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Planning and Impact Evaluation

An important aspect of ACIAR’s work lies in measuring the impact of our investments.
Researcher and farmer talking in Indonesia

Our Planning and Impact Evaluation Program helps us to refine our priorities, learn lessons from current and past projects, and report accurately to the Minister, the Parliament and the wider Australian public.

The Impact Evaluation Program carries out three types of assessments:

  1. Economic evaluations – These are published in ACIAR’s Impact Assessment Series (IAS). They 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. This type of evaluation has enabled ACIR to measure the impact of agricultural research on poverty, and the returns to capacity building and research in the area of natural resource management, and make improvements to the methodology.
  2. Adoption studies – The return on investment of our research is determined by the extent to which research findings are taken up. 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 or four years after the completion of the research phase of the project. These studies help ACIAR 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.
  3. 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 also works 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.

Research Program Manager: Dr Andrew Alford