“Building Evidence to Advance Anti-Poverty Innovations”

On 26th September 2016, the Development Impact Lab (DIL) one of the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Labs headquartered at University of California (UC) Berkeley and co-managed by the Blum Center for Developing Economies and Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) hosted the Science of Scaling Conference. The conference was officially opened with welcome remarks from Heather Lofthouse, the Director of special projects at the Blum Center, Temina Madon, Executive Director for CEGA and Ticora.V. Jones, Division Chief of the HESN, USAID who emphasized the power of strong research, innovation and partnerships. It is very important for researchers to build scale into the research and development process from the beginning. Anti-poverty innovations can make real progress on sustainable global development when they transition from startup to scale. But scaling is easier said than done, particularly when it comes to technology transfer from universities to end users.

There are few generalizable mechanisms for scaling evidence based interventions in emerging markets and so this conference provided an opportunity to learn from ongoing efforts. The event brought together academic researchers, development practitioners, technology developers, entrepreneurs and investors, all together over 100 participants to review the evidence on scaling successful anti-poverty innovations. It provided a great opportunity to articulate the research agenda for the Science of Scaling and also explore questions like; are there proven methods for technology transfer from university to government agencies and non-governmental organizations? Why do some products and interventions scale quicker than others? What facilitates the adoption of new technologies by end-users?

Leveraging from partnerships, Ms. Deborah Naatujuna – RAN Engagement Manager was fully sponsored by the DIL lab to present the paper titled; “Deep community engagement, a vital step to drive scale of innovative interventions” under mixed methods research panel for scaling development engineering innovations. Quantitative methods are routinely used to evaluate pilot programs and large scale deployments whereas Qualitative data, found in case studies used for the development of logic models to document the flow of intervention activities and how they were intended to affect outcomes, provides valuable information and insights about implementation and barriers to scale.

The conference themes guided different panelists presentations and these themes included; enabling scale with Technology since Technology is increasingly enabling and accelerating the scale-up of interventions, from low-cost technology tools to biometric authentication. Technology combined with partnerships with governments and others hold promise for bolstering successful scale.

Other discussions included “Testing at Scale”, while many researchers, donors and implementers endorse pilot-to-scale paradigm, few have invested in testing new technologies or approaches at full scale, and articulated how best to learn at scale. Multi-country studies were also presented where same hypothesis is tested in different Settings. Participants also listened from players in the education sector who presented “Education Interventions” – education interventions in particular have received significant attention, and researchers are identifying generalizable tactics and criteria for scale. Some are more mainstream, for example Sesame Street is now viewable in 150 countries, while other, new approaches and ideas are allowed to develop and grow on the margins and then spread.

Why do some products and interventions scale faster than others?” Below are some of the takeaways from the dialogue.

  • Don’t plan, Iterate: If your goal is to scale, it is important to iterate rather than plan, said Ofir Reich, Data Scientist at CEGA, whose presentation focused on what lessons agile product development hold for effective global development.
  • Manage expectations: “One of the challenges with scaling is that development community, simultaneously emphasize that an intervention needs to be ‘locally appropriate,’ ‘innovative’ and also scalable,” Evan Thomas, Director of the Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory, at Portland State University, said. Almost by definition, something that is both locally appropriate and innovative is not yet ready for scale. And yet, when donors put out a request for proposal, they expect a product to work out of the box. They are not necessarily attuned to the iterative cycle of design, so there is a need for expectation management, which can be a challenge
  • Change the incentives: One of the main talking points of the Development Impact Lab meeting was how money comes from funders to support interventions; incentivizes new projects versus the sustained delivery of services. “There are really misaligned expectations and structures between what it takes to make a technology product viable and what our customers in this context think it takes,”
  • Monitor the outcomes that matter, This  uncovered some of the fundamental limitations to randomized control trials, or RCTs, from the high price tags to the challenge of generating transferable insights on what works in other settings.
  • Remember that scale requires systems, One of the major barriers standing in the way of scale is “the attribution versus contribution problem,” said Louis Boorstin, Managing Director of the Osprey Foundation in Washington, D.C. When donors seek to attribute outcomes to their own funding, in order to please those who authorize their budgets, they may not prioritize activities that contribute to the overall sustainability of systems.

  • The Role of Media and Civil Society: It was also well noted that Media and Civil Society are very critical to promote Scale Up – panelists in this session uncovered studies on the effects of the media on public opinion and voting behavior and discussed some tips on how we can efficiently and effectively harness media for evidence-based scale-up

  • Consider the community as critical stakeholders, Working with communities to understand the tones of climate vulnerability is not scaled at the same speed but we have to prioritize that ground level information as much as the quick data we can detect.

  • Test at scale – It is important to do pilot research even when you have a government ready to test at scale, Walsh of J-PAL said, explaining that a few dollars can save several hundreds of thousands of dollars that otherwise might have been spent on a Randomized Control Trial

The conference was a great illuminating event that provided opportunities for experts from universities, NGOs, government agencies, social enterprises, and private industry to share ideas and articulate new perspectives, research priorities, appreciate impact studies and opportunities that exist as they roll out interventions. Different players shared their practical experiences on what has worked and what has not. RAN lab also hopes to engage some of the conference participants like IBM, PATH, J-PAL among others to explore opportunities and synergistic ways in which we can work together.

On Day 2, the DIL Team and Big Ideas Contest Team had a working session with Ms. Naatujuna to reflect on the past Big Ideas Contents and Makerere’s participation in the past 3 years, explore ways of increasing participation of students in the contest that launched in September 2016 (Big Ideas 2016/2017) as well as a brainstorm on the sections of a joint white paper regarding Big ideas and expansion to Makerere University campus.

She then had an insightful meeting with MasterCard Scholars and Harry Le Grande, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, on how to support social innovators from Africa when they return back home from American universities.  This was joined by MasterCard Scholars who included students from Kenya and Burkina Faso that are studying on the MasterCard scholarship at UC Berkeley and have entrepreneurship initiatives they are nurturing to implement in their African countries.

The Team at DIL also organized additional side meetings like theInterview with Blum Center Writer Sarah Bernardo who was preparing a documentary on Big Ideas at Makerere University and RAN lab’s collaboration with the DIL lab. Naatujuna also visited theCITRIS Invention Lab that supports faculty, student and community innovation by providing the knowledge, tools and support to rapidly design and prototype novel interactive products, embedded sensing systems and integrated mobile devices. This facility is a vital piece of the CITRIS pipeline running from the minds of researchers through CITRIS laboratories, and into the markets, industries, and streets of the world.

She also attended theBig Ideas Contest Info session and gave a short insightful talk to potential applicants from UC Berkeley on some key highlights they should consider as they develop their pre-proposals. This event also provided an opportunity for Big Ideas participants to learn more about the goals, categories, timeline and requirements of this year’s contest and she drew lessons on how to implement a similar info session at Makerere University.

The visit to UC Berkeley was concluded withthe Big Ideas Contest Hardware for the Good Category Launch that provided an overview of the resources available to support socially focused hardware innovations, it featured student Demo and presentations on some of the 3D hardware models they had previously developed that would best fit in this category. This event also included a tour of the Jacob Institute’s innovation space.