Taking stock: impacts of 40 years of policy research at IFPRI.
Marking IFPRI's 40th year, this paper draws on external sources of evidence to review the Institute's policy influence and impact to date. The external evidence includes citations data, external program and management reviews commissioned by CGIAR, and a series of independently conducted impact assessment studies of many of IFPRI's research programs and projects between 1995 and 2015. The paper also reviews recommendations as to how IFPRI might improve its impact. By the end of 2014, IFPRI had published 1,515 papers in journals tracked by the Institute for Scientific Information and had received 21,249 citations in the same journals. IFPRI's average of 14 citations per paper and its h-index of 61 are comparable to the World Bank, which had an average citation count of 13 per paper and an h-index of 83 over a similar period. Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) recently ranked IFPRI second among the top research institutions working in the field of agricultural economics. The external program and management reviews argue that it is plausible to conclude that IFPRI's influence has had significant and positive global impact, but that quantification of that impact has remained elusive. Using the evidence available in the independent impact studies, this paper argues that it can fairly be concluded that IFPRI has had a tangible and substantial impact, and has very likely helped to benefit a large number of the world's poor, many among the "bottom billion." Although quantifying these benefits remains a daunting challenge in most contexts, a few studies at the country level have done so and together provide a surprisingly large estimate of IFPRI's impact. Without inflating these estimates to 2014 prices, and subject to the various rather strong assumptions underlying the quantitative analyses, the total benefit could exceed US$1 billion. This is enough to cover about 75 percent of IFPRI's total spending of US$1.403 billion in 2014 prices between 1976 and 2014. The full benefits are likely to be much larger as these few assessments cover only a fraction of IFPRI's total research portfolio. Moreover, they do not quantify the benefits that may have arisen from cross-country spillovers and regional and global public goods. Most of the impact assessment studies contain recommendations to help IFPRI improve its impact in the future. These recommendations reflect the opinions of the external evaluators, formed in the context of the research project or program they evaluated, but there is a high degree of concurrence among them. The recommendations include finding ways to bridge the research-to-policy gap, such as giving more attention to advocacy and communications, introducing more non-economic perspectives in research, developing more explicit ex-ante strategies in the form of theories of change for influencing policies, and being more strategic in selecting national partners who can help with outreach and policy influence as well as research. Other suggestions include being more systematic in capacity building and in setting research priorities within countries. However, one key remaining challenge stands out-the lack of relevant evidence. IFPRI has simply not done an adequate job of collecting evidence about its influence and impact. To correct this problem, IFPRI needs to routinely establish monitoring and evaluation systems in its research projects in order to build the foundations for later, more rigorous and quantified analyses of its impact.