The Convergence of Sciences: Strengthening Agricultural Innovation Systems programme (CoS-SIS) is a programme of research and innovation carried out by the University of Wageningen and Universities in Ghana, Mali and Benin in the area of small holder agriculture. The Programme consists of two interrelated components: (1) an Action Research programme; and (2) eleven individual PhD projects. The Action Research programme has both development and research objectives.
The purpose of the mid-term evaluation was to review the progress of CoS-SIS and to gain insights as to what changes might be made in order to increase the likelihood of the Programme reaching its objectives in the remaining two years. The terms of reference asked the evaluators to focus on the Action Research programme and only to look at the PhD projects to the extent that they support this programme and contribute to the joint publications.
In the opinion of the evaluators the CoS-SIS Action Research programme addresses an important area of research. While it is well-known that smallholder development in West Africa faces adverse institutional conditions, little is known about ways of removing these constraints. The attempt to change these adverse conditions and to make this the subject of research is novel and timely, and complementary to the work of other groups grappling with the same issues. The evaluators felt, however, that the Substantive Theory underlying the Action Research should be developed further to also enable analysis of situations where power differences form serious obstacles for the formation of CIGs, joint learning and negotiated compromises that are fair to smallholders. The outcomes of the Action Research are potentially highly relevant to guide future attempts at institutional change in situations where win-win opportunities can be found.
Nevertheless, the CoS-SIS Action Research programme faces a number of implementation problems. While most of the PhD-studies seem to be evolving well, it has taken the RAs some two years to come to grips with the new concepts and to start implementing the approach within their respective domains. These difficulties are known. Remedial actions have been taken and there is clear improvement in some cases. Even so, most RAs still found it difficult to explain what their institutional experiment was. Many CIGs did not seem fit for purpose, and their activities resembled development actions rather than institutional experiments.
It was recommended that urgent and decisive action therefore needed to be taken to ensure that the Action Research and its comparative case study design actually led to the outputs envisaged. It was not too late, but the required conditions needed to be in place by the end of 2011 if the project was to achieve its objectives in the remaining two years of the project.