Name: Impact Assessment of the Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System (RAILS)
Year: 2012
Client: FARA
Country: Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi
Background: The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is a continent-wide forum of stakeholders engaged in African agricultural research and development. Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The RegionalAgricultural Information and Learning System (RAILS) is one of the projects implemented by FARA which was established in 2007 with the aim of alleviating a number of constraints affecting the performance of the NARS, especially the information and communication technology (ICT)-related institutional weaknesses. ICT infrastructure (especially internet connectivity) is critical for increasing the access of National Agricultural Research System (NARS) scientists to relevant publications. Besides, effective collaboration among African agricultural research systems is expected to be enhanced by facilitating and improving access to efficient ICT. The major objective of RAILS is to enhance access, retrieval and use of agricultural information and technologies by African agricultural research for development (ARD) stakeholders in the global knowledge exchange arena.

Objectives: FARA commissioned an independent evaluation of the RAILS program aimed at generating evidence on performance and impact of the program (see Annex for detailed ToRs). Specific objectives of the evaluation were two-fold: (a) to develop an outcome and impact evaluation framework for RAILS, and (b) to evaluate the outcomes and possible impacts of RAILS initiative based on the strategic objectives in the PSTAD Programme Document and the deliverables identified in the revised Logical Framework Matrix, following the mid-term review of PSTAD.

Specific objectives included:

i.        Review FARA and RAILS internal documents;

ii.        Review the existing approaches to outcome and impact evaluation of agricultural research and dissemination; and knowledge management initiatives.

iii.        Develop a conceptual framework for evaluating the outcomes and impacts of RAILS investments in general and of knowledge management initiatives in particular.

iv.        Implement the conceptual framework by conducting an outcome and impact assessment of RAILS Project.

Activities: In line with the review objectives, the assessment assumed a three-pronged approach: Literature review to understand the dynamic national context informing RAILS’s interventions; interviews with key informants and implementing partners on relevance and impact of RAILS’ interventions in six countries (Ghana, Malawi Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Senegal); brainstorming of ideas and emerging issues by the review team which comprised a team of high-level professional research experience.

The main building block for the review was an Evaluation Framework which detailed questions, indicators, data sources and methods from the evaluation question topics in the TORs and the team’s understanding of contextual issues as they relate to RAILS.

Special Recognition: