INRA is a public targeted research organisation. As such, it not only leads research projects but also contributes to applying research in areas such as agriculture, the environment or nutrition. These efforts have a real impact on society. The economic impacts, while important, are only one facet, as INRA’s research also affects numerous other fields. For instance, with regards to the environment, decision support tools for determining nitrogen fertilizer dosage (see inset on next page) are just one example among many practical applications. The area of public health is also frequently and significantly affected. In the 2000s, INRA teams undertook research that demonstrated the danger of Bisphenol A (BPA), which led public policymakers to create legislation banning their use in food packaging. This is an example where research has informed policies.
Comprehend, understand and evaluate
In short, INRA’s research has beneficial implications for society as a whole. But the question remains on how to precisely measure its impacts. While it is relatively easy to quantify the economic impact of research, it is much more challenging to assess its other dimensions. With a view to doing just that, in January 2011 INRA launched the ASIRPA project, which aims to evaluate the impact of public agricultural research. The goal is threefold: better comprehend the mechanisms that create an impact, understand budgetary allocations to research, and evaluate the impact of research on beneficiaries.
A novel methodology for long-term evaluations
For the five-year evaluation of INRA in 2010 by the French evaluation agency for research and higher education (AERES), the Institute was asked to implement a system to assess the impact of its research. It was with this objective in mind that INRA’s central management created the ASIRPA project. Over three years, the ASIRPA team, in partnership with INRA’s various research divisions, developed an original methodology to standardise thirty case studies that would enable regular impact studies of its research in five areas, namely economic, environmental, policy, public health and regional/societal.
The impacts of INRA’s research are achieved after long years of work with various public and private partners. They can be divided into five categories: economic, environmental, policy, public health and regional/societal.
How can the socio-economic impacts of INRA’s research be measured? And how can the mechanisms used to generate impacts be improved? The ASIRPA team designed a method based on three tools to standardise the analysis of thirty case studies.
The ASIRPA team carried out a typological analysis of thirty case studies to identify and classify similar cases with a view to determining the mechanisms that generate economic, policy, or environmental impacts for society. Five major types of impact pathways were distinguished.