Some of the most dramatic advances in human welfare have been driven by significant advances in understanding of the natural world and human behaviors, and the harnessing of that knowledge. Advances in science, technology, and innovation (STI), combined with meaningful partnerships (STI+P), can improve economic and social conditions to help meet the needs of the more than 3 billion people worldwide living in poverty.1 In 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) approached the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to convene an expert committee to advise the agency’s leadership and its partners on strategies to accelerate STI+P for development.
The modern era has steadily expanded the realm of STI+P. Science now ranges from trying to understand the tiniest internal workings of the human body to the origins and extent of the universe. Technology continually contributes new tools and processes to development, while the fostering of innovation accelerates the pace of social and economic
1 While USAID sometimes uses the acronym “STIP” to represent science, technology, innovation, and partnerships, (along with use of S&T, STI, R&D, Research, and Partnerships on other occasions), the committee considers STI to be distinct from P—and USAID’s budget category still treats science, technology, and innovation separately from reporting on partnerships. Thus, the committee uses “STI+P” as an acronym to convey this concept. Where appropriate in specific USAID contexts, the report also uses STIP, STI, and R&D.
change. Because humans interact in communities large and small, they have come to understand that joining forces can achieve far more than working in isolation. These developments have raised expectations that STI+P can help close gaps between and within societies with regard to health status, income, educational opportunity, mobility, access to a clean environment, energy accessibility, and human rights. More dramatic breakthroughs may come from current research in areas still on the frontiers of discovery, such as neuroscience, microbiomes, artificial intelligence, and work at the sub-molecular level.
The United States became a global leader after World War II imbued with faith in science and technology (S&T). While the U.S. government, multilateral institutions, and philanthropic agencies initially focused on recovery of parts of the world shattered by the war—most notably through the Marshall Plan and the Bretton Woods institutions—the success of those initiatives led to a rise in expectations and ambitions. The goal became global to close the gap between “developed” and “less-developed” countries. The most visible variables at first seemed technological: food production, energy, public health systems, water and sanitation, transportation and communications, and national income, but underlying these variables were, and are, conditions related to gaps in individual welfare, education, wealth, institutional integrity, and opportunity.
Since its establishment by President Kennedy in 1961, USAID has served as the U.S. government’s primary organization focused on official assistance to foreign countries to promote social and economic development. A consolidation of several previous government programs, the agency symbolized a national commitment to close the gap between the rest of the world and those areas of North America and Europe that had created a standard of living based on science and technology and a constant thirst for innovation and investment to make life better.2
Today, USAID operates under the same basic Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The budget, in constant 2016 dollars, has returned to its
2 Vernon W. Ruttan, Technology, Growth, and Development: An Induced Innovation Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
1961 level, about $20 billion in appropriated funds, marked by declines and increases in the interim years.3 Much of the agency’s operating style remains the same, focused upon overseas missions that set country-based priorities through consultations with foreign governments and knowledge of local social and economic needs, as well as bureaus in Washington that mobilize the capacity of American experts, companies, nonprofits, and other partners to implement ambitious programs. And the values of USAID, articulated by its leadership and presidents in every administration, remain those of an idealistic ambition to change the world for the better through peaceful means.
Within these constants, much has changed in 55 years. Six key changes stand out, in the judgment of the committee, that demand priority attention from USAID’s leadership and its overseers in Congress and the administration:
- Financial flows from bilateral and multilateral development agencies formerly dominated development work, and these agencies set development agendas. USAID now works within a host of institutions, financial and technology flows, global companies, and international transactions that challenge it to find its strategic advantage to invest on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer and to benefit host-country partners. Its annual budget now represents a decreasing fraction of the total amount of money flowing from developed to developing countries; moreover, the “developed” and the “developing” worlds are not two distinct units, but rather a complex array of nations with varying incomes, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Countries have changed their development status substantially, with East Asia showing dramatic improvements. These changes create new opportunities for STI+P-led assistance programs and call for greater agility in working with host governments to meet specific needs.
- The global demographic challenge, with population currently at 7.4 billion and projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, means that effective development agencies like USAID must find ways
- to help country partners address ever more urgent problems, and more rapidly scale access to promising innovations and technologies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unveiled in 2015 embody the goals, strategies, and metrics for the generational leap to come. Development programs must consider not only how they will adapt and pilot new technologies and innovations but also what strategies and partnerships will result in accelerated, sustained technology adoption to improve the lives of many more people, much more quickly.4 For example, the youth bulge in many countries can be transformed from a problem to a solution with the creation of youth-focused STI vocational programs.
- Given the increasing complexity of problems and expanding number of partners, successful donor assistance depends on the capacity and organizational effectiveness of recipient countries to develop national strategies, choose the most effective options from donors and other sources, mobilize domestically generated resources, and adapt technologies and systems they can sustain in their own environments.5 The thirst for STI knowledge in all countries has created demand for greater training opportunities. The social and behavioral sciences can play an increasing role in strategy-setting, implementation, and evaluation in USAID.
- New technologies of the 21st century—the Internet, smart phones, mobile banking, low-cost solar power, and replicable microenterprise models—will enable the development of unprecedented tools and processes. It is vital that USAID nurture an institutional culture that rewards openness to and experimentation with new STI+P approaches and their application to developing world problems. Many experiments at USAID put this into practice. While the establishment of the Global Development Lab represents a critical step forward, its effectiveness
5 United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/capacity-building.
- in its initial years has been constrained by an overly ambitious agenda, difficulty in managing a large and inexperienced staff, and insufficient focus on integrating Lab activities with mainline bureaus and missions.6
- The 2012 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy at USAID radically changed expectations for all offices, bureaus, and missions. Associated with the policy is a new senior coordinator position in the office of the administrator to press for implementation. The initiative includes a significant role for STI+P in development overcome the underrepresentation of women and girls in STI fields. Through education and access to the formal economy, empowering women can sharply increase the global human potential to address societal challenges. At the same time, enabling women to participate fully in STI development can contribute to advances in the empowerment of women and girls.7
- The United States is a global STI leader through the efforts of its universities, public-sector research facilities, and private-sector research enterprise, each invigorated by a spirit of entrepreneurship and a culture of innovation. In many ways, STI represents the best the United States has to offer and STI activities are in strong demand from host countries. It is important for USAID to draw on all these resources to derive maximum impact for the taxpayer and meet the SDGs, to help countries gain access to “whole-of-U.S.” STI expertise.
Given these changing contexts, how should USAID best respond? The agency has a distinguished history of supporting science and technology to advance development, contributing to advances such as the Green Revolution, widespread uptake of child survival interventions, and global expansion of primary education for girls and boys. In the 21st century, the Bush and Obama administrations recognized the U.S. gov-
7 See Chapter 7 of this report, and USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment.
ernment’s niche as funder, partner, catalyst, change agent, facilitator, and convener, tackling issues ranging from reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq to far-reaching HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment to food security.
The National Academies have previously advised on USAID’s development mission. Academy-appointed committees over the decades helped USAID develop new research and development (R&D) programs on emerging topics. Most relevant for this study, in 2004 the agency requested the Academies to review the state of S&T at USAID.8 Completed in 2006, the study recommended that USAID expand investments in human and infrastructure resources to facilitate sustainable development outcomes in partner countries, increase the number of S&T-trained senior staff and program managers in USAID, create a new position of science and technology advisor to the administrator, and engage more technical experts from other federal agencies as resources for USAID projects.
In 2007, USAID asked the Academies to review its rapidly growing democracy and governance programs, then more than $1 billion annually, focusing on options for strengthening their foundations through enhanced, science-based evaluation systems. The resulting report in 2008 laid out the pathway to establish USAID as a world leader in impact evaluation of democracy programs, with a proposed five-year experimental program of research embedded in the structure of democracy projects from the design stage. Importantly, the outcome not only led to development of sound assessments of democracy and governance programs but also a greater focus on impact evaluations across all USAID sectors.9
8 National Research Council, The Fundamental Role of Science and Technology in International Development: An Imperative for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
9 National Research Council, Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008.
Separately, a number of National Academies workshops and studies have assisted USAID’s health programs to improve their evidence base for both traditional and new challenges and prompted USAID missions from Armenia and Kazakhstan to Indonesia to expand the use of research and analysis in their planning.10
Science, technology, and innovation have assumed more prominent roles in USAID strategy formulation and programming over the last decade. After commissioning the 2006 National Research Council report, the Bush administration welcomed its recommendations and moved forward on several fronts, including urging Congress to allow significantly higher ceilings on Foreign Service staff, thus permitting a new class of S&T-trained professionals to come on board.11 The momentum continued with the Obama administration’s designation of science and technology as a top priority across all agencies. Within USAID, this has been reflected in the appointment of USAID’s first full-time science and technology advisor; major initiatives around science, technology, and innovation in health and agriculture; the establishment of the Global Development Lab; and expanded science staffing, including the largest contingent of American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellows in any federal agency.
These wide-ranging changes raise many strategic options for the leadership. Many of the STI+P initiatives are in the early stages of scaling, including testing various approaches to implementation. USAID is
10 Institute of Medicine, Improving Quality of Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Workshop Summary (2015); Institute of Medicine, Investing in Global Health Systems: Sustaining Gains (2014); National Research Council, Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Zoonotic Diseases (2009); Institute of Medicine, Global Health Risk Framework -- Pandemic Financing: Workshop Summary (2016); National Research Council, Achieving Sustainable Global Capacity for Surveillance and Response to Emerging Diseases of Zoonotic Origin: Workshop Summary (2008); National Research Council, Science and Technology in Armenia: Toward a Knowledge-Based Economy (2004); National Research Council, Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects (2007); National Research Council, Reducing Maternal and Neonatal Mortality in Indonesia: Saving Lives, Saving the Future (2013). All publications from the National Academies Press.
approaching STI from a variety of perspectives—developing new cutting-edge solutions; helping developing countries identify, evaluate, adapt, and adopt proven technology to solve local development problems; helping innovators deploy their solutions; and helping developing countries become more intelligent and capable consumers. While this report recommends priorities for USAID, a complex set of factors in the United States, in partner countries, and among public and private entities will drive long-term agency-wide solutions.
In 2016, the National Academies appointed the authoring committee of this report. (See Box 1-1 for the Committee Statement of Task and Appendix B for biographies of committee members.) With an ambitious task and a short timeframe, the committee held a two-day public workshop, with numerous leaders of R&D and innovation from USAID, its partners, and outside experts, to gather information for its deliberations, as well as an internal USAID workshop and a sequence of virtual meetings with experts (see Appendixes C and D.)
Committee Perspectives on S, T, I, and P in Development
The committee sought to reach a common understanding of science, technology, innovations, and partnerships in the context of this study (see Box 1-2). Different perspectives on the meaning of each term emerged in discussions with offices and missions within USAID and among external audiences. The committee also recognized that partnerships cut across science, technology, and innovation, helping to move these latter three forward, rather than serve as end goals in themselves.
Science, technology, innovation, and partnerships, in combination, have contributed to progress as generally measured. They work together, but without linearity, to produce improvements in indicators of human development. As a reflection of the interaction of these four elements, the committee developed a continuum (see Figure 1-1) that illustrates the routes individuals and groups can follow to reach STI+Prelated solutions to development problems.
As shown in the figure, the feeding point to any solution begins with a needs assessment to identify and articulate gaps (upper right). Field and economic studies, prior USAID experience, country office knowledge, and stakeholder engagement form the basis for a needs assessment and identify problems to address. This step conforms with a clear quantitative articulation of the problem.
After clearly articulating the development problem, the next stage is determining potential solutions to help the process progress (lower right of the figure). In this stage of the continuum, fundamental science, applied engineering, and applied research and development—any or all
of these—play a vital role in innovation development. At the same time, creating and strengthening partnerships among organizations, such as local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and industries, will help identify policy challenges and business opportunities from which development innovation can build.
Testing solutions in context (bottom of the figure) provides an indication of how successful a solution might be and the feasibility of scaling to expand its impact. As every path to finding a development solution varies, the amount and type of testing and iteration may vary significantly. Pilot testing shows how a new solution performs and how to improve it. Randomized control trials and field trials also provide insight into how the solution may perform across different environments.
At each stage, a development solution may need to revisit previous steps, continue on the same step repeatedly, or even jump a step. There is no one singular path, as the multiple arrows demonstrate.
Identifying the problems in a clear and quantitative way, establishing the metrics for success, and defining the requirements for the desired solution all determine a general direction on which to build. Strong
partnerships and stakeholder engagement facilitate the solution’s movement through the continuum. Capacity-building needs to be intertwined at the various stages for a more stable and eventually sustainable solution. Monitoring and evaluation practices also need to be incorporated during the testing, scaling, and eventual sustainability stages to determine the effectiveness of a solution.
Organization of This Report
In developing and presenting its findings and recommendations, the committee recognized a range of audiences for this report, including policy makers in the executive branch and Congress, USAID leadership and technical staff, and other stakeholders in the United States and other countries. Thus, Chapter 2 provides the global context for STI+P in development, and Chapter 3 describes how different U.S. government agencies and offices provide a source of policies, priorities, personnel, science and technology, and implementation capacity. The report then turns more closely to USAID and a description of STI+P through the agency’s program cycle. Chapter 4 focuses on planning; Chapter 5, on program implementation; and Chapter 6, on monitoring, evaluation, and learning. Overarching strategic opportunities related to scaling, capacity-building, and gender—relevant not only to USAID but also other institutions—are covered in Chapter 7, while Chapter 8 looks at USAID operational challenges and opportunities that affect STI+P deployment across the agency. The committee presents findings and recommendations within each chapter, and they are also consolidated with some closing considerations in Chapter 9.