Case Study Analyses of Applied and Transdisciplinary Research Projects
Scientific research generates new knowledge. Researchers strive for excellence by means of impact, and are accountable to their funders to demonstrate that impact. Transdisciplinary approaches are emerging in sustainability and development contexts. By placing research around the interest of stakeholders, these projects aim to co-produce more relevant and applicable knowledge. As these approaches are new, and because they engage in complex systems, it has been difficult to know what works, how and why. We are conducting a series of case study analyses to generate practical knowledge and theoretical insights about whether and how transdisciplinary research contributes to learning, change and, ultimately, impact.
Purpose: Contribute to the emerging science and practice by assessing a series of applied and transdisciplinary research projects to discover whether and how they contribute to policy and practice change. Recommend improved design, methods, and implementation of transdisciplinary and applied research.
Questions: To what extent and how are research outcomes achieved?
Method: We studied the research process, knowledge translation, research impacts, as well as drivers for and barriers to the anticipated research outcomes, using Theory of Change-based project evaluation, stakeholder interviews, and document analyses.
Assessing FTA’s Research for Development Program for Social and Environmental Impacts
The CGIAR research program (CRP) on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) aims to enhance the role of forest, trees, and agroforestry in sustainable development. Over the last ten years, FTA has implemented myriad research initiatives to address five pressing global challenges: 1) deforestation and forest degradation; 2) land degradation and ecosystem services; 3) unsustainable land use; 4) rural poverty; and 5) food insecurity and malnutrition. This integrative case study explores the collective contributions of FTA’s research initiatives to tangible developmental and environmental outcomes and impacts on a large scale. The case study will provide lessons about the extent to which and pathways through which research-for-development programs contribute to societal change. The results will provide insights for strategic design and implementation of research-for-development programs to maximize impact in the future. The SRE team is working with evaluation specialists from ICRAF, CIFOR, and Bioversity-CIAT on this project.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) cooperative consortium research program (CRP) on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) has a strong organizational commitment to systematically assess and learn from efforts to influence policies and practices (i.e., achieve outcomes) based on rigorous science. This case study evaluates a sub-set of research activities on the topic of oil palm involving the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Oil palm is one of CIFOR’s focal areas for policy-relevant research. The cases under evaluation were selected primarily for the learning potential that would arise. There were indications that the projects employed successful approaches to policy engagement that could bring lessons of use to other FTA research conducted in other countries and/or on other value chains. CIFOR’s research activities on oil palm intended to provide information and analyses, as well as capacity-strengthening and engagement, to inform and influence the policy discourse including, but not limited to, social and environmental trade-offs, sustainable commodity supply, social inclusion in the oil palm sector, and biodiversity conservation relating to oil palm production in Indonesia. This assessment offers an opportunity to uncover lessons and recommendations to improve the effectiveness of future oil palm research and policy-relevant research more generally.
This case study assesses a World Agroforestry (ICRAF) research project that examined potential implementation realities of impending agroforestry concession contracts in Peru. The SUCCESS Project combined a policy and technical review of legal documents with geospatial and qualitative data collection in the regions of San Martín and Ucayali. The project worked directly with smallholders to share knowledge of the concession mechanism, understand capacities to comply, and test a new forest zoning approach. ICRAF collaborated with government actors throughout the project, and continues to engage and translate project findings to decision-makers. This case study offers an opportunity to explore how research can better inform the implementation of new policy mechanisms to support smallholder livelihoods and forest conservation through engagement and relationship-building at multiple levels.
Assessing a Comparative Study on Land Tenure (International)
Despite decades of tenure reform in developing countries, the impact on the ground has frequently fallen short of expectations. This case study assesses CIFOR’s research on tenure reform, which investigated how regulatory frameworks, administrative management, market forces, resource systems and community attributes affect tenure reforms and implementation at the systems level, as well as what bottlenecks exist. Our assessment provides insights into how research contributes to improving tenure reform policy and implementation.
Assessing Research Outcomes from a Project about the Sustainability of Timber Harvesting in Brazil Nut Concessions (Peru)
This case study assesses a project undertaken by CIFOR that measured the impact of selective logging on Brazil Nut production in concessions in the Peruvian Amazon in order to provide a scientific evidence base for national quotas on timber harvesting. This case gives us a unique opportunity to explore science-policy interfaces in a Latin American context, because the findings were considered in the drafting of the technical guidelines for the sustainable management of Brazil Nut concessions. Our analysis highlights the challenges of stakeholder identification and engagement when biophysical research seeks to inform policy and practice in complex socio-ecological systems.
Assessing the Multiple Pathways to Impact of the Poverty and Environment Network (International)
CIFOR’s Poverty and Environment Network (PEN) was a multi-case, global comparative study that quantified socioeconomic contributions of forests to livelihoods, developed survey tools, a comprehensive international database, built capacity among its partners, and influenced data collection practices for evidence-based forest policy. Our assessment explores the project’s multiple and interacting pathways to impact.
An Analysis of Research on the Political Economy of Fire and Haze (Indonesia)
Indonesia endures severe fires on an annual basis, primarily due to the deforestation of peatlands. Respiratory disease, forest loss, and the economic costs thereof have raised concerns among national policymakers. This case study investigates CIFOR’s project on Fire and Haze, which aimed to inform decision makers of the social, biophysical, and political dynamics that contribute to the problem. The project successfully shifted the policy discourse from fire suppression to prevention. Our analysis explores the political dimensions of knowledge translation.
Assessing a Participatory Partnership Project on Integrated Management of Non-Timber Forest Products and Timber for Improvements of Smallholders’ Livelihoods (Indonesia)
Despite low trade volumes of non-timber forest products, there is high growth potential for emerging niche markets. In this case study, we assess a collaborative multi-partner project led by CIFOR and ICRAF that aimed to enhance and develop smallholder’s involvement in management, production and value-added marketing of forest products across eastern Indonesia. Our assessment explores the emerging roles of research and researchers in building the capacity of local communities through participatory action research in an Indonesian context.
An Assessment of Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Research (International)
The Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Programme (SWAMP) started with a recognised need for increased and better scientific information about the role of tropical wetlands in carbon storage, carbon emissions, and climate change processes. It aimed to provide policy makers with credible scientific information needed to make sound decisions relating to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.
The assessment found that prior to SWAMP, mangrove forests, which occur along the coasts of 118 countries and comprise approximately 30-35 percent of the global area of tropical wetland forest over peat swamps alone, were overlooked in international climate change mitigation strategies; moreover, wetlands as high carbon reservoirs had not been included in the UNFCCC agenda. The SWAMP programme achieved its goals and had unexpected benefits for local communities and the private sector. SWAMP’s work on carbon quantification in wetlands has been influential in the climate change mitigation debate, demonstrating that systems covering just 3 percent of the earth’s surface store around 30 percent of the earth’s carbon stocks.
Assessing the Influence of a Global Comparative Study on REDD+ Policy (International)
This case study assessed CIFOR’s principal vehicle for research on forests and climate change mitigation, which focused on identifying challenges and providing solutions to support the design and implementation of effective, efficient, and equitable REDD+ policies and projects.
There is evidence that the program has had positive influences on capacity and on the discourse and development of improved systems for implementing REDD+ at international and national scales. These outcomes were achieved through the: 1) production of high quality independent research and publications and extended outreach; 2) development of approaches and tools such as the step-wise approach; 3) provision of expert support at the international and national level; 4) hosting of international events and training; and 5) collaboration with and capacity development of national partners.
Assessing Furniture Value Chains Research (Indonesia)
The Furniture Value Chains (FVC) project was an action research project that aimed to improve value chain efficiency and enhance livelihoods of small scale furniture producers. The project focused on Jepara District in Central Java, Indonesia, which is home to around 18,000 small scale furniture makers. The research informed local policy processes to the extent that CIFOR was asked to write a “Jepara Furniture Roadmap” which was eventually enacted into law.
The evaluation found that, as an action research project, the FVC’s main impact pathway was through the establishment of a furniture association. The association became the main platform for training and facilitation activities, and served to attract the attention of the local parliament. In addition, a number of association members became champions, liaising with the local government and with the association of large-scale furniture makers. However, the assessment also found that the association became less active and weak after the project was completed, when CIFOR staff no longer played a strong supporting role. It calls for future projects to have a proper exit strategy and substantial adoption by local stakeholders to ensure sustainability.
An Assessment of Research on Sustainable Forest Management (Congo Basin)
The Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Congo Basin research comprises a portfolio of research activities on forest governance, non-timber forest products, forest economics and impacts of the informal sector and climate change undertaken by CIFOR.
The analysis found that the research had a direct influence on the international forestry agenda and policies, NGO activities, and timber company practices. The research was deemed to have made a necessary contribution to adapting international policies to the Congo Basin context. The project indirectly influenced national forest management standards.
Where We Work
Our case studies are situated around the world so that we can learn about sustainability research effectiveness in diverse contexts.