Refining Targets for CGIAR’s Aspirational Goals

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Towards building the analytical culture, tools, and practices needed to set, and meet, agricultural development targets

Oluchi Ezekannagha1, Jim Hammond1,2, Frank Place1,3 and Deborah Templeton4

1Portfolio Performance Unit, CGIAR, 2ILRI, 3IFPRI, 4Independent Consultant, Australia

An informative and in-depth analysis of CGIAR’s use of System-level outcome (SLO) targets between 2017 and 2021, used to meet its contributions to sustainable agricultural development goals, has been published. This article summarizes the study’s most important findings and recommendations.

Great expectations in agricultural data

Most decision-makers today have heightened expectations regarding the data that fuels their most important decisions. For example, agricultural research donors and development partners demand clearer, faster, and more relevant information. If you measure it, they (reasonably) assume, you can manage it. Such measurement, however, in agricultural development is notoriously difficult.

What the study covers

In early 2023, the CGIAR’s Portfolio Performance Unit (PPU), on the directive of the CGIAR System Council, commissioned a study to assess the CGIAR’s progress towards meeting the overarching and aspirational SLO targets, which were determined in 2011. The study assessed the contributions made by the second phase of CGIAR research programs (CRPs, 2017–2021) to meeting those collective global targets and provided lessons learned and recommendations to enhance CGIAR’s future use of targeting and indicators.

What the study found

The new assessment shows that CGIAR exceeded in meeting 3 of its 10 SLO targets, made strong progress towards meeting 3 targets, and made little progress towards meeting 1 target. The quantitative data provided for the remaining 3 targets could not be aggregated, making it impossible to determine if they were met.

The assessment concluded that CGIAR target setting, indicator development and reporting guidance require strengthening. More than half of the submissions of evidence intended to indicate progress towards an SLO did not align closely with the target’s indicator and thus could not be aggregated. Furthermore, there were few entry submissions for some targets due to technical and resource constraints—e.g., the measurement method to use was not agreed upon, or the CRPs could not find or fund the skilled researchers needed to measure the overly demanding indicators.

Other shortcomings

  • Some SLO target reporting instructions provided to the CRPs were ambiguous.
  • CGIAR’s Quality Assurance team lacked authority to enforce their recommendations.
  • Low and uncertain levels of CGIAR pooled funding limited the ability to undertake rigorous evaluations.
  • Measurement challenges:
    • Time to impact often exceeded the lifecycle of a project or CRP
    • Difficulty in providing evidence for the metrics specified by the target
    • Lack of national-level data or challenges in collecting data due to COVID-19
    • Budget constraints and their closure one year early constrained the ability of the CRPs to address the SLO targets accurately

Recommendations for CGIAR’s future use of targets

  • Obtain inputs from research leaders and managers in setting indicators and targets.
  • Better align the indicators with the collective global targets and CGIAR’s mission.
  • Build efficient and effective quality assurance processes that include assessing the rigor of the evidence submitted.
  • Undertake a review of CGIAR’s current targets.
  • Align the metrics used for projects supported by bilateral and pooled funding to improve the aggregation of contributions to outcomes and impacts across CGIAR’s portfolio.
  • Make regular use of the progress reported toward meeting CGIAR’s targets for continued learning, adaptive management and greater accountability.

Recommendations CGIAR has begun implementing 

  • The Portfolio Performance Unit has commissioned work to operationalize CGIAR’S Impact Area indicators and to arrive at definitions and good measurement practices agreed upon with CGIAR subject matter specialists. A related exercise is harvesting suggestions for improving the CGIAR Results Framework at the level of CGIAR’s five Impact Areas.  
  • The Unit has developed terms of reference for a study of the rigor of evidence used in submissions of contributions to CGIAR’s SLO targets to identify common weaknesses and recommendations for strengthening the evidence.  
  • The Unit recently published a learning and optimization report on the 2022 technical reporting process, including reflections on CGIAR’s quality assurance process.  
  • The Unit is discussing with CGIAR funders ways to align metrics and reporting requirements across projects supported by pooled and non-pooled (bilateral aid) funding. 

This assessment of the utility of CGIAR’s targets (determined in 2011), the reporting against them, and the degree to which CGIAR met these targets by 2022 is just one of several ways that CGIAR is advancing its technical reporting functions and accountability. In just the last two years, for example, CGIAR has developed comprehensive reporting processes and methods, including a Performance and Results Management Framework 2022–2030, a Technical Reporting Arrangement, and a Results Dashboard, with a new Portfolio Performance Unit and Project Coordination Unit formed to help CGIAR meet its ambitious accountability, learning, resource mobilization and outreach objectives.

Header Image: Smallholder farmer at the foot of Mount Kenya (Neil Palmer/CIAT), Ethiopia farmer field day (Apollo Habtamu/ILRI), Vietnamese students conduct a nutrition survey (Mireille Ferrari/ILRI).

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