Measuring the impact of our investments has been a key priority for ACIAR since its inception. We are a world leader in evaluating the impact and return on investment in agricultural research.
Our Impact Assessment Program helps us to refine our priorities, learn the lessons from current and past projects, and be accountable to the Minister, the Parliament and the wider Australian public.
The Impact Assessment program currently commissions three types of finished project assessments.
The first are primarily economic evaluations, which are published in ACIAR’s Impact Assessment Series (IAS). Assessments are undertaken by independent consultants with specialist expertise in measuring the impact of agricultural research by analysing economic return on investment (ROI) and assessing social and environmental impacts.
Over the years we have identified areas where evaluation methodologies need to be improved. We have developed advances—for example in measuring the impact of agricultural research on poverty, and the returns to capacity building and research in the area of natural resource management.
The return on investment of our research is determined by the extent to which research findings are taken up (adopted). The second type of finished project evaluations are adoption studies.
Adoption studies provide ACIAR and our project leaders with deeper understanding about the pathways to change in the complex contexts in which we operate. They are typically undertaken by the Australian project leader, three to four years after the completion of the research phase of the project. These studies help us to assess the difference the project has made at the scientific and community levels in the partner countries and Australia.
We seek to learn at least as much from failure as success. Where project findings have not been adopted we seek to understand why not, and build these insights into future investments.
The third type of finished project evaluations is impact pathway analysis. Using an impact pathway framework as an evaluation tool involves tracing the pathway to change from research outputs (the results or findings), to outcomes (use of this knowledge by the next and final users), to impact (the ultimate change in social, economic and/or environmental conditions that occurs with widespread adoption of new research findings).
Impact pathway analyses provide in-depth studies of the role of the diverse players in the agricultural knowledge system. Perceived risks and other external factors influencing expected outcomes and impacts are made explicit. Unintended effects and rival explanations should also be explored.
We use the insights gained through our evaluation investments to inform training for researchers so that eventual adoption and impact is integral to research project design and management.
We use our collaborative networks with Australian and partner country evaluation practitioners to build our joint capabilities to undertake robust research impact analyses.
ACIAR has also worked closely with international agricultural research centres, such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI in Washington), to develop comprehensive, consistent research impact evaluation software.
Impact Assessments RPM: Andrew Alford
Phone: 0262170541   Email: andrew.alford@aciar.gov.au

IA Program Strategy 2013 - PDF
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