In the more than fifty years since the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was established, the agency has learned a great deal about the potential for science, technology, innovation and partnerships (STI+P) to inform and enhance development outcomes. Over the past decade in particular, the pace of globalization and technological impact has created a rapidly evolving development landscape within which USAID must target its resources for maximum impact.
USAID possesses three strengths that stand out in the realm of STI+P development: the agency’s on-the-ground understanding of STI+P needs; its convening capability and relationships with host countries to scale STI+P investments; and its ability to learn and adapt to diverse development environments as well as new science and technology.
First, through its U.S. and host-country staff, USAID has substantial on-the-ground knowledge and understanding of the development opportunities and constraints in the countries where it works. After decades of building relationships across societies and institutions, USAID missions, backed by strong technical capabilities in Washington, are in a position to work with country leaders and senior officials of other U.S. government agencies to identify and articulate local development needs and priorities.
Second, local knowledge and capability enable USAID to catalyze partners and implementers within host countries and among scientists, engineers, donors, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and others across a broad spectrum of sectors ranging from agriculture and health to economics and governance. USAID’s imprimatur can help scale advances through such methods as strategic funding, convening diverse partners toward a common goal, leveraging resources, and in-
fluencing policies of host governments. Given the increasing importance of scale in measuring successful outcomes, USAID’s strength as a catalyst can also have important consequences in implementing solutions to social and economic challenges. Free-market mechanisms are needed
Third, USAID can learn and adapt to diverse development environments as well as emerging science and technologies if it applies more broadly the analytical and evaluation tools developed in the last decade. Successful application of science, technology, and innovation rely in all countries on an enabling environment. USAID can use its presence, tools, resources and relationships to help strengthen and sustain that environment. To have greater impact, it will be necessary for STI+P planning and investments to be much more tightly integrated and coordinated across USAID, with leadership and incentives reflecting this integration as a priority at all levels. The Global Development Lab, the technical bureaus, and the administrator’s science advisor are well positioned to serve as conduits to effect this integration, but will need to devote more resources to productive engagement with missions and each other, determining together where the agency has a strategic advantage for innovation and what existing and new tools and inclusive partnerships should be developed to make progress.
STI+P planning also needs to reflect stronger two-way interaction with science/technical agencies across the U.S. government. They have much to offer USAID host countries, but need a conduit like USAID, depending on their respective authorization and funding. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture both have large research budgets, but are mandated to focus on U.S. issues. Nevertheless, the Department of Energy could share its considerable knowledge and increasing experience with operation of U.S. microgrids, and USAID could support expansion of the concept in partner countries
USAID can bring a scientific perspective to the development process, emphasizing the value of data and proof of impact. It can and should test new technologies through translational research, accept the risks of setbacks in the search for breakthrough discoveries, and globally disseminate high-impact development solutions. As part of a larger community of development institutions, USAID can provide input into the priority setting of other agencies and philanthropies that do support fundamental and high-risk research. USAID can advocate for research focused on demonstrated needs in developing countries. It can likewise
use its presence on the ground to coordinate the later stages of testing and dissemination of science and technology solutions.
USAID has taken initial steps to be a convener and catalyst for scaling. Two pilot programs—the Grand Challenges for Development and Development Innovation Ventures (DIV)—are examples of initiatives that have begun to extend the agency’s reach in seeking competitively selected scientific and technological solutions to address key development challenges. These programs have attracted a range of new partners and generated enthusiasm, and several funded projects have already gone to scale or are likely to go to scale. Despite high-level support for STI and USAID’s convening function for linking innovation and scaling, however, approaches like the Grand Challenges and DIV are not yet fully incorporated into the design toolbox of missions and bureaus.
In terms of capacity-building and strengthening research systems, USAID has also taken small, innovative steps. The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program, which pairs U.S. and developing-country researchers, is an example of how USAID leverages the resources of other U.S. government agencies (both financial and often their merit review processes) to support developing-country science. Yet, PEER remains relatively small, especially compared with the demand both in the United States and overseas. USAID needs to invest beyond individuals’ capacity development to that of institutions in partner countries, such as universities, ministries, and science and engineering organizations. The global network of Grand Challenge initiatives has served to mobilize a number of development institutions (with USAID as an anchor) to find approaches to meeting this need.
Recommended Strategies and Management Changes
The Committee recommends the adoption of a series of strategies and management changes to capitalize on the strengths of USAID:
- Accelerate the transformation of USAID into a global leader and catalyst in applying science, technology, and innovation to developing country challenges, drawing on resources from across the U.S. government, developing countries, the public and pri-
- vate research enterprise, research universities in the U.S. and abroad, and bilateral and multilateral development agencies.
- Strengthen host countries’ institutional capacity to apply science, technology, and innovation in their own development, as well as to ensure training of individuals in higher education and professional schools both in-country and in the U.S.
- Elevate scaling of successful interventions to be a core USAID priority, to expand the impact and improve the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of science, technology, and innovation applied to development challenges.
- Expand investments in science, technology, and innovation that engage and empower women.
The recommended management changes include:
- Reinforce its on-the-ground presence to collaborate with others mutually engaged in science, technology, and innovation for development.
- Integrate and coordinate its science, technology, and innovation planning and investments.
- Address its future workforce needs by promoting the flexibility required to adapt to changing science, technology, and innovation opportunities.
- Increase incentives for including informed risk-taking and learning throughout its planning process and project implementation.
- Take advantage of its strong evaluation policy for the development of sustainable science, technology, and innovation programs across the agency.
We provide below the 20 recommendations from the report to carry out those strategies.
Chapter 2: Global Context
The world has seen progress in reducing poverty in the last decade, but unmet needs remain across all sectors. USAID is part of a larger landscape of bilateral donors, multilateral agencies, nongovernmental
organizations, and the private sector, looking for more effective solutions and turning to science, technology, innovation, and partnerships to produce sustainable answers on an unprecedented scale.
Recommendation 2.1: USAID needs a sharpened policy focus on the value of and access to data to set strategies and measure results. Advanced 21st century data tools, including incorporation of big data, should set the standard for major USAID units to collect, curate, analyze and share such data for maximum value. Expanding the GeoCenter portfolio would send an important signal to the rest of USAID. The focus on data will also facilitate its dialogues with partner countries, taking into account each country’s contextual factors, and enable the larger funder community to join forces on common goals.
Recommendation 2.2: USAID should recognize its core strengths: its field experience, its role as a convener and catalyst, and its ability to learn and adapt, and these strengths should be identified explicitly in future STI strategies, if appropriate. By building on these strengths, the agency can take significant steps to position the agency as a global leader.
Chapter 3: U.S. Government Context
Presidential and Congressional leadership has resulted in development policies and initiatives that rely on STI+P for their implementation. The technical expertise and institutional capacity to meet those priorities are scattered across many agencies that could complement USAID’s comparative advantages if properly coordinated.
Recommendation 3.1: USAID and other U.S. agencies should set up mechanisms—such as through ad hoc advisory or working groups—to facilitate mutually beneficial relationships around common STI development concerns. USAID should propose to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that it should create a position to be filled by an experienced USAID staff member on detail, to focus on STI+P in international development per PPD-6) and on coordinating interagency advisory and working group activities around common STI development issues.
Recommendation 3.2: USAID and the Department of State should seek clearer guidance from the White House (Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget) on technical possibilities for reporting STI+P expenditures. USAID leadership should choose a single option to more clearly quantify its STI+P investments and lead an inventory of STI+P-related investments in developing countries across all federal agencies, which would help inform its own and other agencies’ efforts.
Recommendation 3.3: USAID should set up formal and informal exchanges to strengthen STI+P coordination and share expertise. For example, USAID could establish, through Interagency Personnel Agreements or other mechanisms, a way for USAID staff to have short-term or long-term assignments in other agencies to understand their expertise and constraints. Washington-based Global Development Lab and mission staff would also benefit from personnel exchanges or short-term rotations. For Foreign Service Officers, an introduction to STI+P resources should form part of initial training and in-service consultations prior to overseas assignments, including exposure to the international offices of federal science agencies working closely with USAID.
Recommendation 3.4: USAID’s leadership should work with the oversight committees in Congress in 2017 to focus on broad STI strategies, ensuring the agency has the institutional capacity to expand its work on STI activities, including the creation of room for hiring staff with technical qualifications and experience, and removing impediments to USAID working more closely with science agencies.
Chapter 4: Planning in the USAID Program Cycle
The role of the Country Development Cooperation Strategy in planning of resources across USAID is a major opportunity for coordination. The process has improved with the current cycle, and missions are showing growing interest in developing STI+P as a theme in their partnerships with host governments.
Recommendation 4.1: USAID should bring together STI experts from pillar bureaus, the Lab, missions, and the host countries via face-to-face workshops and webinars, regionally and/or topic-based, to share information on available STI resources and state-of-the-art advances.
Recommendation 4.2: As missions and bureaus develop more innovation opportunities in their portfolios, USAID should increase incentives for including informed risk-taking and learning throughout the planning process. Incentives should focus on stronger integration of evaluation processes in the project development stage that provide for real-time feedback of lessons learned, and inclusion of experts in designing scaling outcomes. Career development and advancement opportunities should also recognize individual risk taking and initiative around STI.
Chapter 5: Program Implementation in the USAID Program Cycle
USAID relies on other entities to carry out its programs. In recent years, these entities have included businesses, individuals, and nonprofits, including some that have not worked with the agency before, as well as long-standing bilateral and university partnerships. The STI+P sector is particularly well-suited for new partners to join forces with USAID in the implementation process, and a number of pilot approaches are underway.
Recommendation 5.1: USAID should expand incentives for mission and Washington staff to systematically incorporate science, technology, and innovation approaches as they develop programs and projects. Along with the standard career incentives, staff should receive the necessary training and real-time mentorship to oversee, facilitate, and manage the expanding portfolio of STI activities conducted by project implementers. Some hands-on training might be achieved through inter-agency exchanges with other U.S. technical agencies. Contracting modes for STI implementers should be the focus of simplification. Pilot efforts involving central bureaus and key missions are real-time experiments for building this capacity, and should be encouraged across more Washington offices and additional missions.
Recommendation 5.2: USAID should improve its approach to building and engaging with STI+P capacity in partner countries, both directly and indirectly through innovative programs such as DIV, PEER, and HESN. The agency should intensify use of its expanded evaluation methodologies to identify lessons from these programs in creating and sustaining collaborations with developing country researchers and institutions.
Recommendation 5.3: USAID should continue to expand the promising institutional innovations that have helped to open the agency up to greater and more creative engagement with the private sector, universities, and non-traditional partners, including in developing countries. USAID should, for instance, invest in expanding the staged funding model pioneered through its Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), which is intended to identify promising new or existing ideas, rigorously test them, and support their going to scale.
Chapter 6: Monitoring and Evaluation
The importance of evaluations to successful economic development is clear. The increased sophistication of evaluation approaches in democracy and governance, health, and the E3 programs creates opportunities to improve evaluation and to use the results of these evaluations to improve program operations and outcomes. USAID’s experience with evaluation shows that one size does not fit all activities.
Recommendation 6.1: With agency evaluation policies in place, the leadership needs to emphasize implementation and push for greater testing of new tools and lessons from recent experience in evaluation. USAID needs to ensure compliance with its policies on collecting relevant baseline data, and that midcourse reviews are fully utilized to enable managers to adapt or pivot in order to achieve success.
Recommendation 6.2: USAID should develop clear guidelines on the intensity of evaluation for each kind of programmatic activity, incorporating appropriate M&E tools that would help project developers to better calibrate their investments with an appropriate balance between cost burden and potential program gains. Much could be
learned about appropriate monitoring and evaluation design from the current pilot efforts being implemented, with the engagement of program staff at all levels and across all missions/bureaus.
Recommendation 6.3: USAID should, perhaps with other development agencies and institutions, develop robust, state-of-the-art methods for assessing the impact of longer-term interventions, including investments in adaptive research and human and institutional capacity development.
Chapter 7: Longer-term Opportunities for Leadership
Scaling is increasingly recognized as an urgent need across development agencies, foundations, and governments. USAID has taken steps to focus on scaling solutions in the Global Development Lab and in technical bureaus, and could be a thought leader globally in the practice and further understanding to improve this critical aspect of development. Scaling can address not only the needs of the world’s poor, but can also ensure the sustainability of development investments. Building domestic capacity, including building the capacity of a country’s scientific enterprise, also underpin long-term growth. Related to gender equality, some USAID programs have well-developed, data-based analyses and use this information to shape programming, but others still face challenges in data collection and accessing sufficiently sophisticated analytical capabilities.
Recommendation 7.1: USAID, with partner countries, other donors and industry, should expand research to better understand factors affecting whether an innovation goes to scale or not. USAID should focus on partners with start-up and small-scale business experience with the objective of creating jobs through localized businesses.
Recommendation 7.2: USAID should seek ways to expand support to scientists, institutions, and innovators in the countries where it works. In light of lower cost structures and their ability to respond to local needs, relatively small amounts of funding can have a large impact on long-term capacity-building through hands-on experience. The financing, however, will have to be targeted to get maximum impact. More
sophisticated diagnostics will be needed to identify the intervention appropriate to the specific individual, institution or chosen problem. To ensure high research standards, USAID should expand its role in building scientific processes in host countries, such as helping to strengthen peer review, transparency and replicability, and publication and presentations of findings. USAID should focus on building and engaging with science, technology, and innovation capacity in partner countries.
Recommendation 7.3: USAID should develop a suite of assistance mechanisms to support efforts to build capacity for research in host counties. These should include top-quality, relevant training for students with various needs, support of science institutions, and strengthening of regulatory bodies.
Recommendation 7.4: In addition to gender analyses of STI+P-related initiatives specifically targeted at gender equality and women's empowerment, each mission director and office director should ensure that all STI+P projects consider a gender analysis at all stages of the program cycle. Central collection and review of such analyses would enable more rapid institutional learning across the missions and program units.
Chapter 8: Integrating STI+P into USAID Operations
USAID faces a number of operational issues to implement and sustain an expanded focus on STI+P. These issues include adequate technically-qualified personnel levels, incentives for STI+P professionals, and contracting hurdles to initiating innovative programs. USAID has expanded the technical expertise of staff, by doubling the size of the Foreign Service, borrowing staff from other agencies, and through fellowship programs. But USAID will also need to support STI with a change of culture—an increased appetite for risk-taking, additional training, promotion and rewards to permanent staff (FSO, CS, FSN) for longer-term success and impact, and agility in project management. USAID remains a decentralized Agency, in which the structure of missions and bureaus creates a management challenge.
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 by external 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 expand the 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.
Science, technology, innovation, and partnerships are vital to solve 21st century problems. Scientific research produces discoveries to improve health, agriculture, and energy production; technological breakthroughs are revolutionizing commerce and knowledge-sharing; and innovation inspires people to seek new solutions to persistent problems. Partnerships in all three of these areas potentially maximize the impact of efforts by individuals and groups to reach millions, rather than just thousands, of people with unmet needs. By integrating STI+P throughout its operations in Washington and in the field and by taking advantage of the continual quest for knowledge and progress embodied in science, technology, and innovation, the U.S. Agency for International Development will make a deep and lasting improvement in the lives of people and their communities.
This page intentionally left blank.