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Report from the Action Research seminar in August

Systemic Practice and Action Research have made a fresh appearance in relation to the renewed focus on food security and land use globally. This has been referred to as the second wave of systems thinking in international agricultural research, which acknowledges farming systems thinking and participatory research of the 1980s as the first wave.

During the seminar Rethinking Agriculture and Land Use – Action Research as a means for Change, on 24 August 2015, at SLU, some of the following questions were addressed:

What is new about this second wave in research for agricultural development? What lessons are being drawn this time from decades of similar research at national and international level under the banner of farming systems? How and where do systems perspective and action research processes come together? Which recent insights from Action Researching will help us rethink agriculture and land use? What challenges do existing institutional arrangements and practices pose in terms of our ability to address complexity and uncertainty?

One item intensely discussed during the afternoon workshop was the difference between systemic and systems interventions including system CRPs and the relevance of the difference in terms of sustainaility of research for development (R4D) interventions. The keynote speaker Professor Richard Bawden from the University of Western Sydney, Australia, (link to his presentation) explained that, systematic is like a close circuit. What matters is to follow the guides right and be rigorous. Farming systems research was a good example where comprehensive research protocols were created and followed. However, according to Bawden being systemic is different. Being systemic neither implies being systematic nor mutually excludes it. He stated that being systemic can be inquired by examining three elements: wholeness, interrelatedness, or embeddedness. Professor Lennart Salomonsson, SLU, also added that acceptance of unpredictability can be an additional fourth. It was mentioned that systemic research is much less common. Although it was implemented by different centers it was not taken up by the international research for development intervention landscape like CGIAR. Bawden and Professor Nadarajah Sriskandarajah argued although systematic interventions can be effective in some circumstances what makes complex interventions sustainable and big impact is being systemic. The discussion concluded that existing system CRPs have a systematic approach but not sufficiently systemic which might inhibit a high development impact.

CRP = (GGIAR Research Program)

Particpants in the seminar were researchers, PhD students, master students, consultants, representatives from Swedish NGO:s

Background to the topic

The recent CGIAR reform has led to the establishment of 15 CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) three of which, namely, dry lands, humid tropics and aquatic agricultural systems have an explicit systems focus, as an alternative to conventional, “linear” approaches to commodity-focused agricultural research. In March 2015 the CRP on Humid Tropics hosted a conference in which the participating social and agricultural scientists stressed ‘the importance of agricultural research to be done with a holistic systems perspective, and for better links between research on improvements in specific commodities and natural resources management. The Aquatic Agricultural Systems program of World Fish has gone further, actualizing the above by adopting Participatory Action Research as its approach, emphasizing engagement with farmers, fishers, NGOs and government institutions, who are meant to identify the challenges and research priorities together, and involve the potential beneficiaries in the action research process, keeping transformational social change as a greater goal.


Link to Professor Richard Bowden´s talk: Action Research and Mind Shifts – Rethinking Agriculture
Link to the seminar programme.