During the recent NBDC science meeting, associate consultant – and former staff member of the International Water Management Institute – Doug Merrey took stock of a number of interviews carried out to map the Nile Basin’s ‘institutional history‘ (1). The presentation focused on what the NBDC has done to implement a research for development (R4D) approach that brings research activities out of the scientific silo and into communities’ landscapes, as well as the figurative landscape of development outcomes.

In his presentation ‘Is research for development a good investment? Reflections on lessons from NBDC’, Merrey pointed to a number of interesting aspects.

Historically, CGIAR is a collective of research institutes and its scientists have been assessed against the amount of peer-reviewed papers published every year, but the CGIAR reform is pushing CGIAR scientists to ensure their research brings about development outcomes. These scientists are increasingly involved in processes of facilitation of innovation and action-research activities verging on development work.

The question is whether these efforts are worthwhile. Such efforts are long-term, resource-intensive, require strong process skills that CGIAR scientists have not necessarily had to develop and nurture until now. In addition, the NBDC experience shows that R4D means different things to different people. In his presentation, Merrey noted that despite some shortcomings, the NBDC did promote one authentic innovation: to bring together a large and diverse group of partners, which gave more thrust to the collective capacity to innovate.

Merrey concluded with the four main recommendations from the Nile BDC’s experience with R4D:

  • Effective partnerships – empowered demand-side institutions;
  • Strong linkages to existing development investment programs;
  • Long-term commitment by funding agencies as well as scientists;
  • A foundation in excellent science.

As the project comes to an end and folds into the CGIAR Research Program on Water, land and ecosystems, these lessons are increasingly relevant.

Note:

(1) Institutional histories are a documentation and monitoring approach followed throughout the Challenge Program for Water and Food to better understand how the program’s dedicated R4D approach was implemented across the six basins (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta).