Video – the benefits of co-developing research

By Gregory Reppucci

Since 2012, The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) Regional Research Teams in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been conducting assessments of the impacts of variable and changing climate on regional food security. These integrated assessments feature an interdisciplinary approach that link climate, crop, livestock, and economic models to simulate agricultural productivity, rural income, and poverty rates.

Fundamental to the AgMIP Regional Integrated Assessment approach is the co-development of research that incorporates knowledge from local stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement cannot wait until after the research has been completed. Instead, it is an ongoing discussion that occurs throughout the research process where stakeholder knowledge and input assist scientists in producing outputs that are relevant to decision-makers.

This video offers insight from both stakeholders and scientists on AgMIP’s co-developed research approach,
a process that includes regular interactions with regional stakeholders during research development.
The stakeholders provide guidance on adaptations to test in model runs, as well as future planning or policy actions.

To assist researchers in this process, AgMIP established a Stakeholder Unit in 2014. The Stakeholder Unit, consisting of team leaders and a stakeholder liaison on each Regional Research Team, facilitates co-developed research and uptake by stakeholders. The benefit of the Stakeholder Unit is clear. These experts are able to focus specifically on the process of engagement between the two parties, plan effective stakeholder interactions, and assist in translating research results into main messages understandable by non-scientists.

Without the co-developed approach, research may not reach stakeholders. AgMIP’s method is valuable because it works to break down the barriers between research and the people who need it. However, these barriers could be difficult to eliminate, and exist within all phases of the research process.

The first barrier is vocabulary. When scientists and non-scientists engage, it is important that they understand each other’s terminology. The vocabulary associated with modeling is often complex. A scientist should adequately translate and simplify their explanations of what the research can do, or what a set of results demonstrate, so that the stakeholders can comprehend, and thus improve, the information associated with the scientist’s outputs. Additionally, scientists should learn terminologies used by stakeholders to fully comprehend the factors affecting regional decision-making. In order to effectively breakdown barriers, a conscious effort to simplify vocabulary, develop clear ways of explaining complex findings, and cultivate trust in communication is essential.

The second barrier is in relation to timing. Most discussion between stakeholder and scientist occurs after the research has been conducted. As a result, the stakeholder is unable to provide input to the scientist’s assumptions until after studies have been completed. This slows the process down, as both funds and time have been committed to outcomes that need to ultimately be adjusted. To minimize this, ongoing discussions are needed. Fostering partnerships will improve the knowledge transfer.

Third, the research that the scientists produce, and the information that stakeholders need, often differ. Efforts to minimize the distance between scientist results and stakeholder needs are vital. Although it may not be possible to fully dissolve this gap between research output and stakeholder needs, ensuring research is useful for the stakeholders is an essential goal.

“I have seen a lot of projects where they talk about collaboration, but in real life collaboration does not happen,” says Hlami Ngwenya, Stakeholder Liaison for the AgMIP Southern Africa research team. “What I have seen in the AgMIP project is that collaboration really happens. It breaks down the boundaries. I have seen an effort to really bridge the gap between science and stakeholders. And really get feedback from stakeholders for them to be able to shape their agenda.”

As the video shows, this effort is beneficial both for the stakeholders who participate in AgMIP research and the researchers. AgMIP scientists are working with stakeholders to provide valuable, applicable information, and the stakeholders help ensure this information is both usable and relevant. Continued refinement of the co-development process of research will improve the quality of results for both scientists and stakeholders today, as well as lay the foundation for collaborations in the future.