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Learning in action at CTA: impact assessment of selected CTA’s flagship products and services

August 12, 2016

During the past 4 years, more than at any time in its past, CTA has invested in external reviews of its major activities and programmes. As a learning organisation, CTA strives to draw lessons from its activities, particularly its successes but also to review and strengthen any shortcomings. While continuing with the long-established practice of conducting evaluations using set criteria, CTA has diversified its approach to also invest in a number of impact studies. As well as helping CTA to identify specific achievements, these evaluations and impact studies have provided important lessons, many of which have been used to improve the organisation’s operations and to shape the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan.

CTA activities evaluated in the past four years include SPORE magazine: the Question and Answer Service (QAS), Knowledge for Development and Agritrade portals, Brussels weblog, Brussels Development Briefings, Spore and the Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) programme.

The QAS evaluation in 2011 resulted in the decision to end this activity because of concerns about its relatively high cost and limited degree of financial sustainability. Furthermore, following the evaluation of thematic portals in 2014, the Knowledge for Development (K4D) portal was discontinued pending the finalisation of plans to integrate content of all CTA web portals into its main website.

Most recently, the ST&I and Spore evaluations have generated recommendations that will be taken into consideration in the implementation of the new Strategic Plan. All three reports will be available for download in the coming weeks. 

Spore/Esporo Magazine

SPORE evaluation reportThe evaluation of Spore was the first in-depth review commissioned in nearly 30 years of the magazine's history. Until 2015, Spore was published in English, French and Portuguese reaching nearly 60,000 readers from farmers to policy makers across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The impact assessment revealed that the strength of the magazine lies in the diversity of its stakeholders, which include young men and women, as well as high-level technocrats working in agriculture and rural development.

Close to 7,000 people surveyed for the evaluation requested more in-depth coverage of agricultural thematic issues whereas experts recommended a more robust and targeted distribution policy as part of a review of Spore's purpose and objectives. These lessons came at a time of reflection and re-direction for Spore and, as a consequence, a business plan has been developed and a new website was launched in early 2016. In addition, as of June 2016, the Spore print magazine has also been re-designed in content and style to respond to the demand for more in-depth articles. 

Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) programme

STI evaluation reportThe purpose of the impact assessment of CTA's ST&I programme was to find key factors that would catalyse and take forward CTA's work in this area in the new Strategic Plan. Between 2003-2014, the ST&I project has evolved considerably and impacted hundreds of organisations ranging from higher education institutions to research organisations, which has confirmed CTA's high level of credibility in the area. In particular, the ST&I work has developed ACP country capacity to understand and strengthen agricultural ST&I systems consistent with promoting agricultural innovation as a driver for economic, social and environmental growth and sustainability. The evaluation also found that the ST&I programme has had impact on social capital having created collaborative networks and partnerships between beneficiaries and partners as well as on the ability of partners and beneficiaries to influence policy in their regions. As a result, policy processes have become more inclusive, included new concepts and stimulated a change in mindsets for policy design and implementation, thus strengthening empowerment and political capital as a result of this work.

The key recommendations from the evaluation include that CTA's ST&I work should be more integrated with its activities in youth and ICTs and to shift its focus to empowerment and influencing policy. As a result, all of CTA's intervention areas in the six ACP regions now integrate ST&I issues.

The Brussels Development Briefings, Agritrade and the K4D portals

Revised combined evaluation reportThese three portals were evaluated together to enable opportunities for achieving greater synergy between the services and with a view to achieving higher levels of effectiveness, efficiency and impact.

One of CTA's three main strategic goals, as described in its previous and current Strategic Plans (2011-2015 and 2016-2020), is: "Enhanced capabilities of ACP agricultural institutions and networks in information, communication and knowledge management." It was a clear conclusion from the impact assessment that each of the three portals has many strengths and they contain high-quality professional analysis and other material, which is highly appreciated by their individual core audiences.

In order to achieve improved harmony and collaboration between the three portals, experts recommended that a centre-wide communication strategy be formulated. CTA addressed this recommendation by recruiting an expert and developing a communications and knowledge management strategy. In addition, and once again pursuant to the evaluation recommendations, the Brussels Development Briefings and the Agritrade portal were re-designed for better user-friendliness and improved interaction.

The K4D portal, which centralised information and disseminated knowledge generated through CTA's ST&I work is now used to feed into a larger 'agricultural policies' section within CTA's main website. This new section is also an attempt to address another key lesson from the impact assessment suggesting that there should be increased efforts to "widen CTA's reach towards policymakers."