Lab Evaluation, Research, and Learning (ERL) Plan Question 3 Brief

Speeches Shim

QUESTION 3: How can the Lab maximize development impact via support to innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers?

This Evidence Brief was produced as part of a series of outputs from the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Evaluation, Research, and Learning (ERL) Plan - a utilization-focused learning agenda supporting evidence-informed decision making in Lab operations and science, technology, innovation, and partnerships (STIP) programming. A process and set of products, the ERL Plan facilitated Lab learning and adaptation around four bureau-wide areas of inquiry: uptake of products, services, and approaches; adaptive management tools and practices; support to awardees and partners; and sustainability of results.

Insights from the ERL Plan are shared here as a record of emerging opportunities for evidence-based adaptation that could be acted on by USAID and other development actors. This work also contributes to the evidence base for the Agency-wide Self-Reliance Learning Agenda - an effort to support USAID as it reorients its strategies, partnership models, and program practices to achieve greater development outcomes and foster self-reliance with host country governments and our partners.


The U.S. Global Development Lab (the Lab) provides substantial non-monetary assistance to the innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers it funds. Staff at the Lab do so because their awardees are often experts in fields such as engineering, agriculture, healthcare, or an academic science, not experts in entrepreneurship, public policy, or international development. As a result, many awardees know little about marketing, business strategy, or the governmental processes of the countries in which they work prior to their partnership with the Lab. Lab staff, therefore, support innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers to increase the likelihood of their development impact. This support takes many forms.

To ensure entrepreneurs and innovators have businesses structures that can grow with the demand for their innovations, Lab teams provide consulting on business processes and development, market analysis, and marketing support, among other individualized services. These support services can range from assistance simply moving an accounting system from handwritten logs to a computerized system that allows the innovator to track higher volumes of purchases and orders as their company grows, to more sophisticated analysis that helps an innovator segment potential markets so they can diversify their products to reach more people.

To ensure Lab-funded researchers impact the countries in which they work, the Lab takes measures to increase the visibility of the results of the projects it funds. It does this by assisting researchers to translate results into less technical language for broader consumption and encourages researchers to present their results to local policymakers and non-governmental actors.

The Lab, however, understands that simply increasing the availability of results can be insufficient in some circumstances. Therefore, it is exploring additional pathways to increase the development impacts of the research it funds. In addition to these two types of non-financial support, some teams within the Lab also help awardees with monitoring and evaluation plans, and Lab staff also support awardees to improve compliance with USAID requirements. This is a necessary form of support, as many Lab awardees are not traditional USAID implementing partners, so have no experience complying with these requirements.

At first glance, the needs of entrepreneurs, innovators, and especially researchers may seem distinct, but each of these awardees need assistance transitioning to working with a donor agency. Moreover, each of these types of support seek to fill a gap all awardees have in their skill-sets. It is important to reiterate that many Lab awardees are skilled in their own domains; however, they may lack other skills necessary for their ideas to both thrive and scale. Lab support fills this gap.

The brief includes select findings, conclusions, and recommendations related to this construct from academic literature, program assessments, and evaluation and learning outputs, intended to prompt deeper inquiry and action.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 - 1:15pm