the Impact of Participatory Theory-Driven Evaluation in Agricultural Innovation

In the ever-evolving field of agricultural innovation, understanding the effects and contributions of research is crucial. The article “Using a Participatory Theory Driven Evaluation Approach to Identify Causal Mechanisms in Innovation Processes” by Genowefa Blundo-Canto and colleagues provides valuable insights into how agricultural research institutes can enhance their impact analysis through a participatory theory-driven evaluation method called ImpresS. This blog aims to unpack the article’s findings and discuss their implications for evaluation practice, especially for those involved in agricultural innovation.

What is the ImpresS Method?

ImpresS stands for “Impact of Research in the South” and is a method developed by the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (Cirad). It is designed to retrospectively evaluate the causal mechanisms through which agricultural research actions contribute to impacts in long-term innovation processes. The method is particularly notable for its participatory nature, involving various stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive and credible evaluation. The ImpresS method is structured around five iterative phases:

  1. Preparation Phase: Draft the preliminary impact pathway and formulate hypotheses on causal mechanisms.
  2. Dialog Phase: Engaging directly with innovation process actors to refine and characterize the impact pathway and causal mechanisms.
  3. Construction Phase: Collecting evidence for each building block of the impact pathway, including causal mechanisms.
  4. Characterization and Measurement Phase: Analyzing and updating the impact pathway and causal mechanisms through data triangulation.
  5. Validation Phase: Interpreting and validating the updated impact pathway and causal mechanisms with stakeholders.

Case Study: Geographical Indication of “Vales da Uva Goethe” Wines

The article provides a practical case study of the ImpresS method applied to recognizing and introducing the geographical indication for “Vales da Uva Goethe” wines in the State of Santa Catarina, Brazil. This case study highlights how research actions supported organizational and product innovations, including agroclimatic and soil condition characterization and the establishment of production and marketing standards. The evaluation revealed that the main contributions of the research team were not just obtaining the geographical indication but also triggering a learning process and motivation among the wine producers. This led to continuous improvement in wine quality and professionalization of the producers, proving the value of looking beyond traditional impact measures like income.

Implications for Evaluation Practice

  1. Emphasizing Learning and Adaptation: The ImpresS method underlines the importance of understanding the “how” and “why” behind research impacts, moving beyond merely measuring outputs. It enables stakeholders to focus on learning and adapting based on the identified causal mechanisms.
  2. Participatory Approach: By involving various stakeholders in the evaluation process, ImpresS ensures that the findings are relevant, credible, and useful for all parties involved. This approach helps identify and focus on what matters most to the target audience.
  3. Challenges and Considerations: While the participatory approach has many benefits, it also brings challenges like potential biases, careful facilitation, and data triangulation. Evaluators must be aware of these challenges and implement strategies to mitigate them.

How Can People Use the Results?

The results of the ImpresS method are particularly useful for policymakers, researchers, and practitioners involved in agricultural innovation. They can use the findings to:

  • Improve future research and innovation strategies by understanding what works and why.
  • Foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptation within agricultural research institutes.
  • Inform policy by providing robust evidence on the contribution of research to agricultural innovation systems.


The article “Using a Participatory Theory Driven Evaluation Approach to Identify Causal Mechanisms in Innovation Processes” contributes significantly to our understanding of evaluating agricultural innovation. The ImpresS method demonstrates how a participatory, theory-driven approach can lead to more nuanced and useful insights into the impact of research actions. By focusing on the causal mechanisms and involving stakeholders throughout the process, evaluators can ensure that their work not only measures but also contributes to the effectiveness of agricultural innovations.

By incorporating such innovative evaluation practices, agricultural research institutions can enhance their contributions to sustainable development goals and ensure that their work leads to meaningful and lasting impacts.