to farmers and for them to understand and adopt the ones they choose to adopt.

Stephen Hall

'If I look five years into the future, what I see is that our organization is viewed by our peers and the development community as a standout investment. It has more energy and funding, a truly joined-up agenda, and is a fun-and exciting-place to work.'

It's an organization that has lined itself up and managed to align the investments of others to really help make a development impact. What does that mean for people within the CGIAR? I think it's a much stronger sense of what we're about as a collective. A sense that my research has a place in this bigger picture and that it really is connected and the effort, while personally rewarding, has also got much larger rewards. I see it as being a much more fun place to work. When you feel connected to what's going on, when you feel you're making a difference, when you feel there's an awful lot of other people pointing in the same direction as you, that's energizing. So, more energy, more support, more investment in a really joined up agenda. That's what the future looks like for me. And that's pretty exciting.