Academic Expertise in Impact Assessment for One CGIAR Initiatives – Reflections on the SPIA Matchmaking Event in Nairobi 2022
Independent Advisory and Evaluation Service
The idea behind the SPIA Matchmaking event in Nairobi, that occurred July 19-21 2022, was to bring the new CGIAR Initiatives together with Academic teams to jointly develop impact assessment projects around research questions of key importance to the Initiative research programs.
Six initiatives were selected for this first Matchmaking Event based on the level of detail reached in impact assessment plans. The initiatives participating in this event were ClimBeR, Market Intelligence, NEXUS Gains, SAPLING, Seed Equal and Plant Health. Eight academic teams attended the event. Five of these teams were composed of PhD students with their mentors, and three professors attended the event on their own. Why PhD students? It turns out academics are about as busy as OneCGIAR researchers, but they are more able to commit when a PhD student does a lot of the heavy lifting, and perhaps new passions for the work of the CGIAR will grow in these young potentials!
The program aimed at balancing exchanges between all teams and time in smaller groups to work more in depth on the initiatives proposals for impact assessments. In the opening session, each Initiative gave a short presentation of their impact assessment plans and received feedback and questions from the bigger group. Teams then met bilaterally in various smaller constellations for shorter discussions, giving them an opportunity to ask more specific questions. Based on these talks and on preferences expressed by all teams, a final matching suggestion for the event was made and group talks continued in longer sessions (though not long enough according to some feedback!). The groups were given a template with some guiding questions to discuss and present at the concluding session. This final session also included feedback and discussion with the larger group.
At the end of the event, teams had made progress on ideas for 10 impact assessment studies to test the Theories of Change (ToC) of the initiatives, including both new projects and projects that build on prior work from each initiative (yes various new projects were born in only 3 days!). Several initiatives had formed 2-3 partnerships. These research projects are now under further development by the teams and time will tell how many will go all the way through data collection, publication and better knowledge of what works or not and how to improve it. During the fall of 2022, SPIA will offer opportunities for peer review between the project teams and an invitation to present ongoing work at the monthly SPIA webinar.
Partnering with academic expertise will be helpful for One CGIAR initiatives to deliver rigorous impact assessment studies that provide useful feedback to their ToC. It was great to see so many partnerships start taking shape during the event. The enthusiasm that the teams brought to the discussions greatly contributed to the productive atmosphere at the event and we hope that it will continue in successful projects.
Participants provided valuable input to SPIA, both during the concluding session and through a feedback survey shared after the event. Overall feedback was positive. Participants found the event useful. Initiative representatives noted that the expertise of the invited academics was well suited to their needs: a bit of a selection bias but also many academics care about issues very similar to the ones that the One CGIAR work on! Academic teams appreciated the opportunity to explore many different partnerships during the event. Among the main recommendations for potential improvements are 1) the need for more time dedicated to group discussion 2) that academic teams could be given more time to introduce themselves and their work (time, always time!) and 3) that more detailed and better organized background material on initiative impact assessment plans should be shared before the event. These insights will be incorporated in the planning of the next event. Yes, there will be another matchmaking event!
If you are among those who read this blog thinking, gosh, I missed such a great event!! Worry no more, SPIA is planning a second matchmaking event to take place in the last quarter of 2022. All initiatives are invited to express their interest in attending the event. To ensure that event participation will be useful, the initiative should be able to share early-stage plans of an impact assessment project that would benefit from academic support.
If your initiative is interested in attending, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by August 31st, 2022.
 Academic teams were from University of Bordeaux, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tufts University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Alicante, University of Bristol and Amherst College.