Innovation Platforms (IPs) are seen as a promising vehicle to foster a paradigm shift in agricultural research for development (AR4D). By facilitating interaction, negotiation and collective action between farmers, researchers and other stakeholders, IPs can contribute to more integrated, systemic innovation that is essential for achieving agricultural development impacts. However, successful implementation of IPs requires institutional change within AR4D establishments. The objective of this paper is to reflect on the implementation and institutionalisation of IPs in present AR4D programmes. We use experiences from sub-Saharan Africa to demonstrate how the adoption and adaptation of IPs creates both opportunities and challenges that influence platform performance and impact. Niche-regime theory is used to understand challenges, and anticipate on how to deal with them. A key concern is whether IPs in AR4D challenge or reinforce existing technology-oriented agricultural innovation paradigms. For example, stakeholder representation, facilitation and institutional embedding determine to a large extent whether the IP can strengthen systemic capacity to innovate that can lead to real paradigm change, or are merely ‘old wine in new bottles’ and a continuation of ‘business as usual’. Institutional embedding of IPs and – more broadly – the transition from technology-oriented to system-oriented AR4D approaches requires structural changes in organisational mandates, incentives, procedures and funding, as well as investments in exchange of experiences, learning and capacity development.