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Photo: Rwanda Green Fund

Study on African engagement at CoPs

Project portfolio of DeSIRA Pillar 1

The intervention logic of the DeSIRA Initiative is based on the promotion of science and innovation within an agricultural innovation system (AIS) perspective as a major pivot point for shifting agri-food systems towards greater resilience and more sustainability and in turn, for addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Under the DeSIRA Initiative, several innovation domains and geographic areas were targeted by the European Commission such as agroecological intensification, the water-energy-food-forest nexus, water management in rice farming systems in fragile and coastal States in Africa, and prevention and risk management.

A total project portfolio of 69 projects across the three continents in various countries was selected to run Pillar 1 of the DeSIRA Initiative. Most of them started between 2018 and 2020 for 3- to 5-year periods.


Challenges faced by R&I projects to manage for impact

According to the lessons learnt from previous interventions in support of science and innovation, AIS strengthening, and agri-food system transformation, DeSIRA-LIFT identified five major challenges faced by research and innovation (R&I) projects that possibly hamper their capacities to both prove and improve their impacts:

  • How to work with a Theory of Change and make use of it to improve logframes?
  • How to develop an ad-hoc Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) system and select best-fit tools?
  • How to build spaces for learning and critical reflection in project activities?
  • How to track and monitor capacity outcomes?
  • How to demonstrate the contribution of capacity building outcomes to impacts?
  • How to demonstrate the project contributions to the overall DeSIRA Initiative and communicate this purposefully?
  • How to implement efficient participatory research approaches in multistakeholder innovation facilities?
  • How to contribute to in-country innovation trajectories and avoid discontinuities that exceed the project duration?
  • How to manage innovation uncertainties in time-bound projects with pre-defined project outcomes?
  • How to manage project partner ownership, opportunism, and compromises in open innovation processes?
  • What are the differences between traditional development projects and innovation projects with agile management methodologies?
  • How to start/implement/terminate an innovation project under different types of constraints (time, budget, context)?
  • How to anticipate and plan subsequent steps beyond the project?
  • How to link adaptive management to the MEL system using progress markers and critical reflection workshops?
  • Which types of capacity outcomes could be achieved by projects at various AIS levels?
  • How to identify and engage AIS actors of change in project activities?
  • How to strategically link project activities with innovation support services in the country?
  • How to strategically link project activities to national innovation policy agendas, instruments and investments?
  • How to facilitate iterative learning cycles and collective learning?
  • How to promote and accompany behavioural changes toward more collaborative innovation?
  • How to effectively link researchers with other innovation actors in innovation facilities (hubs, centres, living labs, incubators, etc.)?
  • How to track and monitor capacity outcomes from these facilities?

Based on the challenges faced by R&I Projects, DeSIRA-LIFT selected a set of five core capacities of project implementers considered to be enablers of projects’ outcomes and impact. They are:

  • C1-Capacities for MEL – combining learning and accountability
  • C2-Capacities to manage open innovation processes – making research work for open innovation
  • C3-Capacities to adapt and respond to innovation needs – implementing adaptative project management
  • C4-Capacities to influence project environment(s) and strengthen national AIS – operationalising AIS thinking and mobilising actors of change
  • C5-Capacities to collaborate in multi-actor innovation facilities – enhancing partnerships’ quality and collective learning

These five core capacities will be enhanced and monitored by DeSIRA-LIFT with a view to providing a better understanding on how to design, run, and support AIS-oriented interventions. This will constitute the individual learning agenda of DeSIRA-LIFT.

Our learning agenda

Projects work differently in different contexts and through different change mechanisms. Therefore, projects cannot be simply replicated from one context to another and expected to achieve the same outcomes automatically. Theory-based understanding about “what works for whom, in what context, and how’” is, however, transferable. In this perspective, this service area is aimed at conducting transversal learning reviews of project impact pathways, capacity development processes, and drawing lessons from “what worked for whom, in what circumstances, and how?”. These transversal learning reviews will explore, on the one hand, the ways developmental evaluation and MEL systems helped project implementers to refine their intervention strategies, and on the other hand, the ways projects yielded impact and contributed to AIS strengthening in different contexts. The benefit of this learning agenda is the comparative perspective across projects and countries, with regard to project strategies and impact pathways, in order to generate middle-range theories on the strengthening of climate-oriented innovations systems. Our learning agenda will be co-developed with voluntary DeSIRA project teams and their partners.


Learning topics on the action conducted by country-led DeSIRA projects 

  • The challenges and opportunities of implementing change-oriented R&I interventions
  • The challenges and opportunities of doing action research in AIS 
  • The nature of required capacities for managing and implementing change-oriented R&I projects
  • The ways these capacities contributed to enhance impacts of DeSIRA projects
  • The contribution of synergic effects of DeSIRA projects to capacity development, AIS strengthening, and agri-food system transformation.


Learning topics on the action conducted by DeSIRA-LIFT SA1 

  • The contributions of SA1 to the above-mentioned outcomes 
  • The challenges and opportunities in identifying and implementing on-demand innovation support services at the project level
  • The challenges and opportunities of developmental evaluation for developing capacities for AIS 
  • The challenges and opportunities of implementing MEL systems and using MEL data in non-traditional arenas such as policy-making processes
  • A middle-range theory on how to scale out capacities for change-oriented R&I projects in the agricultural sector.


Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation 

P.O. Box 88, 6700 AB Wageningen
the Netherlands


This website was created and maintained with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of DeSIRA-LIFT and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

© DeSIRA-LIFT 2022