Evidence Action Beta turns big ideas into real solutions for millions of people living in poverty.
We identify and pressure-test evidence-based innovations that reduce the burden of poverty, and then design and build the most cost-effective programs for massive scale.
The Beta team looks for promising interventions that have already been subjected to rigorous scientific trials. We focus on interventions that are pro-poor, have measurable impact, and have the potential to be cost-effectively scaled up to reach millions, or tens of millions, of people.
These interventions move through a process of increasingly rigorous filters in order to isolate the most promising ones. We then run additional tests to determine if a particular intervention, when implemented at scale in real-world conditions, is likely to deliver the same impact as it did during the initial proof-of-concept research.
We look to see whether the program may have any unintended consequences, either positive or negative. We also test different approaches to how a program might be delivered to our customers in order to find the most effective way to achieve rapid and efficient growth. Finally, we build a realistic business plan and a robust coalition of stakeholders to support the program’s success over time.
Evidence Action reduces the burden of poverty for millions of people. We focus on:
Proven social impact from rigorous, scientific research;
Cost-effective solutions that offer value-for-money; and
Ability to reach millions of people.
But Evidence Action has always had a much bigger vision beyond these two programs. This is where Evidence Action Beta comes in. The Beta team’s mission is to design and build new programs that will meet Evidence Action’s rigorous criteria, and see them through from incubation to exponential growth.
Here is Evidence Action Beta’s process for identifying and pressure-testing evidence-based innovations that reduce the burden of poverty, and then designing and building the most cost-effective programs for massive scale:
We source ideas that have been initially vetted by others through one or more rigorous impact evaluations, most often in the form of randomized controlled trials. We conduct extensive desk reviews, invite submissions from researchers through calls for results, and work with top development economists and other experts
Once we have a roster of pro-poor interventions that show initial, experimental promise, we put these ideas through a rigorous process to test if they can be implemented in the real world.
Think of it as product development for reducing poverty: A series of tests that help us increase our certainty that a good idea will work as a solid program that reliably and cost-effectively works for millions.
Many possible interventions fold under this pressure, so we are not afraid to end those that won’t, for whatever reason, have real impact at scale.
We carefully screen ideas in our pipeline for these criteria:
What is the global market for the intervention? How many people could benefit and where are they located?
It is feasible to deliver the product to millions of people? It’s one thing to be able to serve 500 children in 10 schools but an entirely different level of operations to deliver to 50 million children in 1 million schools.
How cost effective is the intervention; that is, what is the cost relative to the social welfare impact? Can the unit costs/cost per person be reduced so that scale becomes possible? There are many good ideas that are just too expensive relative to impact to run for millions of people.
What is the external validity? We test whether an intervention that worked in one country, for instance, works in another and can be generalized across the specifics of the original experiment.
Are we changing the underlying conditions in a location that made an intervention work in the first place? Economists call that the general equilibrium effects. For instance, are we changing wages or prices with an intervention that undermine the intended welfare benefits?
We also test for an other externalities: Are there any other unintended consequences that would affect an intervention’s impact?
We look closely at the political context for a potential program. Is there potential for funding; partnerships with local implementers or government?
What would happen if we didn’t work on this program? If the answer to that question is that someone else is likely to successfully scale the program -- or that they could do it more effectively than we can -- we will encourage and support them as best we can, and get out of their way.
Pressure testing the interventions in our pipeline is often an iterative process where several questions are examined at the same time and for different locations.
If a project passes all of these checks with reasonable certainty, we design and build a logistically sound delivery platform with the right partners and systems to scale rapidly and exponentially.
In this phase, we:
Secure the necessary financing, ideally over several years, to grow quickly and across locations;
Streamline and codify all business processes - the steps required to execute and rapidly deliver the product in various locations. This may include technical assistance protocols for local partners;
Build and roll out software platforms that increase efficiencies and reduce costs;
Develop the necessary political relationships and alliances with local partners, such as governments and implementing partners;
Develop effective tools for measuring our key performance indicators; and
Recruit the right talent for rollout and growth.
No Lean Season aims to reduce the negative effects of seasonality on the poorest in rural agricultural areas by enabling labor mobility that increases incomes. It is a new program that we are testing in Evidence Action Beta's portfolio.
We give a travel subsidy of $20 to very poor rural laborers so they can send someone to a nearby city to find a job during the period between planting and harvesting. This is the time in rural areas when there are no jobs, no income, and when families miss meals.
With a temporary job during this 'lean season,' households are are able to put an additional meal on the table for every member of the family each and every day. That’s 500 additional meals during the lean season.
We are investigating several critical questions to pressure test the hypothesis that alternative strategies to food aid may be effective and cost effective means of providing seasonal income support in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
In Botswana 21 percent of adults (aged 15-49) are living with HIV/AIDS. Similarly high rates of infection are seen throughout Southern Africa. Teenage girls that engage in sex with older men are more susceptible to infection, since 25-year-old men are more likely to already have HIV than 16 year olds. Programs aimed at addressing risky sexual behavior have the potential to protect against the spread of HIV and reduce rates of adolescent pregnancy.
In a rigorous evaluation in Kenya, youth were given information on the increased risk of HIV/AIDS disaggregated by age and gender, resulting in a 28 percent reduction in adolescent pregnancy rates. Do these results hold up in Botswana and elsewhere in the region where infection rates are the highest? Evidence Action is exploring partnering with Young 1ove, a non-profit based in Botswana, to implement an advocacy program there and elsewhere.
"No Sugar" targets youth through primary school visits to promote curriculum on HIV/AIDS risk disaggregated by age and gender, with emphasis on the increased risk of infection from cross-generational sex. The pilot’s implementation in 2016 was accompanied by a rigorous evaluation in conjunction with the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Botswana and J-PAL Africa. The evaluation tested information delivery methods for program effectiveness and cost efficiency to inform the potential for a nationwide scale-up.
We expect a release of the results the RCT evaluating the impact of No Sugar in Spring 2017.
Evidence Action is working with the Government of Kenya on a pilot program, G-United, for post-university volunteers that aims to increase social cohesion, improve student literacy outcomes, and provide unemployed college graduates with professional skills.
Rigorous evaluations conducted in India, Ghana, and Kenya have shown that a lightly trained volunteer in the classroom, working with remedial students, can be a low-cost method of improving literacy and raising standardized test scores.
Working closely with the Government of Kenya, we are supporting the development of G-United that is intended to achieve these educational outcomes, as well as other important goals, with university graduates. The initial pilot will focus on strategies for recruiting a quality cohort of volunteers, creating compelling incentives for volunteers to engage consistently with the most vulnerable children, and measuring learning and other outcomes.
We are exploring the potential to use Dispensers for Safe Water’s existing rural delivery system to deliver nutrition information to targeted groups at a low marginal cost in order to reduce the impact of undernutrition and malnutrition on child health. The nutrition messaging program is modeled on the MaiMwana infant feeding intervention from Malawi.
A randomized controlled trial found that the MaiMwana program led to significant reductions in infant mortality as well as improvements in height-for-age among young children. The nutrition information provided in the program was simple and non-technical; it’s possible that our promoters could be effective as information providers.
Evidence Action is collaborating with evaluators to explore whether the initial results found in the Malawi context can be sustained at a larger scale with less intensive quality control. We will do this by using dispenser promoters for nutrition message delivery.