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The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID (2017)

Chapter: 8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations

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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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8

Integrating STI+P into USAID Operations

The 2006 National Academies Committee on Science and Technology (S&T) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) devoted considerable attention to operational issues as major hurdles for implementing an agency-wide science, technology, and innovation (STI) strategy, notably technically qualified personnel levels, incentives for S&T professionals, budget levels, and contracting constraints.1 That committee discerned that the capacity of USAID to carry out effective S&T programming had deteriorated in the prior decade. The USAID administration accepted those findings and set in motion a series of systemic changes that have accelerated over the intervening decade. But a far-reaching issue remains: Is USAID administratively organized to advance its newly prioritized science, technology, innovation, and partnership (STI+P) goals, with shared definitions and goals, bolstered with the organizational resources to achieve them? This chapter looks at the challenge of coherence and the progress made on individual operational measures that most impact STI+P.

STI EXPERTISE WITHIN USAID

Personnel ceilings on USAID staff mandated by Congress were a major concern in the 2006 NAS report. The concern was partly a matter of numbers, but even more whether USAID had the right mix of trained personnel—from whatever source to meet program requirements going

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1 See National Academies, The Fundamental Role of Science and Technology in International Development: An Imperative for the U.S. Agency for International Development, 2006, in particular Chapter 4, “Capabilities of USAID to Use Science and Technology Effectively,” pp. 73-92. Note that the 2006 report did not have Innovation or Partnerships in its statement of task, so the scope of USAID’s portfolio has been expanded for this committee.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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forward. Personnel numbers and qualifications remain constraints to implement USAID’s ambitious STI+P goals. These constraints may grow, due to mission security challenges and/or the high costs of overseas assignments. The necessary staff mix includes those who can design and articulate STI strategies across sectors and regions; those who can test, adapt, and deploy STI at scale; those who can work with host-country partners; and those who can identify, develop, and implement partnerships with the best STI sources in the United States and around the globe.

In part due to the recommendation of the 2006 committee to increase S&T expertise and the strong advocacy of the USAID administrator, Congress raised the ceiling on USAID Foreign Service staff in order to recruit, over a five-year period, additional classes of S&T-trained professionals. The Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) doubled the allowable number of Foreign Service Officer (FSO) positions in USAID from 1,200 to 2,400, a process that took more than five years to complete. The distribution of successful applicants to the DLI underscored the importance of technical qualifications, including personnel backstops in agriculture, economics, private sector, engineering, environment, health, education, and governance, among others. The DLI, however, was not designed to fill all necessary technical gaps. FSOs constitute only 20 percent of USAID staff. The largest category (more than one-half) are Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) serving in USAID missions, with the remaining employed through the Civil Service, personal service contractors (PSC), and 29 other hiring authorities.2 FSNs play a key, and frequently underappreciated, role at the mission level in delivering STI+P programs and sustaining long-term relationships. Growing local STI+P capacity of individuals and institutions creates expanded opportunities to give FSNs greater responsibility in host countries.

The DLI program recruitments appeared to substitute for other staff, increasing the proportion of FSOs in the total USAID staff mix. By 2012, however, staffing overall showed major increases.3 Despite steady

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2 General Accountability Office, Foreign Assistance: USAID Needs to Improve Its Strategic Planning to Address Current and Future Workforce Needs, June 2010. Available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/310/306295.pdf

3 The USAID chief human capital investment officer explained in 2013 that, with the DLI, “the new FSOs have not been a replacement effort. Since 2008,

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

rises, however, a large portion of the growth was directed toward a few focus countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan, rather than distributed broadly across the agency’s technical and geographic areas of operations.4

STI programs are characterized differently across USAID’s operating units, as discussed throughout this report. Therefore, no single set of metrics tracks the subcategories of STI personnel. That situation is longstanding with regard to USAID missions, in which each country context and level of local capacity shapes the analysis of mission personnel needs. Only 2 of 33 personnel hiring categories are centrally managed—Foreign Service and Civil Service employees. Each Washington office/bureau also sets its own staffing priorities, especially for technical personnel borrowed from other federal agencies, fellows, on-site contractors, and others. For instance, the agricultural sector program in USAID has for many years borrowed technical staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) via a Participating Agency Service Agreement (PASA),5 and no single census in USAID tracks the number and locations of USDA PASAs at any given time. On the other hand, USDA has a single coordinating point for dispatch of most of its PASAs and other technical personnel, located in the Agricultural Research Service Office of International Research Programs (OIRP). The net result of such decentralization is that no centrally managed numbers or qualifications exist for the number of staff with advanced training in scientific and technical fields or even the effective number of such positions within USAID.

Within the personnel categories that do have tracking, it is still difficult to capture the number and skills of technically qualified people. For instance, Foreign Service backstops relevant to STI include, among others, #10 (agriculture), #11 (economics), #21 (business, industry, and private enterprise), #25 (engineering), #40 (environment), #50 (health/-

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our Civil Service staff increased by 42%, our PSC staff increased by 35%, and our FSN staff increased by 19%.” See http://www.usaidalumni.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/AGM-2013-Full-Report.pdf, Annex 1.

4 Congressional Presentations for FY 2008, FY 2011, FY 2014, and FY 2017. The last is accessible at https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/9276/252179.pdf.

5 USAID Automated Directives System, ch. 306. Available at https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1868/306.pdf.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

population), #60 (education), and #76 (governance). But FSOs with advanced technical training who enter USAID employment in one of those backstops can change to a nontechnical category, such as #12 (program management), depending on their career paths. Thus, any effort to track the actual numbers or capabilities of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees6 (as defined by education and prior experience) would yield different results than a census of STEM positions (usually lower than the prior number), although the trend lines shown in Figure 8-1 are illustrative.

Assuming that the baseline of unspecified STI expertise in USAID has remained static over time given the low turnover of civil servants and FSNs in USAID missions, the Development Leadership Initiative significantly increased the number of STEM-qualified individuals within USAID within the Foreign Service. Based on the Office of Personnel Management Fedscope databank, the total number of personnel slots identified as STEM backstops grew between 2004 and 2015, most rapidly between 2010 and 2015. It should be noted that the first year of this databank (2004) is widely considered the lowpoint of STEM positions in USAID at large, followed shortly thereafter by the congressional authorization of the DLI.

Hiring this many new STI or STEM program staff largely over a five-year period created challenges. USAID Forward included in its key measures the expansion of a formal mentoring program. In 2016, USAID reported on its attempts to build a mentoring culture as follows: “USAID’s Mentoring Program enhanced the professional development of more than 900 staff over the past fiscal year with a planned increase of 10 percent per year. Since the program’s inception, the number of participants in the mentoring program has increased on average 25 percent annually. This progressive increase has occurred as missions have begun to see mentoring as a critical element in helping achieve their strategic goals.”7 Unfortunately, this mentoring program was applied

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6 It should be noted that the Office of Personnel Management and the personnel offices in USAID use STEM as its classification for the personnel of interest to this report. Since the programs in which this expertise is deployed are described as STIP by USAID program offices, this report uses the terms as generally involving the same disciplinary universe.

7 USAID Forward, https://www.usaid.gov/usaidforward.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

only to Foreign Service and Foreign Service National staff, thus omitting many other technical personnel categories.

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FIGURE 8-1: Comparative USAID STEM Employment, by Gender, 2004 to 2015.
SOURCE: OPM Fedscope Databank
NOTE: Only Foreign Service and Civil Service employees are included.

To augment S&T expertise beyond Foreign Service and Civil Service direct hires, USAID has rapidly increased its number of limited tenure staff, notably American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellows. Scientists and engineers who receive an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship come primarily with postdoctoral educational accomplishment, are highly trained scientifically, and pursue the fellowship to gain hands-on experience in federal agencies (see Box 8-1 for examples.) Roughly one-third of the AAAS Fellows remain at their federal agencies, another one-third use the fellowship to bridge into a new career path, and the remaining one-third return to academia. USAID often uses the fellowship program as a potential recruitment mechanism for highly skilled staff, including through DLI. In the past, the AAAS Fellows who came to USAID served in Washington technical bureaus, but with the push to increase STI capacity globally, the first AAAS Fellow to serve overseas in a decade was posted to Indonesia in 2012. In

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

all, more than 50 AAAS Fellows are now appointed annually to USAID. At any given time, from 50 to 100 are working at USAID, to reflect the number who opt to extend for a second year. Some also withdraw from the rolls of the fellowship program to accept career appointment in USAID.

The responsibilities given to AAAS Fellows are sometimes inappropriate to their backgrounds and/or exceed their skills. As young scientists and engineers, they have largely academic, rather than managerial, experience. Yet the dominant requirement for USAID’s program positions is the ability to negotiate and manage relations with program implementers. This can be frustrating on two fronts: to the fellows, if they do not expect such a role, and to agency staff, who have the task to mentor the fellows placed into positions of program oversight and advice. Because of overall agency staffing constraints, fellows become default program managers, even if they do not have authority to make decisions or sign official documents on behalf of the agency.

New fellows cannot be fully effective without active mentoring. In Washington, they are more effective when partnered with experienced personnel who understand and value STI issues, most commonly located in the technical bureaus. The newly developed Global Development Lab struggled to identify experienced and knowledgeable mentors for its rapid influx of fellows. In missions, available experienced staff members are also hard-pressed to provide mentoring, given the many competing demands on their time. The agency does not appear to conduct

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

follow-up effectiveness assessments to determine the nature of the performance improvement resulting from specific kinds of mentoring. Nor has it appeared to have considered mentoring programs with external personnel, drawing on retired USAID staff or implementing organizations.8

Another fellowship program, the Jefferson Science Fellowship, places tenured faculty from U.S. institutions of higher education in Washington for one year to serve as advisors to the State Department and USAID.9 Past and current topics of engagement by Jefferson Fellows include catalyzing new partnerships for the Power Africa initiative; providing critical guidance on seismological trends to the USAID administrator immediately following the earthquake in Haiti; combating wildlife trafficking; and advancing a trilateral agreement between the United States, Brazil, and Mozambique.

As with the AAAS Fellowship program, the Jefferson Fellows also bring science and technology expertise into U.S. development. More experienced in their careers, Jefferson Fellows are usually aware of the latest developments in their disciplinary fields and abreast of what is being presented at conferences and published in journals—developments that USAID personnel, especially those in missions, may have difficulty in accessing. Yet, a successful arrangement requires attention, albeit of a different nature than the AAAS Fellows. Jefferson Fellows often find that their career-long research interests are not especially relevant for their agency assignments. Moreover, orientation into agency priorities, operational practice and culture, mentorship, and guidance about what the fellows can best contribute are sometimes more challenging than with early-career fellows. But given that the appointment is for one year in Washington plus five years on retainer with USAID as a scientific/technical consultant from his/her home institution, the fellow has a strong incentive to come to terms with the USAID operating environment. The program continues to go through refinement, especially on selection process and placement in appropriate USAID offices.

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8 See, for instance, the Seed program at Stanford Business School, http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/seed/coaches-consultants.

9 Note: The Jefferson Science Fellowship program is managed in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

It is important to point out that a range of other fellowship programs exist at USAID, including the Presidential Management Fellows Program, Franklin Fellows Program, Global Health Fellows Program, Democracy Fellows and Grants Program, and Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship Program. The Global Health Program has both fellows and interns, and greater flexibility about assignments. The term of a fellowship is two years with the option to extend for an additional two years. Placements can be in Washington, in USAID missions, and with partners such as government ministries and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Finding 8.1: USAID has shown considerable ingenuity in expanding the technical expertise of its staff, both by doubling the size of the Foreign Service, with hires in technical backstops, by borrowing staff from other agencies, and through prestigious fellowship programs. Managing the successful placement of these personnel categories in the field does not consistently meet expectations, owing to long-established differences among agencies and the frequent turnover of most American personnel.

Ultimately, the key is assembling the right mix from various sources to put together project teams for maximum impact and securing strong mentoring commitments. Science, technology, innovation, and partnerships are not silo-encompassed processes, and different people bring different expertise and temperament to accomplish the development purpose. For example, the principal expertise on scaling may not reside with those with government or technical backgrounds, but instead within more entrepreneurial elements in the private sector. The necessary skills of the technical people hired at USAID, apart from their domain knowledge, include the ability to deal with complexity, critical thinking, cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, and creativity. In the past, those with Peace Corps experience have shown adaptive and lasting performance in subsequent career opportunities in developing nations. The Global Development Lab is well positioned to mobilize people with a range of STI+P skills for rotation assignments across USAID missions and bureaus, just as some technical fields already do.

The history of taking risks in lower-income countries is quite substantial in the private sector. There are many ways to segment

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

risk/reward analysis, such as through geography, sector, industry, and regulatory environment. Those who made the right analysis of risk in Asia in the last two decades have experienced enormous gains, whether financial for the business sector or in improved development indicators for development organizations. USAID has seen significant rewards in Africa of a similar kind, often focused on the information and communication technology sector in the last decade. Given the importance of partnerships with the private sector (both domestic and multinational) to scale up the gains from technology, USAID needs to be part of the discussions about risk/reward both for strategic directions and for individual projects.

Finding 8.2: USAID will not be able to take full advantage of the development acceleration inherent in STI without a change of culture—an increased appetite for risk taking; required training in each backstop with appropriate STI knowledge; promotion and rewards to Foreign Service Officers, Foreign Service Nationals, and civil service staff for longer-term success and impact; and agility in policy development and project management with inputs of real-time data for decision making. Increased opportunities for rotations of foreign and civil service staff, as well as fellows resident in USAID, to other agencies would increasing mutual understanding and facilitate programmatic coordination.

CONTRACTING AND PROCUREMENT

One of the frequent concerns about implementing STI strategies in USAID comes down to a very practical one: the nature of the contracting system, and the hurdles faced by applicants, especially those new to the process, to learn about funding opportunities, navigate the application process, realize possibilities for new kinds of partnerships, and fulfill the contract negotiation requirements. Observers, ranging from members of Congress to newspaper columnists, often voice concerns about the major role played by contractors in project implementation, dominant role of a few contractors in winning awards, reliance on contractors for technical capacity in designing and executing contracts, large scale of funding that often precludes smaller-scale efforts, and extent of safeguard and reporting requirements. USAID’s contracting and grant fund-

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

ing has suffered from inadequate transparency and clarity. Scientific teams or individuals often cannot find a clear pathway to approach USAID, as they can with National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects, or private foundations. These perceived barriers can intimidate young investigators interested in working with USAID.

Other complaints stem from a lack of awareness about the high-risk environments in which USAID works, where corruption has always been a challenge and where very close scrutiny by Congress and the Office of the Inspector General have acculturated agency personnel into a conservative, risk-minimizing posture, especially those bearing the legal burdens of contracting and procurement. For those who want a foreign assistance agency to be agile and part of an innovation environment, USAID contracting and procurement has not traditionally met that test.

To its credit, and drawing upon the results of the 2006 National Academies committee report, the Global Development Lab has recognized the difficulties posed by USAID’s no-risk approach to contracting and is experimenting with solutions that allow accountability standards to continue to be met, while enabling USAID to draw ideas and approaches from nontraditional partners from the research, technology, and innovation communities. These new contracting and procurement mechanisms (some highlighted in Box 8-2) may be among the Lab’s most important contributions to the agency. The new mechanisms available through the Grand Challenges for Development program are also similar to those developed by the Global Health Bureau in its Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact.10 If these methods continue to improve the speed and quality of procurement/contracts, they will create interest and stronger support from functional and regional bureaus for the Lab, as well as from missions, to be the conduit for program financing. These innovations in contracting and procurement will also make possible the adoption of adaptive management principles (discussed in Chapter 6), because the traditional fixed milestones of projects cemented into contracts can give way to the availability and use of real-time data on project progress.

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10 Further information is available at https://www.usaid.gov/cii.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×
Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

As Box 8-2 notes, the management of the Lab considers the most important benefit of developing new modes of contracting is to allow nontraditional partners to work with USAID, a perspective that is critical to the effective accomplishment of STI+P goals. The effort should continue to receive such emphasis and innovation, drawing upon experiences of the public and private sectors, as well as other global development agencies.

An essential element of the STI+P initiative is the awarding of grants to innovators in low- and middle-income countries. Although USAID has had success in its DIV and Grand Challenges programs in attracting applicants from these countries through its broad procurement announcements, it has seen less success in enabling these applicants to succeed through the peer review process to ultimately receiving an award. Such innovators are a key long-term target. There is a strong connection between their participation in specific program announcements, accessibility of the procurements systems, and their ability to

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

succeed in competitions that build research capacity and career advancement in developing countries.

MAXIMIZING STI+P OUTCOMES THROUGH IMPROVED COORDINATION

As expected in a highly decentralized organization, coordination within USAID at the interface between Washington bureaus/offices and the missions has always been challenging. Adding to the internal coordination challenge are the interests of federal agencies, development partners, and local counterparts, manifested in a highly political environment where competing interests and finite resources can be at odds.

Across U.S. and international development agencies that have both central and field offices, there are multiple models and approaches for planning, policy making, and program implementation. Some organizations place decision making and budget authority entirely in the center or entirely in the field offices. Over the years, USAID has vacillated as an agency, and even within programs, between central control (such as the Central and Eastern European Bureau in the early 1990s) and the current model, which delegates significant decision making and authority to the field. Many within the agency maintain that both central and field authorities are necessary for effective program implementation and oversight, although the bifurcation of emphases often reflects the perspectives of staff who are field based and those who are based in Washington. Further, tensions between central and field offices may rise or fall more rapidly depending upon the insight and leadership of the USAID administrator and her or his senior appointees at any given time.

The reinvigoration of science, technology, innovation, and partnerships was central to the Obama administration, and the USAID administrator placed great emphasis on the recommendations of the 2006 National Academies report in order to achieve these objectives. As a result, the creation of the Office of Science and Technology and the Development Innovation Ventures in 2010, and its successor Global Development Lab in 2014, were decisions made centrally in Washington. The creation of the position of science advisor to the administrator (chief scientist) was an important step in establishing visible leadership for science in USAID portfolios. In order to create the Global Development

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

Lab, senior management drew resources (human and financial) from across the agency. Additionally, as mentioned the Global Development Lab recruited AAAS Fellows for staffing and launched high-profile events (e.g., the Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge). The USAID leadership saw a political imperative to move quickly and demonstrate positive outcomes from this major realignment and focus on STI+P. Not surprisingly, the combination of resource redirection, attention, and speed were flash points in igniting advocates and detractors within the agency.

Initially, the Global Development Lab focused on building partnerships with other development agencies, new federal partners, companies, and NGOs to effect change. Mission engagement was not an early priority. For example, the DIV program’s call for new ideas elicited 1,659 applications. But this unilateral approach created a unit with a funding portfolio that had limited connections to field missions, which could have served as long-term implementation and scaling partners if properly incorporated into planning.

More recently, agency leadership has come to grips with the challenge of communication and coordination required between the Global Development Lab, other central bureaus within the agency, and the field missions, resulting in the 2015 creation of the Office of Agency Engagement. Although challenging to overcome the initial fractures, with the Lab’s renewed efforts to engage across the agency and a more robust appreciation of the value of its services and networks, the basis for enhanced collaboration and increased impact of development outcomes exists.

Annual summits for Washington and mission STIP staff enable bridges built within the agency. Increasingly, mission staff appreciate the potential for the Lab to serve as a catalyst by developing and providing STI+P resources, maintaining a clearinghouse of information and best practices in development, and serving as a connector and convener of STI+P communities of practice. USAID could strengthen the Integration of STIP into policy, implementation, and evaluation in other ways, including personnel exchanges between Global Development Lab and mission staff (including Foreign Service Nationals) to enhance understanding and information exchange. Additionally, the disproportionate emphasis in the Global Development Lab’s portfolio toward innovation could be better balanced along the STI continuum with a stronger agency commitment to science and technology. This is a critical point of fo-

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

cus for the agency’s science advisor to the administrator, an important position that should not be diminished in stature or access.

USAID may wish to experiment with a transaction team model for policy and programming, similar to that used at the World Bank and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. While the World Bank’s global practices model has been modified since its establishment in 2014, the lessons learned from the last three years could make for an interesting joint USAID-World Bank seminar on incorporating key dimensions of development practice (monitoring and evaluation, social and gender considerations, economic analysis, and STI, along with technical representatives depending on the sector).

There is significant potential within USAID and with the agency’s partners to promote leading-edge science and technology to inform and augment country and sector planning documents, as well as mobilizing scientific and technology capacity in the United States to meet urgent needs such as pandemic outbreaks, refugee resettlement, environmental degradation, and food scarcity.

Establishment of the Global Development Lab and the appointment of agency and bureau science advisors have been noteworthy steps taken by USAID leadership to put STI at the center of agency strategic thinking. The recent appointment of a Science Advisor to the USAID Administrator is a welcome approach to enhancing the profile of STI across the agency. Because the Lab is a conglomeration of many different initiatives, the committee could draw no single conclusion about its achievements. Organizational shifts have the potential to provide gains as well as constraints; further, for a topic that is effectively integral to almost all programs in USAID, collateral effects of building central capacity for science, technology, innovation, and partnerships will inevitably occur. When properly conceived and implemented, central STI units can be a powerful impetus and conduit for strengthening development outcomes. The Global Development Lab can provide these valuable functions:

  • Serve as a visible focal point for STI across USAID;
  • Elevate STI issues and potential to senior management;
  • Ensure a budget allocation is dedicated to STI initiatives;
  • Provide a network home for STI staff globally;
  • Develop a space for innovation as creative disruption;
Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×
  • Introduce new evaluation approaches;
  • Share STI knowledge across missions/bureaus;
  • Recruit and onboard new staff/fellows with relevant STI skills;
  • Explore new STI partnerships—academic, private and public;
  • Convene regional/global learning conferences and disseminate best practices;
  • Track STI and partnership program levels agency-wide;
  • Create facilitative contracting vehicles;
  • Build strategic linkages and leveraged partnerships with U.S. government S&T agencies;
  • Involve the public through outreach and new mechanisms such as crowdsourcing;
  • Strengthen communications with the system of government labs;
  • Experiment with new learning and technologies to improve development outcomes.

Not everyone has responded positively to the STI message of a new unit within an agency already populated with many decision-making points. Some concerns are well founded and may need to be addressed; others are reflexes to changes in doing business as usual. Some of the concerns include competition with existing STI operations in the technical bureaus; addition of another dimension of consideration to already complex USAID strategies; diversion of funding from existing programs; increased time required for additional coordination; on-boarding of new staff with little knowledge of how USAID works; aversion to experiments and risk taking that may not lead to predictable success; longer-term time horizons for tangible outcomes; hard-to-measure results for such broad goals; complexity added to existing relationships of technical bureaus and missions; and uncertainty about the role and contributions of a new unit in the country program cycle. These concerns have limited the Lab’s early effectiveness, given its overly ambitious initial agenda, uncertainty about divisions of responsibility with other bureaus, and over commitment on what it could accomplish with its limited staff.

The USAID administrator, science advisor, and Lab leadership, past and present, have recognized the challenges inherent in establishing the

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

Global Development Lab. The leadership is addressing the issues highlighted above. But the Lab has not been consistent, given its diverse range of programs, in appealing to the pillar bureaus and missions as useful to their programming goals.

The policy question for agency leadership to address is whether to integrate specific parts of the Lab’s current portfolio with the work of other units while keeping centralized other parts that will provide greater contributions to USAID’s long-term effectiveness. The leadership has not fully resolved the tension over explicit recognition of these two paths. For instance, one potential role of the Lab is that of a skunk works/ARPA-for-AID/incubator, where the function of a disruptor or risk taker is highly valued. That may not be a role that the administrator or the Global Development Lab director would want to integrate into agency work across the board. Yet there are potential gains for some units in USAID to build new sustainable partnerships with U.S. institutions with significant creativity to harvest for the benefit of developing countries. If the science advisor and the Lab can develop those bridges and provide a potential avenue for U.S. researchers and innovators to have global impact, the payoff could be significant. Then, only when technologies and concepts are proven to be of value and scalable would they be integrated into mission work.

Finding 8.3.: USAID is a decentralized agency where “bottom-up” versus “top-down” tensions create an ongoing management challenge. Nevertheless, this tension in the development and deployment of both local and global STI+P strategies is appropriate and necessary. The annual STIP summits are an important step forward in bridging the central versus mission gap.

The potential gains from an enhanced STI+P strategy are far too great to allow internal speed bumps to delay progress. Success will have many contributing factors, including progress in building national capacity and strategies, enhancing USAID capacity (internally and through partnerships), and making the parts work together. The Lab has developed programs and collaborations with science agencies that have appealed to missions as a way of building bridges with local researchers to address high-priority challenges. The many moving parts, and potential

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
×

STI+P initiatives under consideration or in implementation, can create confusion inside and outside USAID.

USAID has a long list of possible goals for the new Lab structure. Most of them are in implementation mode, to one extent or another, but not with enough experience to determine with any finality which should be kept as the focus of Lab work. The leadership of the agency will undoubtedly address that question in the next few years. There is no single set of criteria to be used in determining the returns on these STI+P investments, or under what conditions significant additional investments make sense. The committee has identified certain new programs—DIV, Grand Challenges, and Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, among others—where signs of early success justify further scaling. But the multiple mandates for USAID are unlikely to allow for a simple set of metrics to evaluate all programs.

STI will play a major role in successful USAID policy development and programming. Operational systems will either facilitate that role or make it more cumbersome. The significant progress made in the last decade should not obscure the fact that much more can be done. Some improvement will come with time; despite so many new STEM hires over the last five years, the level of development experience of these new hires is lower than it needs to be. If USAID can provide rewarding career paths for newly hired STI staff, time and mentoring will be beneficial to the agency. Other challenges, such as reaching a common understanding of STI in USAID’s priorities and improving the mission-Washington relationship, will require continued agency leadership.

The disparate pieces that constitute STI+P in USAID—the dozen or so administration initiatives, the more than 25 USAID policies, the program cycle, staffing, procurement, and much more—are not part of a single strategic policy. Such is the logical outcome of disaggregated decision making where only the attention of the senior-most executive can focus attention across managerial ranks on the importance of STI+P.

Finding 8.4.: Dedicated effort by the Global Development Lab, the technical bureaus, and the field is necessary to ensure that STI+P skills, networks, knowledge, and emerging best practices are deployed to achieve successful development outcomes.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 8.1: Coordination of U.S. staff in country teams on STI+P-related programs and USAID missions should be the focus of new management approaches in-country. For example, the emerging practice of placing fellows and other short-term personnel with deep STI experience in missions should be expanded, perhaps by increasing the total allocation of such slots within the agency. But these placements need a strong orientation program and mentorship—whether by USAID staff or external sourced coaches—so the fellows can effectively perform the responsibilities expected of them and contribute to long-term program indicators such as capacity-building.

Recommendation 8.2: The leadership of the Global Development Lab, including the recently-appointed science advisor to the administrator, should lab’s role as a principal conduit for mediating strategic directions in the use of STI+P in development, between Washington and the field, as well as among the various stakeholders that bring value to STI in the development process.

Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Integrating STI P into USAID Operations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24617.
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The United States has long recognized that the nation’s prosperity and security depend on how we address challenges of disasters, poverty, famine, and disease around the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has played a vital role in promoting U.S. national and international interests by advancing strategies for employing science, technology, and innovation to respond to global challenges. The focus by USAID on science, technology, and innovation is critical to improve development outcomes. At the core of this progress is the engagement of science institutions and other innovative enterprises and their commitment to work in partnership with USAID to research, test, and scale solutions.

The Role of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships in the Future of USAID provides an assessment and advice on the current and future role for science, technology, and innovation in assistance programs at USAID and on the role of partnerships in the public and private sectors to expand impact. This report examines challenges and opportunities for USAID in expanding the utilization of science, technology, and innovation in development assistance; assesses how USAID has deployed science, technology, and innovation; and recommends priority areas for improvement going forward in partnership with others.

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