This is your change, so get involved

4 June, 2009 by (comments)

The Transition Management Team (TMT) gathered with CIAT staff and Agronatura Science Park partners yesterday for a townhall-style discussion of the CGIAR Change Initiative. The session was broadcast live from a packed Kellogg Auditorium at CIAT’s Palmira headqaurters, and you can watch it here in English and Spanish.

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CIAT Director-General Ruben Echeverria opened the floor by mentioning the changes that CIAT has been going through and that now is the time to have a look at the global changes in the CGIAR system. He introduced the members of the TMT: Kathy Sierra, Chair of the CGIAR and vice-president of the World Bank, Stephen Hall (CGIAR Alliance Executive Chair; Director General, WorldFish Center), Mark Holderness (Executive Secretary, Global Forum for Agricultural Research), Jonathan Wadsworth (Senior Agriculture Research Advisor, Department for International Development, UK), Ren Wang (CGIAR Director).

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This was Kathy Sierra’s first visit to CIAT and in her introductory remarks she emphasized the many challenges the organization has faced over the last two years. “A major corner has been turned and that’s why we are meeting here in CIAT” she said, and went on to commend work of CIAT’s Board chair Gordon MacNeil and interim DG Geoff Hawtin. Kathy also highlighted three reasons for change: to increase research impact, to make the CG system less bureaucratic, and to develop more inclusive partnerships to open ourselves up to the whole development chain. “I like to give the aspiration, but rely on you, the scientists, to show the pathway,” she said.

Kathy concluded by highlighting the need for the CGIAR to be able to speak with a single voice and to shift that single voice from the donors to the “doers”. The team also invited questions from staff and here are some of the issues they addressed.

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Common Services
Steve Hall: The CGIAR will we have common services in areas like Finances, HR, etc. but we need to have the right conversation at the right time. The finance community has already done a great job, and other parts have to be brought in. We need a comprehensive assessment and the discussions on that will start in 2010.

Public-Private Partnerships
Mark Holderness: We need to open up the system to all sorts of partnerships – not only the private sector – to achieve development impact, including farmer groups and NGOs as well (See related guest contribution from Tom Remington A Dialogue with Civil Society Organizations, in latest Change Newsletter)

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Criteria for designing “Mega Programs”Steve Hall: We only begin to get a sense of the approach. The main criterion is the return on investment and the System’s capability to deliver impact at scale. (See related contribution from John McDermott, Deputy Director General, ILRI on Lessons Learned from Developing Mega Program “Mock-Ups”)

“Mega Programs” and Gender
Kathy Sierra: If we don’t figure out ways to integrate the gender dimension into our work we won’t get the outcomes we are looking for. We also have to get it right internally. If you ask me about a vertical program on gender versus an integrated approach I prefer the second option.

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The New CGIAR and the Transition Phase 2010 / 2011
Jonathan Wadsworth: The transition is what comes next, and it is crucial that this transition does not disrupt ongoing research. Transition needs collaboration and as we move forward to a higher performing system it is likely that we need to readjust the programs.

Regional Investments
Kathy Sierra: We are intending to push donors beyond their thematic and political preferences towards programmatic preferences, to decide through the “mega program” where the funding will go.

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Assessing the impact of CIAT’s work
Mark Holderness: We are here to do good agricultural research that has a development impact. Earlier this week we heard that development impact can take 28 years, while our funding framework is often over less then 3 years. We need to come closer from both sides. In addition, we need mutual accountability. The scientific quality of our work cannot be the only criterion which means that we have to broaden that frame and adapt our evaluation systems.
Ren Wang: The first thing that CGIAR did last year was to develop a new vision and strategic objectives, one being policies for people. We definitively need a balance between social and biophysical science. The decline of a critical mass of social scientists has been highlighted by the Science Council, which is an issue that we need to address.

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Center autonomy – management of reserves
Steve Hall: reserves are an insurance against risks and responsibility for these lie in the hands of the center boards. The consortium will not take away that responsibility from the centres. The big question is, how does a center gather those reserves in the new funding environment, and we haven’t looked at that question yet.
Ren Wang: It is not completely worked out how money will flow. The money from the fund will go to the “mega programs” but centers will always be able to have their own projects.

“Mega Programs” versus Challenge Programs
Ren Wang: “Mega programs” are based on a paradigm shift towards results and output-targeted research. The risk of interrupting center research is real and we need to plan the transition well. The funding for the Challenge Programs is place and they can continue as planned.
Steve Hall: The Challenge Programs took us a step in the right direction. The consortium will create a new environment to have better accountability for decision making. The current work on mock-ups of “mega programs” generated a sincere excitement on how we can do better in collective efforts than individually.

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New CGIAR and the number of research
centers

Kathy Sierra: The conversation is not really about closing campuses. If we are to grow we need the space. The question is if we have too many autonomous centers operating in silos and what is appropriate for our level of business. Donors believe strongly that there are too many centers and that unless this issue is addressed there will be no real change. The consortium will have to link its strategy and results framework to the capabilities of the System.

It’s time to get involved
Kathy Sierra: If we are not creating and organisation that excites you and holds you accountable to think beyond your research question we will fail. We are a knowledge organization and that knowledge resides with you.
Steve Hall: That is a key question. Not everybody can be involved in everything and we are aware that it is a balancing act to engage the people who are interested. We need to find the opportunities. Please discuss these amongst yourselves – talk about what you think goes wrong and use the feedback mechanisms like the blog, and jump on the opportunities as they arise.

By Simone Staiger-Rivas

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Filed Under: Inside CIAT