The Hybrid Researcher-Manager and Other Ideas for Harnessing the Potential of the New CGIAR

These views are of the author only, and do not represent those of IFPRI or its divisions, or the CGIAR or any of its programs.

The potential of a more fully integrated CGIAR is to have experts from many different fields working together closely to accomplish goals that are more targeted than what might have been accomplished under the old system.  Yet to realize the potential, collaboration has to be more than an afterthought.  In my relatively brief 3 years in the CGIAR, I have seen levels of integration increase, yet much of the increase seems to come with one institute taking the lion’s share of the funds and credit, and subcontracting a portion of the work.  This tends to allow one institute to function in its strength, and the supporting institute to do rather mundane work.

Smokestacks polluting the atmosphereAs I was spending time working on a concept paper focusing on the Red River Delta (RRD) of Vietnam, I realized that to focus on the RRD as a landscape requires bringing in expertise from many institutes right from the beginning.  IFPRI’s expertise is in economics and policy analysis, but development at the landscape level in RRD requires experts who understand livestock (ILRI), rice (IRRI), maize (CIMMYT), fish (WorldFish), and perhaps perennials and agroforestry (ICRAF).  In order to get the best from collaborating institutions requires that they be brought in right on the ground-level, so they can help shape the research to reflect the strengths they bring to bear.

There are challenges to bringing in other institutes from the ground level.  First of all, there is the time constraint.  Rarely do researchers had unlimited time to assemble a concept paper to find funding.  The second is money.  As each institute develops their portion, the budget multiplies.  The third challenge is connecting with someone at the other institutes.  Working together even in research requires trust.  So you often have to find someone who knows someone to make this work.

The CGIAR, or perhaps its programs, or perhaps the institutes themselves, would do well to help researchers overcome obstacles.

  • A relatively cheap idea would be to have a CGIAR ideas website where researchers could pitch ideas and see if researchers from other institutes have interest in getting on board.
  • A second idea would be to help researchers meet researchers from other institutes by giving small travel grants that they could use for side trips from their regular work-related to travel to visit institutes near their route.
  • Another idea might be for the CGIAR or the research programs to target specific geographic areas (such as the RRD), and ask the institutes what kind of research they could do to help the geographic area.

A more radical idea would be to designate certain researchers to become hybrid researcher-managers whose job would be to develop cross-cutting research that involved other institutes at the ground level in developing projects.  Some investment could be made in these hybrids to help them better understand the capabilities of other institutes and in getting them connected with researchers at other institutes — not to mention in developing skills of managing people all over the world with diverse skillsets.

It seems to me that IFPRI is uniquely positioned to have hybrid managers, since policymaking involves understanding technical information and translating it into policies that positively impact nations.  Of course, the hybrid researcher-manager would not have to be limited to IFPRI, because there are people with diverse academic backgrounds that have the interest and talent in integrating specialists from many fields.

Regardless of whether any of the ideas presented here are adopted, it is clear that institutions need to do more to harness the potential of the CGIAR if change is to take place more completely and more efficiently.

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