With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Aid effectiveness, US global development policy, USAID, MCC
Casey Dunning was formerly a senior policy analyst for the US Development Policy Initiative at the Center for Global Development. Dunning previously worked as a senior policy analyst for the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Before that, in a previous position at CGD, she conducted the center’s analysis on the Millennium Challenge Corporation and researched the application of aid effectiveness principles within USAID, with a particular emphasis on country ownership, aid selectivity, and innovative aid-delivery models. She has worked on harmonizing gender violence and rule-of-law programs in Liberia with Emory University’s Institute for Developing Nations, and at the Carter Center and the International Rescue Committee. Dunning graduated from Emory University with a specialization in international political economy and has also completed studies at Oxford University and Trinity College, Dublin. She holds a masters degree in public policy from George Washington University.
This brief considers how the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) conceptualize ownership and apply the concept in practice. We focus on three pillars: ownership of priorities (the willingness and ability of donors to align their efforts with country priorities); ownership of implementation (the degree to which donors involve local partners in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of programs); and ownership of resources (the degree to which a partner country contributes its own finances to the objectives receiving donor support).
For over ten years, the international development community, including the US government, has committed to incorporating greater country ownership into the design and delivery of foreign assistance. This paper makes six broad recommendations for how USAID, MCC, and Congress can help the US government build momentum around its efforts to promote country ownership.
In 2016 on the CGD Podcast, we have discussed some of development's biggest questions: How do we pay for development? How do we measure the sustainable development goals (SDGs)? What should we do about refugees and migrants? And is there life yet in the notion of globalism?
And we have heard from some major international figures, including two former presidents—Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Joyce Banda of Malawi—Jim Kim, Christine Lagarde, Lawrence Summers, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as well as several major development organization heads, private sector representatives, government officials from around the world, and leading academics and thinkers—including, of course, many of CGD’s own experts.
In early 2017, the CGD podcast will discuss how best to conduct impact evaluations with Rachel Glenerster of J-PAL and our own Bill Savedoff; we will think about how digital technology impacts development with Raj Kumar of Devex; and we will ask if development finance institutions like the US’ OPIC and the UK’s CDC are the best way to pay for development, with their respective heads Elizabeth Littlefield and Diana Noble. Look out also for podcasts about major CGD work, including new ideas to better help refugees in long-running emergencies; the problems of trying to measure corruption; how biometric identification can help achieve several of the SDGs; and how Britain’s trade policy can make the most of Brexit.
I do hope you will stay tuned in 2017—and please share the podcasts and encourage your friends and colleagues to subscribe here or on iTunes. As ever, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Thanks to Stephanie Brown, who produces all our podcasts—and to you for listening.
Attention presidential transition teams: the Rethinking US Development Policy team at the Center for Global Development strongly urges you to include these three big ideas in your first year budget submission to Congress and pursue these three smart reforms during your first year.
Since its establishment more than 54 years ago, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has expanded into an $18-billion-a-year agency, operating in over 145 countries and in nearly every development sector. But USAID is often constrained in its ability to adapt to emerging development challenges due to differing political priorities among key stakeholders and resource constraints. This memo is the result of a roundtable discussion in July 2016 on how the next US administration, in close concert with Congress, can build upon and maximize the development impact of USAID.
This week, CGD took another step forward in putting the “do” in our mission of being a “think and do tank.” For a number of years, we have hosted policymakers as visiting fellows at the center, a great program that has helped to ground our work in the realities of policymaking. (Of course, as a visiting fellow alumnus, I may be a bit biased!). Now, we are turning this program on its head and sending one of our own, Casey Dunning, into the policy world under a new CGD-sponsored fellowship. Casey will be joining the policy team at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) this fall as the inaugural CGD Policy Fellow.
One of the realities of policymaking is that government officials rarely have enough time to fully immerse themselves in the work of think tanks like CGD, however finely crafted our proposals might be. By being in residence at USAID, Casey will bring her substantial expertise on US development policy issues to bear on the day to day issues facing the aid agency.
Anyone who has followed CGD’s Rethinking US Development Policy initiative in recent years knows just how central Casey Dunning’s work has been. The good news for the folks at USAID is that everything that Casey has put to paper as an aid reform thinker is also in her head, so when she shows up in a meeting, it will be kind of like having an in-house think tank at the table.
We know that not everyone at USAID can come to a CGD conference or read our latest policy papers, which is why we’re sending a little bit of CGD to USAID. I am confident that Casey’s work at USAID will help make the agency smarter, and I know that it will also continue to make CGD smarter about development policy in practice. Good luck Casey!
The post is part of a series highlighting ongoing analysis of US agencies’ efforts to incorporate country ownership approaches in their development activities. The authors conducted research in El Salvador from February 24 – March 4, 2016.
“If we don’t take a risk, we won’t reap the rewards.” We heard this refrain from a USAID official working in El Salvador to advance USAID’s agenda to promote greater country ownership by cultivating public-private partnerships with local actors. Partnering directly with local entities can pose potential risks to USAID, but in El Salvador the decision to increase local implementation has proved pragmatic and beneficial, as it capitalized on local knowledge and the local private sector.
Under the banner of Local Solutions, USAID set a target to direct 30 percent of program funding to local partners by 2015 as part of the Agency’s 2010 reform agenda. For many Missions this goal remains an aspiration, but in El Salvador the Agency has consistently surpassed the target. In fact, USAID/El Salvador has comfortably cleared 30 percent since 2013, even without any direct partnerships with the government of El Salvador. This is due, at least in part, to the country’s diverse landscape of local organizations with the capacity to invest in and implement USAID projects.
Percent of Mission program funds per year implemented through local entities. Extracted from USAID Forward: Strengthen Local Capacity dataset (May 2016).
Three Distinct Partnership Models
It turns out that USAID/El Salvador draws upon a mix of local and international implementing partners to achieve results. We looked at three USAID projects, and examined the partnership arrangements involved, to understand the potential tradeoffs the Agency must weigh as it considers direct partnership with local organizations.
1. SolucionES: Local Prime Grantee & Local Sub-Grantees
SolucionES: FEPADE (prime) and all sub-grantees are local.
SolucionES is a five-year project that focuses on crime and violence prevention in El Salvador. At $42 million, SolucionES is the largest Global Development Alliance (GDA, USAID’s brand of public-private partnership) in USAID’s history in which every implementing partner is a local organization. USAID is investing $20 million while its local partners are required to leverage an additional $22 million from the private sector.
SolucionES’ implementing partners have been working in El Salvador for decades. USAID even helped to create several of these institutions through initial funding in the 1980s. These organizations are now leaders in shaping El Salvador’s development agenda, showing the payoffs of USAID’s investments in institutional strengthening. USAID has not just spent money in El Salvador; it has increased civil society organizations’ capacity to exist independent of the Agency.
2. Regional Climate Change Program: Local Prime Grantee & International Sub-Grantees
Regional Climate Change Program: CATIE is a local organization
and the sub-grantees are international organizations.
The Regional Climate Change Program (RCCP) provides a platform for coordination and cooperation on climate change mitigation interventions in Central America. CATIE, a regional center focused on management, conservation, and sustainable use of resources, leads implementation. Though it’s based in El Salvador, CATIE has a well-established network of non-governmental and governmental partners with which it works throughout Central America. International sub-contractors bring technical expertise to the project that complements CATIE’s capacity to convene partners around an issue that affects the entire region. Though, from what we heard, international partners were initially apprehensive about CATIE’s ability to manage USAID resources, they’ve come to recognize one another’s comparative advantage in implementation.
3. Alianza Cacao El Salvador: International Prime Grantee & International/Local Sub-Grantees
Alianza Cacao: CRS (prime), LWR, and TechnoServe
(sub-grantees) are international organizations. Caritas and
Clusa are local organizations (sub-grantees).
The Alianza Cacao El Salvador is a GDA that aims to improve the incomes of Salvadoran farmers by establishing cacao-based agroforestry systems and strengthening the cacao value chain. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), an international organization, is USAID’s direct partner that contracts to a mix of local and international implementing entities. In speaking to a local cacao cooperative, we learned that USAID may have chosen an international organization because there was a pressing need to disburse resources and not enough time to build the fiduciary capacity of local organizations to manage the award. Local organizations may have the technical expertise to implement, but in some cases they lack the absorptive capacity to manage large grants.
What these Partnerships Tell Us about Tradeoffs
These three partnership models offer a lens through which we can explore the potential risks and rewards that Missions consider in pursuing Local Solutions efforts.
Fiduciary. USAID has strict regulations in order to protect US taxpayer dollars from fraud and waste. Missions must undertake an intensive due diligence process to ensure partners’ financial, procurement, and management systems – among other things – are reliable, especially in difficult country contexts. This is likely why USAID chose to partner with CRS to implement Alianza Cacao.
Programmatic. Because many are first time direct partners, local entities don’t always have a proven track record of achieving results with USAID. In order to transfer management responsibility to a new organization, USAID must embrace a greater tolerance for programmatic risk. Though it’s a first-time direct partner, USAID knew of FEPADE’s reputation for achieving results in other projects, thus mitigating programmatic risk.
Longer timeline. It often takes significant time and resources for local partners to adopt USAID’s administrative and operational requirements to become a direct partner.
Local knowledge. Local organizations have long-standing relationships with the communities in which they work, enabling greater flexibility to improve projects based on community feedback. CATIE has a presence in several Central American countries, which gives it flexibility to adapt USAID’s regional program to specific country and community needs.
Cost effectiveness. Local organizations require lower overhead costs than an international organization, which means more of USAID’s dollars can go directly towards project results.
More resources. As is the case with SolucionES, organizations have access to different networks, including the local private sector – an untapped resource in many countries where USAID works.
Staying power & sustainability. The Salvadorans within these organizations will be directly affected by the outcomes of the projects they implement and therefore have a greater stake in sustaining results.
What the Example Set in El Salvador Tells Us about USAID’s Broader Effort
Merely funneling money through a local organization doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. USAID must carefully weigh the risks and rewards when choosing a local partner for direct implementation. But when local organizations have the capacity to achieve program outcomes, USAID’s calculation should systematically measure the additional benefits of partnering locally, such as sustainability, cost effectiveness, and increased capacity.
Without evidence to support the linkages between ownership and sustainability, USAID will continue to underestimate the value of its local partnerships. In choosing its implementing mechanism, we encourage USAID to consider how local implementation will affect results at the end of a project as well as 5, 10, and 20 years into the future. By budgeting for ex-post evaluations in project design, USAID will have more opportunities to identify how local ownership contributes to sustainability of results.
Donor governments are increasingly utilising direct partnerships with governments and local organisations as a way to deliver sustainable results. Whether called country ownership, aid localisation, or sustainable development, the evidence base around localised approaches to foreign assistance remains slim. New research from the Center for Global Development explores how and when ownership approaches can be effective, and what tools and mechanisms development agencies have at their disposal to implement such an approach.
The final piece of the puzzle is in place for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last Friday, March 11, the United Nations Statistical Commission’s Interagency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) agreed on 230 individual indicators to monitor the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs. We now have a complete picture of the SDG agenda for the next 15 years, right?
The IAEG-SDGs was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It could either put forth a set of indicators that would credibly cover all 169 targets, or put forth a set of indicators with sound methodologies and significant country coverage. It chose the former option. This means that roughly half of the 230 indicators lack acceptable country coverage, agreed-upon methodologies, or both.
In the long run, this strategy could make sense. Over the next 15 years, new technologies will allow for better and more complete data collection methods and measurement. In recognition of this, the IAEG-SDGs intends to regularly update and refine the indicators as they evolve.
But what about right now? The world is already 75 days into implementing the SDGs and as many as half of the indicators are not yet ready for primetime. And that is a generous estimate. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has created a preliminary SDG Index and SDG Dashboard using only indicators with significant country coverage, technically sound methodologies, and frequent updates. An application of this criteria left the SDSN with 39 viable indicators.
Adopting so many indicators — viable and otherwise — could end up harming the larger SDG agenda to “Leave No One Behind.” This is because many of the countries for which little to no data exist are the very countries that require special attention from the global community to move the needle forward. Take, for example, indicator 1.1.1 on the proportion of the population below the international poverty line. Seventy-two of the 193 UN member states report no data for this indicator since at least 2000. Interestingly, these countries fall into three broad categories: 10 conflict or fragile states, 19 small-island nations, and 45 high-income countries. (Some countries fall into multiple categories.) This dearth of data points to potential problems for both the “Leave No One Behind” focus and the universality agenda.
Numerous groups both within the UN and without are focused on SDG implementation and the relevant data to monitor it. It’s one thing to identify the countries and targets for which we lack data; it’s quite another to get the systems in place to mark baselines and begin reporting on indicator progress. If the UN and its member states are prepared to advance an agenda with 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators, they must also be prepared to bring the same level of ambition and resolve to monitoring and implementation.
Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has become a $17-billion-a-year agency stretched across the globe, operating in 125 countries and 36 different program areas. It covers nearly every development challenge, including those surrounding health, food security, microfinance, governance, counterterrorism, macroeconomic stability, trade, and transnational crime.
But USAID, the largest bilateral provider of development assistance in the world in absolute terms, could better maximize its development impact. It has been three decades since a US president instructed the agency to conduct a comprehensive top-to-bottom review of its programs. This is despite dramatic changes in basic development challenges around the world and in the broad economic and political landscape within which the agency operates.
Data on Feed the Future's results are just becoming available, and there is strikingly little independent analysis of the program. While we cannot yet assess the impact on poverty alleviation or improved nutrition, we can assess how Feed the Future performs against its stated objective of offering a new, more effective approach to food security. The integrated agriculture and nutrition approach emphasizes increased selectivity in aid allocations along with country ownership and capacity building to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the initiative’s impacts. We find the initiative has led to an increase in the share of overall US assistance for agriculture and nutrition, and that the Obama administration has increasingly concentrated this aid in selected focus countries.
hours (and counting) of negotiations to finalize the goals, targets, and indicators for the post-2015 agenda
With the outcome document for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) now submitted, the development community turns to the final piece of the SDG agenda: the indicators. While the goals and targets have endured unending negotiations, from the Open Working Group to all UN member states, the underlying indicators have largely remained a big question. It’s now time to turn to that question.
The UN Statistical Commission has offered its technical contribution and is actively seeking input on which indicators should comprise the SDG agenda. But lest you think the indicators will be the simple part, think again. The UN’s list of indicator proposals features roughly 1,063 indicators. (Yes, you read that right. There are currently more indicator options than the GDP per capita of Tajikistan.)
Of these 1,063 indicator proposals, 204 are "Suggested Indicators," which means the UN Statistical Team and member states have positively assessed them on the basis of feasibility, suitability, and relevance. Of the 204 "Suggested Indicators," 101 indicators are considered "Tier I" inputs, meaning these indicators have an established methodology and data are already widely available. These are the ones on which to focus first.
It would be easy (and understandable) to keep the spotlight on the goals and targets leading up to the UN General Assembly and the adoption of the post-2015 agenda. But it would be a missed opportunity. The set of indicators that will underpin the 17 goals and 169 targets is arguably the most important part of the agenda. National, regional, and global targets will all be measured based on the selected indicators.
There’s a reason the saying “What counts gets counted and what’s counted counts” is so often trotted out. Measurement matters, and with an agenda this big the indicators become that much more crucial. With some targets open to multiple interpretations, the indicators have the potential to direct and define much of the sustainable development agenda.
In deciding which indicators to ultimately use, the UN and its member states are considering three criteria: feasibility, suitability and relevance. On top of this, all targets must be given indicators (though there can be overlap). Here’s where the proposed set of indicators becomes a bit worrying: only 85 of the 169 targets have "Tier I" indicators attached to them, meaning much of the agenda could be poorly measured, if at all.
This is where the global community must step up once again. Though the indicators won’t be officially agreed upon until March 2016, the negotiations are happening now. The UN’s Interagency and Expert Group on SDGs is seeking input through September 7. At the same time, multiple member states are finalizing their own comments on the proposed set of indicators. Now is the time to weigh in on how best to define and measure the SDGs. The indicators are the final piece of the SDG trifecta: they deserve just as much thought and discussion as went into formulating the goals and targets.
The world has collectively endorsed the goals, targets, and indicators that make up the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and we are already 126 days into implementation. You’d think it would be time to get down to business, right? As it turns out, the 230 individual indicators that make up the SDGs are not quite ready for primetime, and the decision not to consider data availability during goal and target selection may come back to haunt SDG implementation.
While data availability was not necessarily one of the criteria for selecting indicators, the lack of publicly available data exposes how much work needs to be done to fully implement and monitor the SDGs. A number of fundamental questions currently plague the SDG indicators. How many actually have data? If there are available data, how many countries are covered? For how many years are data available? To truly measure progress for each of the 17 goals, indicators should cover all 193 UN member states and multiple years so the indicator is trackable, as well as have some level of relevant disaggregation.
Unable to find an up-to-date, comprehensive breakdown of data availability across the 193 UN member states, we decided to answer these questions ourselves. We tracked down as many of the 230 indicators as possible and quantitatively measured data availability from 2000-2015 for all 193 UN member states.
This analysis was done independently of the UN; thus we only used data available in the public sphere. We also followed the tiering system of the Interagency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG) to categorize the indicators. Ultimately, the picture is not promising:
Just 42% of indicators are Tier I, meaning that they have an established methodology and regularly accessible data, according to the IAEG-SDG.
Only 62% of Tier 1 indicators – or 25% of all indicators – could be found online in a publicly accessible format.
A few other organizations have begun exploring whether the SDG indicators are ready to be used, but none have taken a birds-eye look at all 230 indicators. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) explored data availability, giving each indicator a preliminary assessment. SDSN also created the SDG Index and Dashboard using only 39 indicators with at least 80% country coverage. The Bertlesmann Foundation scoped data availability for two “snapshot indicators” per goal to see if rich countries were prepared for SDG implementation.
Less than half of the 230 indicators are up to speed according to the IAEG-SDG
The IAEG-SDG has classified indicators into three categories based on the soundness of methodology and the availability of data. Tier I indicators have an established methodology and regularly produced data; Tier II indicators have an established methodology but not regularly produced data; and Tier III indicators are indicators with no established methodology.
As it stands, the IAEG-SDGs categorizes 97 indicators as Tier I (that’s roughly 42% of all indicators). This means that less than half of the indicators have regularly produced data. The tiering of the indicators helps to identify major data gaps as Tier I indicators are not distributed equally across the 17 goals.
For some goals the majority of the indicators are Tier I, implying a high – although not necessarily perfect – level of data coverage. As seen in the chart above, this is true of goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) and goal 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure). On the other hand, goal 13 (climate action) has zero Tier I indicators, meaning that there is currently no single indicator with an established methodology and available data to track progress.
Even fewer indicators are accessible
However, the tiering of indicators does not give a full picture of data availability. We wanted to scope whether this regularly produced data are actually publicly available and to what extent data are available in terms of country coverage and survey frequency. We found that Goal 14 (life below water) has no publicly available data.
For the other SDGs, not all the indicators are publicly accessible, even if we only consider Tier 1 indicators. As we attempted to locate all 97 Tier 1 indicators, we found that many are not publicly accessible, meaning that the data values can be found online free of charge. Indeed, quite a few Tier 1 indicators – 22 indicators – were unavailable for various reasons:
The data are behind a paywall; e.g. indicator 9.c.1: Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology. The indicator is available from the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World Telecommunications/ICT Indicators database, available for purchase on ITU’s website.
The data require time-consuming, technical calculation; e.g. indicator 15.1.2: Proportion of important sites for terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type. GIS data are available for this indicator, but the actual values must be calculated.
The methodology is unclear; e.g. indicators 10.6.1 and 16.8.1: Proportion of members and voting rights of developing countries in international organizations. It is not clear which international organizations are considered.
The data cannot be found; e.g. indicator 15.7.1: Proportion of traded wildlife that was poached or illicitly trafficked.
Additionally, fifteen Tier 1 indicators are not directly available and require a relatively simple calculation using publicly available data. For example, indicator 17.11.1 is developing countries’ and least developed countries’ share of global export, but the World Bank’s World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) database only provides data on the global exports of each country in US dollars are available. The SDG-specific indicator is not available on WITS’ database; instead, the export data must be downloaded and then calculated.
In sum, only 62% of Tier I indicators have direct, publicly accessible data. This is only 25% of all SDG indicators.
Without publicly accessible data, citizens and external groups cannot keep UN member states accountable for their progress in implementing each of the goals. Even the agenda’s cornerstone indicator on extreme poverty (indicator 1.1.1) lacks data on 72 countries over the last 15 years. Much more work needs to be done – especially around goals 11-15 – to establish baselines and allow for the monitoring of progress in each goal.
Despite the jarring data gaps, there is still some room for data assessment around the SDG indicators. Stay tuned for further analysis on the SDG indicators as we explore which indicators are lacking data, what countries and regions have a dearth of data, and what agencies are failing to provide data.
After a splashy launch in April 2014, USAID’s Global Development Lab has been relatively quiet as it seeks to expand the Agency’s capacity in science, technology, and innovation. For the broader development community, however, much remains in question about how the Lab will function, what it will accomplish, and how it will contribute to USAID’s newly stated mission to end extreme poverty.
I took the opportunity to chat with former USAID chief scientist Alex Dehgan in an effort to answer some of these questions. In 2010, administrator Raj Shah appointed Dehgan as USAID’s first chief scientist in over 20 years, and Dehgan was a major architect behind the Lab which originally brought together USAID’s Office of Science and Technology (OST) with its Global Development Alliances and Grand Challenges for Development programs. In Dehgan’s words, the purpose of the Lab is to “rethink assumptions and harness the power of the crowd and America’s leading research institutes and universities, coupled with the democratization of science and technology, to lead to new breakthroughs that it can bring to scale.”
Excerpts below offer Dehgan’s insights on the genesis of the Lab and its seeming drift from its original raison d'être. He finds the Lab struggling to find its place within an Agency largely divided along bureaucratic and sectoral lines. This could prove detrimental to the long-term utility of the Lab, at best hindering its efficacy, at worst making it a fleeting effort of the current administration. You can see a transcript of the full interview here.
Casey Dunning: USAID has been quite vocal about its new mission to end extreme poverty by 2030. How will the Lab contribute to USAID’s efforts to end extreme poverty?
Alex Dehgan: The question is not how the Lab will respond to USAID’s efforts to end extreme poverty, but whether it should. For the Lab to achieve its vision as a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for Development, which the Administrator reiterated at its launch, it cannot duplicate the focus and political activities of the rest of the Agency. It must choose to rethink assumptions, identify alternative areas that can be truly disruptive, and be sharply focused on those areas that have the greatest potential for development. This however takes time. The Lab’s focus should not be a mere mirror of a constantly shifting political agenda.
CD: USAID has identified nine problem sets for the Lab that seem to cover a vast majority of the issues on which the Agency works. In this initial phase of the Lab, can you identify which problem set you think holds the most potential for unlocking solutions using the Lab’s distinct approach?
AD: The Lab probably shouldn’t be approaching questions that follow the Agency’s disciplinary lines, but should consider how it can look at questions that cross between them. Innovation happens at the boundaries, not in the center…There is a tension between whether the Lab can create transformative new products, but at the same time, transform/serve the Agency. This is tied to how we institutionalize the gains made in this Administration. One is to make the Lab much closer to the rest of the Agency so that it endures. The second is to maintain its distinctiveness, craft a different culture from the Agency with a different staff and set of authorities, and create a Skunk Works, a Bell Labs, a Xerox Parc, that then feeds back in.
I am concerned the Lab may be institutionalizing the wrong things – bureaucracy rather than adaptability, technical substance, creativity, and a hacker culture. The Lab will fail if it merely creates a new bureaucracy that lacks the ability to take risks, to be creative, to be innovative. The failure to take risks — the failure to fail (or iterate) — may ultimately be a greater risk than continuing with the same programs and expecting different results. The Agency should ensure that the majority of the positions of the Lab – perhaps 90% – are not permanent, but are time limited. This is a persuasive argument to Congress that we aren’t creating a bureaucracy, but truly opening up the Agency to new ideas. This means maintaining a startup mentality, allowing for iteration, and taking risks, and not building and reinforcing bureaucracy that incentivizes maintenance of the status quo.
CD: What makes the Global Development Lab different from USAID’s previous efforts in science, technology, and innovation during the Obama administration? What is the value-add of an entity like the Lab?
AD: Worryingly, science and technology programs which made up the majority of the Lab at its founding (it was a merger of 18 OST programs with 4 Office of Innovation and Development Alliances (IDEA) programs, one of which has been largely outsourced) appear to be a diminishing part of what the Lab is doing. Even the advisory board – whose initial purpose was to connect us with external technical communities – has mostly lost its scientific character. The Agency continues to expand the number of nontechnical staff in the Lab, without considering what the impact will be on the technical quality of what we will do. Most importantly, the leadership and make-up of the Lab needs to reflect the Lab’s technical nature, but have not done so. The gains we have made in building science & technology in the Agency are ephemeral; they can be turned back as there is an astonishing elasticity to the Agency to regain its prior form.
CD: Will USAID continue the role of a chief scientist and will that position lead the Lab? What is the role of science and technology in the Lab?
AD: We substantially enhanced the reputation of the Agency with respect to science and technology in the last four years. The Agency is a hybrid institution – it is half a technical agency, and half a foreign affairs agency. However, over the last two decades, the Agency prioritized the foreign affairs aspects of its role, but saw its technical strengths atrophy. It was mainly viewed (with a few exceptions, not limited to its longstanding food security research programs and global health’s work on HIV, implementation science, emerging infectious diseases, the demographic health survey, and its famine early warning programs and climate change program) as a contracting body (foreign assistance), rather than an institution that does technical development (e.g., a development agency). However, the Agency has been trying to change that perception under Raj Shah’s leadership. Development is a technical field, and we can harness the exponential gains in science and technology and connectivity, to accelerate our outcomes. However, we can’t do this without a focused, concerted effort to do so across the entire Agency – the Lab needs to lead that effort and there is no other entity better suited to play that role.