At this time of transformational change, CGIAR requires independent and evidence-based advice more than ever. The Independent Science for Development Council (ISDC) and the CGIAR Advisory Services (CAS) Evaluation function (CAS/Evaluation) have worked in a complementary fashion to provide external, impartial, and expert advice that is especially relevant during this moment of change. Independent science advisory bodies serve many public and private organizations: what may be more unique in CGIAR and is seen as a feature that reinforces the attributes of a learning organization, is how CGIAR’s independent science advice combines and cross-references with evidence from external evaluations.

Delivering Constructive Criticism on CGIAR Initiative for Funding Decisions

A major activity in the ISDC terms of reference is the assessment of proposals. With the One CGIAR reform, CGIAR plans to launch 32 new Initiatives in 2022. In October, ISDC started reviewing 19 of those Initiative proposals, with the remaining 13 reviews to follow starting in December. The review process takes approximately six weeks and engages three independent and diverse subject matter experts for each Initiative. Reporting will be made public two weeks prior to the 14th and 15th meetings of the CGIAR System Council (SC14 and SC15).

In addition to the Initiative review report for SC14, ISDC is currently assessing the Companion Document to the CGIAR Investment Prospectus 2022 – 2024. ISDC will provide a review based on four assessment criteria, being external coherence, internal coherence, interdependencies, and management of funding uncertainties.

In these processes, subject matter experts and ISDC members have been briefed extensively on the results of past CGIAR Research Program (CRP) evaluative reviews and a CGIAR-wide synthesis of learning from CRPs. Indeed, through the CAS Secretariat common expert roster, there has been solid cross-over between evaluative work and new portfolio review. Both the Proposal Review Report and Companion Document Review referenced evaluation recommendations.

Embedding Evaluative Evidence in CGIAR Initiatives and Supporting their Evaluation Plans

The CAS/Evaluation function used multiple entry points and modalities to support the CGIAR transition. In June, during a briefing session as part of a webinar series for Initiative Design Teams, CAS/Evaluation function restated key points of learning delivered by the 2020 reviews of the 12 CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs), and the 2021 Synthesis. The focus was to highlight CGIAR-wide learnings in monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) theory of change, partnerships, and capacity building. Complementing the 2021 Synthesis report, CAS/Evaluation unpacked recommendations from the 2021 Synthesis of Learning from a Decade of CRPs in targeted briefs for three Science Groups.

In addition to the bespoke session and briefs, the CGIAR System Office requested CAS/Evaluation to review all draft Initiative proposals. This activity fitted well into the CGIAR Advisory Services 2021 activities and broader mandate, in that CAS/Evaluation (a) conducts Quality Assurance (QA) of Center- /Program-commissioned evaluations [in this case, QA of initiative M&E in Initiative proposals], and (b) engages with MEL practitioners to enhance demand for and use of evaluative evidence from independent evaluations commissioned by CAS/Evaluation. The proposal review supported an Initiative design with a view for increased availability of M&E data for use in future external independent evaluations. Thus, between September and November, CAS/Evaluation function reviewed 32 proposals offering an evaluation lens, with an eye on future evaluability of the Initiatives.

Synergies within Advisory Services

Collaboration described in this blog was supported by the Shared Secretariat through multiple activities throughout the year:

  • The development of a roster of more than 100 subject matter experts for use by Evaluation activities and ISDC’s proposal reviews.
  • A three-part meeting series that engaged ISDC in Independent Evaluation outcomes of the 2020 reviews of the 12 CGIAR Research programs and 2021 Synthesis.
  • An Evaluation-dedicated session with new members of ISDC to prepare them for the Initiative proposal review.

Moving Forward

With the approaching launch of CGIAR Initiatives, CAS continues to convene high-level, independent expert advice to the One CGIAR transition. Upcoming activities include the ISDC external review of the remaining 13 Initiative proposals, briefing and tailored communications for CGIAR science leadership as new evaluative evidence comes to light from two ongoing evaluations of Big Data in Agriculture and Excellence in Breeding platforms, and interactions at forthcoming System Board and System Council meetings.

By working in close coordination and bringing externally driven- and evidence-based advice to CGIAR, CAS looks forward to continued collaborations after the launch of One CGIAR’s new Initiatives in 2022.

On a related theme, read here about SPIA’s Guidance to the Initiative Design Teams (IDTs).