Case Study Analyses of International Research-for-Development Projects and Programs

Research-for-development aims to generate new knowledge and contribute to on-the-ground impact. Researchers are accountable to their funders to demonstrate that impact. Transdisciplinary approaches are emerging in sustainability and development contexts, aiming to co-produce more relevant and applicable knowledge to address development issues. As these approaches are new, and because they engage in complex systems, it is difficult to know what works, how, and why. We conduct case study analyses to generate practical knowledge and theoretical insights about whether and how transdisciplinary research-for-development contributes to learning, change, and ultimately impact.

Purpose: Contribute to the emerging science and practice of research-for-development by assessing a series of applied and transdisciplinary research projects to discover whether and how they contribute to policy and practice change. Produce recommendations for improved design, methods, and implementation of transdisciplinary and applied research.

Questions: To what extent and how are research outcomes achieved?

Method: We examine 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.

Case Studies

Assessing FTA’s Research-for-Development Program for Social and Environmental Impacts

The CGIAR’s research program (CRP) on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) aims to enhance the role of forest, trees, and agroforestry in sustainable development. FTA has a strong organizational commitment to systematically assess and learn from research-for-development efforts to influence policies and practices (i.e., realize outcomes) based on rigorous science. Over the last ten years, FTA 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 and management; 4) rural poverty; and 5) food insecurity and malnutrition.

This integrative case study explores the collective contributions of FTA’s research-for-development program to tangible social and environmental outcomes and impacts on a large scale. The case study provides lessons about the extent and pathways through which research-for-development programs contribute to societal change. The results provide insights for strategic design and implementation of research-for-development programs to maximize impact in the future. The SRE team collaborated with evaluation specialists from ICRAF, CIFOR, and Bioversity-CIAT on this project.

Assessing Research Contributions to Oil Palm Sustainability

This case study evaluates a sub-set of research-for-development activities undertaken by CIFOR on the topic of oil palm in Indonesia. Oil palm is one of CIFOR’s focal areas for policy-relevant research. The cases under evaluation were selected for the learning potential that would arise. There were indications that the projects employed successful approaches to policy engagement and would offer useful lessons for future research.

CIFOR’s research activities intended to support capacity-strengthening and provide information to influence the policy discourse on oil palm issues. Key foci included social and environmental trade-offs, sustainable commodity supply, social inclusion, and biodiversity conservation. This assessment uncover lessons and recommendations to improve the effectiveness of future research on oil palm in other countries, other value chains, and policy-relevant research more generally.

Assessing Research Contributions to the Implementation of Agroforestry Concessions (Peru)

This case study assesses a World Agroforestry (ICRAF) research project that examined 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, and continues to engage and translate project findings to decision-makers. This case study explores how research can better inform the implementation of new policy mechanisms to support smallholder livelihoods and forest conservation.



Assessing a Comparative Study on Land Tenure (International)

Despite decades of tenure reform in developing countries, on-the-ground impact 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 CIFOR research on Brazil Nut production in the Peruvian Amazon. The project measured the impact of selective logging in Brazil Nut  concessions, providing a scientific evidence base for national quotas on timber harvesting. This case offers a unique opportunity to explore the science-policy interface in a Latin American context. 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 policy-makers. 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 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 roles of research and researchers in building local community capacity through participatory action research.

An Assessment of Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Research (International)

Mangrove forests comprise 30-35 percent of global tropical wetland, lining the coasts of 118 countries. The Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Programme (SWAMP) recognized the 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 to make sound decisions for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The assessment found that prior to SWAMP, mangroves were overlooked in international climate change mitigation strategies. Moreover, despite being high carbon reservoirs, wetlands 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 Earth’s surface store around 30 percent of carbon stocks.

Assessing the Influence of a Global Comparative Study on REDD+ Policy (International)

This case study assessed CIFOR’s research on REDD+ for climate change mitigation. The research focused on identifying challenges and providing solutions to support the design and implementation of effective, efficient, and equitable REDD+ policies and projects.

The program influenced capacity, discourse, and the 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 used an action research approach to improve value chain efficiency and enhance livelihoods of small-scale furniture producers. The project was based in the Jepara District in Central Java, Indonesia, which is home to around 18,000 small-scale furniture makers. The research informed local policy processes, supporting the “Jepara Furniture Roadmap” which was eventually enacted into law.

The evaluation discovered 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. The association also 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. The evaluation recommends future projects develop proper exit strategies and foster local stakeholder adoption to ensure sustainability.

An Assessment of Research on Sustainable Forest Management (Congo Basin)

CIFOR’s research on Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) in the Congo Basin comprises a portfolio of research activities on forest governance, non-timber forest products, forest economics, and impacts of the informal sector and climate change.

The evaluation found the research directly influenced the international forestry agenda and sub-national policies, NGO activities, and timber company practices. The research made a necessary contribution to that adaptation of 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 research effectiveness in diverse research-for-development contexts.

Lima, Peru

San Lorenzo & Madre de Dios, Peru

Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Kalimantan, Indonesia

Riau, Indonesia

Bogor, Indonesia

Case Study Location: Poverty and Environment Network

Victoria, Canada

Headquarters at Royal Roads University

Yaounde, Cameroon

Java, Indonesia

Case Study location: Furniture Value Chains Project