Impact assessment

Analysis of ACIAR’s returns on investment: appropriateness, efficiency and effectiveness

Date released
01 October 2009
Publication Code

Harding M., Tingsong Jiang and Pearce D.


ACIAR has a long history of assessing the impact of its research and development investments, which provides valuable lessons for improving the selection, design and delivery of projects, as well as demonstrating the value of ACIAR as part of Australia’s international development assistance program. This report is an update of a review of of the returns on ACIAR's bilateral R&D investments (/publication/IAS035), published in 2005. Based on an analysis of the quantitative information from 37 impact assessment studies, the total cost of the investment in these projects is estimated to be around A$234 million in net present value terms (2008 dollars). Of these costs, A$128 million are direct ACIAR costs. The projects generated an estimated total benefit of A$12.6 billion, with the benefits attributable to ACIAR being A$6.8 billion. These results indicate highly successful research. Indeed, the returns on the relatively small sample of projects (worth around 6% of total expenditure since ACIAR’s inception in 1982) easily pay for the total cost of ACIAR, which is A$2.1 billion in present value terms (2008 dollars). In addition to estimating quantitative benefits, the study also contains a significant qualitative element that involves drawing evidence on the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of ACIAR’s activities. This is presented within the broad context of Australia’s aid delivery system, with a particular emphasis on whole-of-government and public-good issues. The main finding is that ACIAR is an effective and efficient funding agency and that, despite its relatively small size in the international aid and research-for-development arena, the Centre performs well in terms of ensuring that the research it invests in meets the needs of its stakeholders, makes a difference to the livelihoods of the poor and aligns within the broader Australian aid program.