Preparing Food Security-Related Case Studies for Eurasia

By Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Senior consultant to the World Bank.  Professor, Cornell University and Copenhagen University

Introduction The purpose of this note is to outline the methodology for the preparation of brief analytical and educational case studies and to assist the Eurasia Center for Food Security (ECFS) and selected researchers in developing such case studies on selected topics related to food security and nutrition.   
Food security and nutrition is an outcome of: (a) the food systems of which it is a part, (b) the external factors influences the systems, such as government policy, and (c) the behavior of the food systems’ stakeholder groups.  Food systems are complex and public policy as well as the behavior of a variety of interest or stakeholder groups are critical to guide them to the fulfillment of societies’ goals.  In fact, arriving at the goals to be pursued (“societies’ goals”) is difficult and a function of the goals of the various interest groups, including but not limited to agents within the public sector, and their relative power to influence decisions.  The design and implementation of appropriate government policy depend on a thorough understanding of the food system for which it is aimed, how it operates and how it would respond to various government interventions.  Evidence-based decision-making is more likely to be successful in achieving stated goals than decision-making based solely on ideological reasons.  Food policy research is an important source of the evidence needed for sound policy-making.  

The content and structure of a case study report Each case study, which should be of a length of 5,500 - 6,000 words, should focus on a specific and real situation requiring policy action to improve food security and nutrition and for which policy options exist.  Each of the six case study reports should be organized in the following sections:
  1. Title and author(s).
  2. Executive Summary.  This should be limited to 250 words or roughly one page and include a brief presentation of the background of the issue to be discussed, the objective of the case study, policy options and key stakeholder groups.  Relationships to food security and nutrition should be included in all sections of the report
  3. Background information. This should be no more than 1,250 words or approximately 5 pages and include an analytical description of the context for the study, including results from data collection and analysis.  Students who wish to get additional background information can consult the additional readings listed below.
  4. Policy Issues.  This section, which should not exceed 1,000 words or approximately 4 pages, should identify the policy-related issues and the possible policy intervention points, resulting from the background information.
  5. Stakeholder Groups.  This section, which should not exceed 750 words or approximately 3 pages, should identify and describe each of the stakeholder groups of interest to this study and their main agendas, interests, and expected relative power and influence in the policy-making process.
  6. Policy Options.  This section is the most important section of the report and should provide a list of the most important policy options identified by the authors and the justification for each of the options as well as an analysis of the likely impact on food security and nutrition as well as the impact on other public policy goals such as national incomes, government expenditures and sustainable natural resource management.  Although quantitative cost-benefit analysis is unlikely to be possible within the short time frame for the case study, any available information about relative costs and benefits of the various policy options should be included. The length of this section will depend on the particular case study but should not exceed 2,000 words or approximately 8 pages.
  7. AssignmentThis section, which should be only a short paragraph, is relevant only for the version used for training.  Is should specify that the students should analyze each policy option and assess the pros and cons of each policy option from the perspectives of the stakeholder group to which each student is assigned and look for opportunities to arrive at a consensus about action to be recommended. 
  8. Policy recommendation(s) This section, which should be included only in the version aimed at policy advice, should make a clear recommendation for action, identify the stakeholder group(s) for which it is aimed, and provide the main justification for why that policy option was chosen.  The section should be no more than 250 words or approximately one page. 
  9. Additional readings.  This section should consist of a list of 2-3 additional readings recommended for the students to get additional information about the description of the background for the case.
  10. List of references This section should list all the references used to prepare the case study report.

Undertaking the case study The following seven steps are suggested for the execution of the case study:
  1. Identify a food security or nutrition-related issue for which more evidence is needed to guide policy action, which, in turn, is expected to result in improved and sustainable food security and nutrition.  The selection of the issue should also be guided by the expected likelihood that policy action will be taken.  This requires an assessment of whether lack of evidence is the main reason why action has not been taken and whether food security and nutrition goals can be made compatible with other prevailing policy goals. A political economy assessment of the feasibility of improving food security and nutrition is critically important before the issue is selected.  Failure to understand the policy process and related goals have resulted in much applied policy research of limited value and a very large number of evidence-based recommendations that have not been implemented. 
  2. Develop a conceptual model showing the potential and actual impact pathways between the issue or topic to be studied and food security, nutrition and human and ecological health.  The model should be sufficiently detailed to identify the variables and relationships for which data are needed.  Potential policy intervention points should be identified and a tentative list of policy options should be developed for subsequent review and modification.
  3. Extending the conceptual model into an analytical model which further refines what data are required and in what form they could be collected. The analytical model should specify which components of the study will be descriptive qualitative analysis and which parts will be quantitative analysis.  Every effort should be made to develop an analytical framework that helps establish associations between potential policy interventions and the desired outcomes.      
  4. Collect the qualitative and quantitative data/information needed to apply the analytical model.  The data and information sources may include primary sources such as open-ended or structured sample interviews, focus groups and individual interviews or secondary sources such as existing research reports, policy documents and the like.  The choice of data sources will be influenced by the time and money available. While cohort observational studies may be expensive and often take two years or longer to complete, case studies are usually done in a much shorter period of time and with less money.Thus, primary data collection, which may be both time consuming and expensive, is usually rather limited. The advantage of completing a study during a short time span is that the relevance of the issue and related interest by the policy-makers do not have to be predicted far in advance.Many cohort observational studies have produced important policy recommendations relevant at time the study was initiation but of no interest to policy-makers 2-3 years later, when the recommendation are ready.Direct observation and prior knowledge by the case presenter may provide an important context for the study.One of the strengths of a case study approach is the opportunity to combine information and data from various sources to develop a more realistic picture of the context and the relationships of interest.
  5. Apply the above analytical model to the data collected, refine the above mentioned policy intervention points, refine the list of relevant stakeholder groups and their prevailing goals and suggest policy options.
  6. Complete the report along the lines mentioned above, with policy recommendations (chosen from the list of policy options) and justifications for the recommendation.
  7. Specify an assignment to students to be used for training purposes.  The assignment should be do discuss the pros and cons of each policy option from the perspectives of each stakeholder group and attempt to arrive at a consensus about the most appropriate policy action to follow. Submit the report for peer review and subsequent revision and finalization.
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