Professor Guy Poppy
Professor Guy Poppy

We caught up with Professor Guy Poppy, member of the IAES Evaluation Reference Group, to shed some light on the pivotal role of the newly established UK-CGIAR Centre for Collaboration and Innovation in Science and Technology. During the interview he was in Washington DC, USA, speaking at the National Academies at their Food Forum.

The new UK-CGIAR Centre for Collaboration and Innovation in Science and Technology intends to spur new collaborations among CGIAR, UK science institutes and research centers in the Global South while also bolstering existing partnerships. As a member of CGIAR’s ERG, how would you  urge CGIAR to evaluate new and existing partnerships? What does success look like here? 

I see the UK-CGIAR Centre as a transformative initiative. Collaborating with CGIAR, it leverages the UK's global science hub status for impactful research and success hinges on forging collaborations between leading UK scientists and counterparts in Kenya, Tanzania, and CGIAR institutes like CIAT and IPRI. My engagement in a Columbia program with CGIAR focused on addressing food security challenges in the agricultural-forest interface. Working in Cali, Colombia, and the Amazonian rainforests with CIAT scientists, we aimed to enhance ecosystem services for improved food security.

Partnerships within the UK-CGIAR Centre vary, some new and others building on existing initiatives. For instance, the John Innes Centre is enhancing global crop genetics, collaborating on a climate-resilient iron  improvement project in Kenya, Pakistan, and Egypt. The introduction of new researchers aims to amplify impact.

Success, for me, is these partnerships combining scientific excellence with development expertise. I envision seamless collaboration accelerating the translation of cutting-edge science into tangible impacts globally. As the UK-CGIAR Centre forms, my vision centers on diverse expertise converging for positive change and sustainable development through science.

Why do you believe that fostering internal and external relevance and coherence through partnerships is crucial for initiatives like the UK-CGIAR Centre for Collaboration and Innovation in Science and Technology?

The establishment of this center is noteworthy as it stems from a collaborative effort between the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, a significant research funder, and CGIAR. Together, we are exploring how to merge the expertise of UK scientists with the international proficiency of CGIAR centers, particularly in their impactful work with farmers globally.

What makes this collaboration truly valuable is our ability to pinpoint relevant scientific expertise in the UK that aligns with the needs of CGIAR scientists, facilitating projects in places like Kenya. This collaborative approach involves a form of "brokerage," where the well-mapped UK research landscape, with its identified expertise and skills, synergizes with CGIAR's global scientific network.

By intentionally connecting these two pools of expertise, we can foster meaningful relationships and overcome challenges that might not naturally arise. This deliberate effort allows us to bring together the right individuals for the right projects, creating an opportunity to harness the collective strengths of both the UK and CGIAR to address pressing global issues.

How can these collaborations be structured to ensure accountability for effective and impactful implementation of evaluation findings around CGIAR’s portfolio into real-world solutions?

 I believe that evaluation is crucial in research, and it's essential for researchers and evaluators to collaborate from the outset. As a researcher involved in evaluation, I find it valuable to engage with evaluators early on to understand how our work might be assessed and judged for success.

For instance, if I aim to influence livestock policy in Tanzania, sitting down with an evaluator experienced in similar contexts can provide insights. Activities such as policy exchanges or workshops with key officials can be discussed to ensure alignment with research goals while maintaining evaluative independence. This collaborative approach starts at the project's beginning and continues throughout, involving reflective discussions on activities' outcomes and impacts. It's an ongoing process of considering whether each activity aligns with desired outcomes and, if not, how to approach it differently in the future.

I also would like to emphasize the importance of clear communication between researchers and evaluators. Ensuring researchers understand the evaluation criteria fosters accountability, preventing misunderstandings and changes in R4D goals without proper evaluation alignment. This transparency upfront sets the stage for collaborative adjustments that could enhance research impact, integrating them into the evaluation process.

Strengthening ties among leading scientists is the name of the game in this exciting new UK-CGIAR undertaking. When we talk about evaluating the quality of research for development, what is the role that such partnerships play? 

Having spent considerable time assessing research quality, including my role on CGIAR's ERG and in the UK's Research Excellence Framework, I'm well-versed in evaluating academic publications, impact case studies, and aspects of research culture and environment. Both UK and CGIAR scientists are familiar with this space, making it crucial for scientists in the new collaboration to consider broader impact and developmental aspects from the outset. Encouraging scientists to think about wider impact involves co-developing programs, working closely with end users, and being culturally sensitive. The key is to view research not only through the lens of scientific excellence but also through its potential to improve lives or influence beneficial policies. The goal is to deliver on multiple fronts, achieving success in both scientific and societal realms.

Legitimacy in partnerships between Northern and Southern scientists is equally vital, and mutual learning is a cornerstone. Co-developing interventions requires contributing individual insights and actively listening to collaborators. This not only strengthens collaboration but also elevates the quality of scientific research. Importantly, undertaking research in a way that ensures impact and appreciation involves co-developing projects with all stakeholders. This collaborative approach enhances the likelihood of the research being embraced and adopted, especially by farmers with their valuable insights. The key takeaway is that co-developing projects with all involved parties is the linchpin to achieving impactful, appreciated, and sustainable scientific research.

How would you recommend using evaluative evidence to advise scientists and researchers engaging in R4D and international collaborations to steer so that their work not only produces cutting-edge scientific outputs but also effectively addresses broader societal challenges, such as climate change, nutrition, and animal welfare?

To guide scientists and researchers like myself in R4D and international collaborations, a thoughtful approach during the project's co-development is crucial. I see the importance of incorporating a theory of change (ToC) or logic model, envisioning the desired impact, and ensuring that desired outputs align with intended outcomes. Broadening the lens beyond scientific outputs to address broader challenges such as climate change, nutrition, and animal welfare is essential in my view.

For instance, in the context of climate change, I envision contributing to net-zero agriculture, and in nutrition efforts, my goal is to reduce malnutrition by addressing deficiencies. As a researcher, I strategize outputs and engagement activities, using tools like schools, communication strategies, and policy workshops to navigate towards impactful outcomes. Consider addressing malnutrition, where my focus would involve organizing workshops, policy discussions, and genetic improvements in plants to shape what people eat for improved nutrition. In essence, my approach aligns project activities with a broader vision, co-developing strategies to produce cutting-edge scientific outputs while effectively tackling pressing societal challenges. CGIAR’s evaluation guidance, framed by Quality of Research for Development Framework, sheds light on how then to evaluate such interventions.

Climate, nutrition and animal welfare are some of the areas that the UK’s Centre intends to support. Undoubtedly, the partnerships would want to demonstrate that they have contributed to solving intractable problems. In addition to delivering cutting edge scientific outputs, what else would evaluators be looking for to understand how UK-CGIAR Centre for Collaboration and Innovation in Science and Technology has moved the needle in global challenge areas?  

In my perspective, success in initiatives like the UK-CGIAR Centre for Collaboration and Innovation in Science and Technology transcends scientific publications. It's about measuring tangible impacts on policies and assessing their effectiveness in delivering desired outcomes. For projects like genetically modified crops, success extends beyond scientific achievements, encompassing factors like farmer satisfaction and consumer adoption.

The essence of success lies in influencing policies and ensuring they effectively deliver the intended impact. Fostering partnerships, as seen in the UK-CGIAR Centre, is pivotal. Established through collaboration between the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office in the UK and CGIAR, this initiative aims to harness the expertise of UK scientists and address the scientific needs of CGI centers globally. By strategically leveraging this collaborative framework, we can bring together experts for impactful projects. The UK's well-mapped research landscape complements CGIAR's global reach, fostering intentional collaborations that address challenges like climate change, nutrition, and animal welfare. This deliberate approach enhances the likelihood of successful projects with a global impact.


In addition to being a member of CGIAR’s Evaluation Reference Group, Professor Guy M Poppy was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency from 2014-2020 (UK Govt) and is a Professor of Ecology in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton. He is Director of Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment (UKRI SPF programme for £47.5 million), chair of the strategy board of the Public Policy at the University of Southampton and is also the Executive chair of BBSRC which is the largest non-clinical biological funder in the UK