The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


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Incorporating the Strategic Component of Biotechnology into Public Sector Research Evaluation
Thomas Braunschweig and Willem Janssen

Tightening research budgets, rising pressure for more accountability, and the need to broaden the agenda of public-sector research all make it more difficult to efficiently allocate scarce resources. Consequently, policymakers and research managers in developing countries are increasingly faced with complex decisions about investment in agricultural biotechnology research. An issue that requires particular attention in evaluation is the fact that, biotechnology research often produces enabling technologies which do not result in measurable benefits through applying them in the productive sector but rather facilitates downstream research. Nonetheless, such strategic research may still have substantial value by strengthening the scientific capacity of the country. Moreover, biotechnology activities located at the more basic side of the research continuum typically display the properties of a public good and, therefore, provide good reasons for public sector involvement.

Many research evaluation procedures have been developed to support priority setting in the field of biotechnology. However, they often focus on quantifiable impacts and tend to ignore more intangible contributions of research activities. The purpose of this paper is to present a different approach to research priority setting. It pays particular attention to the contribution of the strategic component to strengthen research capacities in terms of institutional development and human resources. The approach is based on a decision support tool known as the analytic hierarchy process. In this multicriteria method, the decision problem is decomposed and hierarchically structured. Their elements (criteria and alternatives) are compared in pairs using hard data as well as expert judgments. Criteria weights and research priorities are derived from synthesizing the comparisons. The flexibility of the tool enables the incorporation of specific decision criteria that capture the contribution of research alternatives towards building scientific capacities. The justification to include the strategic component in ex ante research evaluation is first detailed, followed by a discussion on the decision framework. The application of the approach to the Chilean biotechnology program is then outlined and the results of the exercise provided. Finally, the outcome of sensitivity analysis is presented in order to discuss the relevance of the strategic component for ranking research alternatives.