| Print this page

CGIAR Advisory Services (CAS) furnish external, impartial and expert advice to the System. CAS comprises the Independent Science for Development Council (ISDC), the Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA) and the independent evaluation workstream of the CGIAR Advisory Services Shared Secretariat.

In 2019, CAS began to operationalize a far-reaching change agenda articulated by the CGIAR System Council in late 2018, with a view to maximizing CGIAR’s use of expert advice by implementing five central principles:

  1. Ensuring ongoing independence of the content-matter of independent advice; together with
  2. Improved efficiency;
  3. Improved communication and cohesion between the services and the System;
  4. Improved and systematic linkages between science and development; and
  5. Higher ownership of the advice produced by the services by the CGIAR System itself.


January 2019 saw the new CGIAR Advisory Services Shared Secretariat (CAS Secretariat) launched, hosted for the first time within a CGIAR institute in the interests of furthering the principle of improved communication and cohesion between the services and the System, without compromising objectivity and independence of advice.




Decisions taken by the System Council in late 2018 also paved the way for a transition in the leadership of the ISDC in September 2019, with gratitude expressed to Professor Maggie Gill for her leadership of the former Independent Science and Partnership Council for the five prior years, and a seamless handover to her successor, Professor Holger Meinke. A key contribution of the outgoing ISDC Chair was her stewardship of the preparation of a synthesis of key messages of the former ISPC (2011-2019) to inform the CGIAR System Reference Group (SRG) July 2019 retreat on CGIAR’s research agenda to 2030 and beyond.

ISDC activities in the second half of 2019 were supported by a refreshed ISDC membership, based on a global search for leading experts in the broad range of disciplines relevant to CGIAR’s mandate. One key area of work was the ISDC-moderated independent expert review of proposals to elevate CGIAR’s gender equality research in food systems, which informed the System Management Board’s recommendation, and the System Council’s later approval of the new GENDER Platform. Finally, in 2019, the ISDC engaged in One CGIAR reform through increased involvement of the new ISDC Chair in the SRG deliberations.




SPIA became an independent panel in 2019 to provide better visibility of its work, and further the key principles adopted by the System Council in late 2018 – particularly in regard to ensuring higher ownership of SPIA advice by CGIAR. SPIA’s membership was refreshed in 2019, with one new Standing member and three Special Initiative members appointed by the System Council.

Drawing on prior years of work, a report on the implementation of DNA fingerprinting for varietal identification for a range of CGIAR crops was completed in 2019. Four calls for proposals for new studies were issued and 131 potential studies reviewed. Three studies were funded in 2019 and others are moving through the review process toward approval in 2020. Consultations began in Uganda, where SPIA is working with the national statistical agency and the World Bank to integrate questions on adoption of priority CGIAR innovations into a nationally representative household survey.

In 2019, SPIA commenced the first year of an ambitious six-year workplan that concentrates on building a culture of impact in CGIAR, providing technical and financial support for rigorous impact assessment across the System, and establishing novel methods and partnerships to gather data that allow for the measurement of CGIAR impact. Another major component of the change process saw the migration of the external evaluation function from the Independent Evaluation Arrangement to become a fully embedded workstream of the CAS Secretariat.


Shining a brighter light: Comprehensive evidence on adoption and diffusion of CGIAR-related innovations in Ethiopia

SPIA has developed a comprehensive, country-level approach to documenting the adoption and diffusion of agricultural innovations linked to CGIAR research. The first focal country for this approach is Ethiopia, where SPIA has been working since 2015. The approach involves three stages:


  1. Understanding the full range of recent CGIAR activities in the country by engaging with CGIAR researchers, science leaders and national stakeholders. In Ethiopia, this led to detailed documentation on 51 different CGIAR-related innovations from the past two decades related to the work of 10 CGIAR Research Centers and their partners, including the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR).
  2. Prioritizing among these candidate innovations and identifying those that can be observed in survey data or be subjected to new data collection approaches such as DNA fingerprinting or remote sensing. Methodological experiments and pilot tests of data collection approaches were used in Ethiopia to select the best data collection approach for each innovation.
  3. Working with partners – in the case of Ethiopia, the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team and the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency – to integrate these new data collection approaches into nationally representative surveys. For Ethiopia, 18 such CGIAR-related innovations were integrated.


In 2016 and 2019, SPIA supported the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency to field the third and fourth rounds of the Ethiopian Socioeconomic Survey. The 2019 round included, for the first time, DNA fingerprinting of crop varieties, alongside detailed protocols for livestock and natural resource management. Using the DNA fingerprinting data, it was established that CGIAR-derived germplasm is used by 12% of barley-cultivating households and 69% of maize-cultivating households.

The nationally representative nature of the data reveals which innovations have scaled and where scaling has happened; the panel structure allows for an analysis of the trajectories that households are on when they adopt (or dis-adopt) specific innovations; and the rich socioeconomic data helps to understand who adopts – all crucial information to understand pathways to several of the CGIAR impact areas (such as gender equality, youth and social inclusion).

The CGIAR contribution to Ethiopia’s agricultural development is complex and wide-ranging, and while some aspects cannot be captured by survey data, this new source of adoption and diffusion data, and the summary report that accompanies it, help to identify the scale and scope of CGIAR’s reach in Ethiopia. Looking ahead, SPIA’s experience in Ethiopia demonstrates the potential of this approach in other countries where CGIAR works.


Evaluation workstream


During the reporting period, the independent evaluation workstream facilitated an independent pilot assessment of the CGIAR Program Performance Management Standards approved by the CGIAR System Council in 2018. The Evaluation staff delivered lessons and recommendations generated during the pilot assessment to support learning and progress across the CGIAR System.

In keeping with a request to implement a lean independent evaluation practice, the Evaluation workstream developed novel methods for evaluations data pre-analysis that will improve data availability and quality for evaluations from internal systems and reduce costs for data cleaning and quality assurance.


Header photo: Fanny Vargas, herbarium specialist, at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru. Photo by M. Major/Crop Trust