Participatory agricultural research in CGIAR: Challenges and opportunities
research in CGIAR
Challenges and opportunities
Beth Cullen and Katherine Snyder
Expert meeting on participatory agricultural research:
Approaches, design and evaluation, Oxford, 9-13 December 2013
Participatory Agricultural Research
Derived from Participatory Action Research –
but focused on agriculture.
An approach to research not a method.
Involves people who are concerned about or affected by an issue
taking a leading role in producing and using knowledge about it.
• Driven by participants who have a stake in the issue being
• Democratic knowledge sharing: all participants can
contribute, produce, own and use knowledge,
• Collaborative at every stage, involving discussion, pooling skills
and working together
• Intended to result in action, change or improvement
• Iterative- action and critical reflection takes place throughout.
• Agricultural research seen primarily as
research in plant, animal and soil science that
affects crop production.
• The social, economic, and political bases of
crop production and land management have
most often taken a back seat to the design of
• Farming systems research and Chambers
work on „putting farmers first‟ created an
impact but these approaches still marginal
within agronomic research.
CG Reform Process
• New opportunities but how to sustain?
• New models of partnership and collaboration
coming out of the Challenge Programs.
• Yet partnerships with private sector can have
their implications on what gets researched.
• Trend in funding leading to short-term versus
long-term research but CG reform supposed
• “Demand-driven research that tackles global
Fundamental Divisions in
• Epistemological divides over what is
knowledge and what is science.
• Contestations over who frames the
research problem and how it is carried out
and the results presented.
• While a narrative for collaborative and
interdisciplinary research is prominent,
practice is often very different.
• Focus on product results rather than
• Why PAR has not become more central to
agronomic research within the CGIAR
• Opportunity to develop clearer research
agenda on what PAR is and what it can
achieve: a means to identify problems,
risks and possibilities for improved
• New generation of researchers engaged in
PAR and developing and designing new
approaches – where can these take us?
Dominance of narrow ‘scientific’
• Preoccupation with „objective‟ or „neutral‟ data:
PAR perceived as subjective, „soft‟ or anecdotal.
• Whose knowledge counts? „Researcher‟ versus
• Lack of acknowledgement of social and political
dynamics due to concerns with „objectivity‟.
Research versus development
PAR, researching „process‟; behavioural and
institutional change: not recognised as research.
• Concern with research outputs (data
collection, analysis and publishing) rather than
• Short-term targets versus long-term goals.
• Reward/incentive system based on scientific
Dominance of research-driven
• Over-emphasis on development of technologies.
• Researcher driven „solutions‟ rather than farmer
• Assumptions regarding adoption of scientific/tech
• Low consideration of socio, economic, political
and environmental barriers to implementing
• Little truly inter-disciplinary research.
• Disciplinary boundaries between scientists, lack
of common language.
• Mutual skepticism between biophysical and social
• Uncertainty regarding added value/impact of
• Lack of integration between PAR methods &
difficulties integrating data/knowledge generated
by different methods.
• Lack of triangulation and validation of data.
• Perception that participatory approaches lack
• Difficulties ensuring information from participatory
approaches informs broader socioeconomic/biophysical research.
Methodological Issues cont’d.
• Lack of clear conceptual framework and
systematic use of participatory approaches/tools.
• Multiple objectives (more effective research; coproduction of knowledge, technology selection
and validation; empowerment).
• Heterogeneity of results generated by
participatory research methods.
• Difficulty in scaling results from participatory
• Time and resource intensive.
• Lack of resources/funding for participatory
• Requires good facilitation skills.
• Little staff training/skill/capacity/experience.
• Few experts in participatory approaches.
• Lack of collaboration with partner organizations
who specialize in participatory approaches.
• Poor communication of results.
• Lack of concrete evidence/examples/proof of the
results from participatory methods.
• Difficulties publishing results generated by
• Lack of information/awareness among
researchers about participatory agricultural
So what’s new?
• Review of past suggests continuing themes and
issues: Collinson (1992) Becker (2000); Social
Science STRIPE Review (2009).
How do we move forward?
• First generation to second generation tools:
scale; integration of social and biophysical;
quantitative and qualitative; power and politics
(understanding power dynamics versus
addressing power differences); outcome
And what’s still missing?
• Better agenda setting: both research topic
(demand driven) and the way research is done
(iterative) and outcomes/outputs are reported.
• Research framework that makes PAR central.
• Mechanisms for better integration across centers
• Integration of methods and scales.
• Institutional reform.
• Incentives for change.
• Emphasis on outcomes provides new space for
• New tools emerging.
• Potential for partnerships.
• Innovation thinking: recognition of the need for
multi-stakeholder processes and to move
beyond „tech fixes‟.
• Systems thinking: incorporating broader context
• Narratives about food security; sustainability;
livelihoods; equity; gender.
• From tools to broader context: „thorny issues‟.
• How can we demonstrate that PAR can produce
• Identification of research agenda:
gaps, opportunities, frameworks.
• Community of practice: sharing knowledge and
experiences but also working for change.
• Better engagement of CG with other research
• Concrete steps: products to address workshop
• Take stock of and review tools and approaches used in participatory
agricultural research (with particular focus on certain newly emerging tools
Discuss the ways in which the tools and their use could be improved.
Identify „thorny issues‟ hindering the use of participatory research
approaches/tools within the CGIAR and suggestions for addressing these
Develop a community of practice to advocate for greater incorporation of
participatory and social science approaches in CGIAR research activities.
For days 4 and 5, we expect to build on the first three days, working towards:
• Produce statements/think pieces/advocacy materials/evidence around the
importance of participatory research and recommendations for ways forward.
Produce an initial participatory methods inventory/toolbox and guidelines to
inform upcoming research by CGIAR institutes and partners.
Explore and document some ideas for novel and neglected interdisciplinary
and participatory research within the agricultural development sector that
could contribute to better outcomes.