Assessing the Benefits of ARS R&D Within an Economic Framework

Public sector research is a powerful tool to promote various missions of USDA. Policy makers who commit resources to public sector research, and research administrators who allocate those resources across problems and programs, implicitly or explicitly evaluate alternatives and set priorities. Public funding also requires public accountability. Assessing past and potential research benefits is an important tool in setting priorities and providing accountability.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have embarked on an effort to provide an overview of options for evaluating public agricultural research benefits, and to examine examples of how the principles of research evaluation might be applied in different research areas. The examples were chosen to explore the suitability of different assessment methods, but not to determine a numerical value for research efforts. The research team has drafted a report that:

  • Categorizes potential roles of public sector agricultural research;
  • Reviews how the benefits of public agricultural research are assessed;
  • Reviews practical approaches used by Federal agencies for research evaluation in general and economic evaluation of research in particular;
  • Summarizes the means ARS currently uses to manage and assess its research portfolio;
  • Explores three cases of ARS research programs as examples of how principles of research evaluation might be applied.

On March 10 and 11, 2008, ERS and ARS, in collaboration with Farm Foundation, had a workshop to critique the collaborative project, and to determine future priorities for the assessment of public sector agricultural research. Objectives were to:

  • Review alternative approaches to research evaluation within the public sector;
  • Present preliminary results from the case studies of ARS research program components;
  • Provide an opportunity for ARS and outside experts to comment on the preliminary findings and offer suggestions for completing the project outlined above;
  • Provide an opportunity for ARS and outside experts to provide suggestions for future approaches to assessing the economic and social benefits of public research, particularly at the program or component level.

Participants in the workshop included ARS and ERS research managers, representatives from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), Research, Education and Economics (REE), and other non-USDA Federal research agencies, along with non-government economists and other social scientists with expertise in science policy, the evaluation of science, and the economic evaluation of scientific research.

Session 1: Approaches to Research Evaluation
Rosalie Ruegg, TIA Consulting.
Evaluation Tools for Public R&D Investments

Barry Bozeman, University of Georgia .
The Social Implications of Public Science Policy: Public Value Mapping

George Norton, Virginia Tech
An Overview of Economic Evaluation of Agricultural Research

Session 2: Inside and Outside Views of ARS Research
Caird Rexroad, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Overview of ARS, with Special Attention to National Program Assessment

Rick Welsh, Clarkson University
Choice of Research Priorities by Public and Private Sector Scientists and Research Administrators

Session 3: Case studies of ARS Research
John King, USDA Economic Research Service
ARS Research on Water Quality and Watersheds

Kelly Day Rubenstein, USDA Economic Research Service
The ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory Research

Paul Heisey, USDA Economic Research Service
ARS Research on Bovine Quantitative Genetics and Genomics

Session 4: Panel on Economic Evaluation within the Context of Federal Research
Gary Anderson, National Institute of Standards and Technology
The Role of Economic Analysis at NIST

Rosalie Ruegg, TIA Consulting
Economic Evaluation within the Context of Federal Research

Sharon Drumm, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Review of ARS Program Planning Cycle

Session 5: Evaluation of Agricultural Research at the Sub-Sector Level in Australia
John Mullen, New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary Industries
Evaluation of Agricultural Research at the Sub-Sector Level in Australia

Session 6: Panel on Evaluation of Public Sector Research–Can it Be Disaggregated?
George Norton, Virginia Tech,
Economic Evaluation of Public Sector Research—Can It Be Disaggregated?

Andy Toole, Rutgers University
Assessing the Benefits of ARS R&D: How do we move Forward?

Keith Fuglie, USDA Economic Research Service
Experience of the International Potato Center

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