Our approach to translating rigorous evidence to impact at scale includes four key phases:
We identify rigorously-vetted ideas with potential for impact, mechanisms that may be needed to make them work in the real world and at scale, enabling environments where particular ideas are most likely to succeed, and potential implementation partners to execute ideas. We have designed several tools that we use to do this, including:
- Evidence scans through which we survey the existing literature on a particular theme. Evidence scans are triggered by strategic and partner interest.
- Context scans which are geared towards helping us understand the socio-political and economic dynamics of a prospective implementation area. Context scans are developed through desk-research and interviews with development researchers and practitioners who located in or familiar with the area in question
- A call for results which is issued as an open invitation for researchers to submit promising studies and
- Interviews with our network of experts
Our sourcing activities typically yield a plethora of ideas and prospective opportunities. Since we cannot pursue all these leads at once, we maintain a knowledge bank: a repository of all the ideas and prospects that emerge from our evidence and context scanning, and our conversations with researchers. We expect the information in our knowledge bank to accrue interest over time—as more research is generated and as contexts change, for instance—and become more applicable in future. Our knowledge bank keeps us ready to quickly capitalize on future opportunities.
Ultimately, the goal of our sourcing activities is not to find ‘perfect’ ideas over which no outstanding questions remain and no potential implementation challenges exist. Instead, information gained about specific ideas informs not just the decision about whether to progress the idea through the pipeline, but the design of potential prototypes through which we can test promising ideas.
Once we identify what works in principle, we consider how to make it work in practice. Through a deep-dive into the literature supporting an idea, conversations with the authors of this literature, our own “design-thinking” research, and small scale testing of prospective elements—such as messages, behavioural nudges, and hardware/tools—that may go into a program, we begin to conceptualize a prototype. We bring together the most promising elements and element-combinations to design a viable model for implementing evidence based ideas. Prototypes are therefore not exact replicas of research studies. They are designed to remain faithful to the essential elements of the original study and theory of change, but take into consideration complementary evidence and practical implementation constraints.
During our prototyping phase we also assess the scale potential of an idea, develop an initial cost-effectiveness model and build a learning agenda that details the outstanding questions we have which will need to be investigated through testing.
During this phase, we apply the conceptualized implementation model from phase two as a working, testable prototype— a project that reaches several thousand users. We review the operational model and:
- Assess its scalability
- Build and roll out technology components that increase efficiencies and reduce costs;
- Build a viable monitoring framework
- Iterate on different elements of the model, refining those that work and eliminating those that don’t; and
- Prepare a standardized implementation toolkit to allow us/or our partners to implement the project at scale.
We also develop the necessary political relationships and alliances with local partners, such as governments and implementing partners.
Testing at scale: Once a functional and scalable implementation model is in place, we expand the project to reach tens of thousands of users and rigorously evaluate it for impact at-scale. One of our goals is to answer questions that can only be understood by evaluating an intervention at-scale—such as how the project might influence market dynamics—in order to gain a better grasp of the project’s social impact and cost-effectiveness. During this final phase of program development, we also secure the necessary financing, ideally over several years, to grow quickly and across locations. In parallel, we recruit the right talent to support the rollout and growth of projects that prove impactful. Finally, we may adapt and apply the project to new geographies and begin testing it in those new contexts.
As ideas evolve and move through these phases, it is our full expectation that some of them will fail. We learn from those that do. Meanwhile, innovations that demonstrate consistent impact and prove scalable and cost-effective are scaled-up to improve the lives of millions of people.