April 2010 finds the RIU programme
in much better shape than a year earlier. It is now more focused and fit for purpose. The most promising activities have been prioritized, a new director has been appointed, management and support teams have been slimmed down, there is much greater clarity about what RIU is doing, why and how, an innovative private sector-led initiative (RIU Best Bets
) has been successfully launched and both internal and external communication has been significantly improved.
Many of these changes were made to respond to criticisms and recommendations made in the 2008 mid-term review. As a result RIU has now been unequivocally repositioned as a research programme under the strap line 'sharing lessons to enable innovation in agriculture'. It has two clear objectives: achieving impact at scale and in the process generating lessons about putting research into use. The RIU programme now consists of a portfolio of around 30 experiments
in putting agricultural research into use, mostly located in Africa. The experiments fall into three main categories:
Soon after the new director
was appointed in July 2009, a revised business plan was written, a research design drafted and small, virtual management, research, communication and support teams appointed.
A technical review of the Africa and Asia programmes was commissioned by RIU in mid 2009. In Africa, this resulted in a number of recommendations being implemented: making the ACPs more autonomous; creating flexibility funds to enable them to more easily pursue interesting opportunities; reducing the number of innovation platforms being run in each country, focusing on those with the highest potential for achieving impact at scale; and closing a number of poorly defined 'information market' activities. In Asia, of the 13 projects originally funded under the Asia Innovation Challenge Fund
, 11 were grouped into four complementary clusters to increase focus and achieve critical mass: establishing seed delivery systems and promoting capacities for participatory crop improvement; innovation in value chains; scaling up of natural resources management research products; and investing in institutions for rural service delivery. The remaining two were found to not fit with RIU’s twin objectives and were closed.
A new initiative, RIU Best Bets
, was launched towards the end of 2009. This used a competitive funding mechanism, inspired by the BBC television programme Dragons' Den, to identify opportunities to put existing research products into use through partnerships in which the private sector plays a significant role. The open call for the first round of Best Bets
, which focused on East, Central and Southern Africa, attracted 84 concept notes. Eight of these were shortlisted, provided with support to develop business plans and two representatives of each proposal were invited to the two-day Best Bets event, held in Nairobi in November 2009. Here each proposal was pitched to a panel made up of leaders
from the African business, finance and research and development communities. Eventually this process led to five Best Bets being funded. An additional exemplar Best Bet on sleeping sickness control in Uganda
, selected earlier as representing one of the RNRRS research outputs which had high potential for impact, continued to make progress at both field and policy levels. RIU support was credited with being an important factor in the awarding of a new £1 million grant
to enable the approaches used in Uganda to be adapted to suit Nigerian conditions.
Internal communication has been strengthened through the development of a revised communication strategy, production of periodic newsletters and holding of regular RIU team meetings. The RIU website has also been improved to better portray and support the new RIU business plan. The website includes regular blogs (e.g. Director's updates
), which highlight important and topical issues, and news items and there is considerable use of specially made short films
. A network has been established which enables relevant research into use success stories and features to be distributed to local and international radio, television and web-based news services. The The Africa Country Programme coordinators have been equipped with broadcast-quality camcorders and training to enable them to operate as 'citizen journalists', telling their emerging stories in their own words and pictures.
RIU is now delivering on its twin objectives: it is projected that more than 56 million people
will be impacted by its activities and important lessons are beginning to emerge; for example, to enable research to be put into use it appears that the roles of innovation brokers and champions are both important, and the active involvement of the private sector also seems to be extremely beneficial. An impact evaluation
specialist is currently being recruited to focus on determining the programme's actual poverty, social, process, capacity and policy-level impacts.
A DFID-commissioned annual review took place towards the end of the reporting period. This confirms the successful re-orientation of the programme. It also indicated that the Best Bets initiative was highly regarded by the reviewers and that greater involvement of the private sector throughout the programme was likely to be a key recommendation.