Gender in Agriculture Partnership

Transforming agriculture to empower women and deliver food, nutrition and income security

Are you game for (Theories of) Change in an unpredictable world ?

Diana Brandes

People are not generally open to change and ideas that contradict what they already believe. Under certain conditions, they actively avoid such information while at the same time seeking information that bolsters their original beliefs.

Research organizations and the people that work for them are not immune from this. Many who spent their careers in research or international development resist the idea that their efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive. Cognitive dissonance theory predicts that, based on levels of commitment to current beliefs, evidence to the contrary will be rejected and even discussion (for learning) is discouraged.

In a world of rapid change (such as we have in our Livestock and Fish program) where value chains actors interact in complex and unpredictable ways, “traditional” monitoring approaches that are heavy and slow, infrequent and top-down are simply inadequate. Real-time monitoring and quick (learning) feedback loops, faster cycles of data collection and analysis, allow for quick assessment of positive and negative effects of interventions and help immediate course-correction to ensure that research is more responsive to the needs of smallholder farmers and their constituencies.

Exploring Theories of Change, the interfaces of capacity development with change processes, social psychology to understand research (uptake) and development practices, and studying ways to overcome them will have little benefit if the broader research and development field is not predisposed to carefully listen to evaluation findings.

Research organizations may unwittingly be complicit in undermining national and local capacity development, creating attitudes or expectations that actually weaken well-intended work for development, replacing local resourcefulness and self-reliance with attitudes that view the benefits of externally-directed programs as an entitlement that hinders national (public, private sector) ownership and new initiatives. Failure to recognize how on-the-ground implementation change processes and dynamics fosters such attitudes may help explain why many of the improvements attributed to externally-funded programs persistently lack sustainability. Why have many “modern” research (for development) programs, in general, left their partners/clients inert, dis-empowered, and uncommitted to act independently on the challenges they face?

Click here to read the full blog post on CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.