One Stop Source to Make Evidence-Based Tech & Procurement Decisions

If you were asked to point out some commonalities between Western India and South of Haiti – will you have more points of differences over similarities? The former is among the more prosperous provinces of the world’s fastest-growing major economy, the latter has been in news recently owing to adverse weather conditions. Geographies, demographics, economics, language and culture might project the two places as being poles apart (in this case quite literally) but development challenges like nutrition, healthcare, water, sanitation, energy seem to bring them together. Whilst the developing world may face problems akin to each other, how often do we seek a sweeping solution to address them all?

This might seem like a far cry but a new toolkit might just make the selection process more pragmatic.

Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) and the Technology Exchange Lab (TEL) have developed a Practitioner’s Guide that offers user-friendly tools and an approachable framework to let any organization conduct its own comparative technology evaluation. The guide is dynamic, versatile and its replicable comparative-evaluation methodology helps development organizations make better decisions around identifying and implementing products and technologies. It is designed for use by individual practitioners, NGOs, development agencies, community-based organizations and donors who often face the problem of plenty in choosing the most suited solution to respond to context-specific development challenges.

We spoke to Brennan Lake, Programs Director at Technology Exchange Lab, a partner of the empowering people. Network, to know more about the Practitioner’s Guide.

What was the idea behind releasing a Guide for Technology Evaluations in Global Development?

For the past five years, our partners at Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) have been developing a methodology to comparatively evaluate technology solutions and products for global development.  With so many developments and humanitarian innovations available on the market, CITE aimed to create a streamlined approach to determining which products are most appropriate for different geographical and socio-economic contexts.

However, in order to make comparative evaluations accessible and replicable for practitioners, it was necessary to translate the academic, research-oriented methodology into a more user-friendly framework. We have ten years of experience in working with NGOs of all sizes to identify and implement appropriate technology solutions to problems of poverty,  for us.  Therefore taking CITEs methodology from the lab into the hands of practitioners in the field was a natural fit.

An interviewee demonstrates use of water test kits in Gujarat, India. Photo by MIT CITE.

What were some key parameters for you to factor-in while developing the guide?

Condensing five years of multidisciplinary academic research into a forty-page guide was no small task. In order to do it right, we set out to take the basic evaluation frameworks developed by CITE and make them easily adaptable for organizations of all sizes.  In developing the guide, we wanted to create a comprehensive roadmap for organizations looking to conduct comparative technology evaluations from the ground up, while also keeping it modular so that say a larger agency could use the guide as a helpful toolkit, and thereby incorporate pieces of the framework – like a quantitative ranking system, for example – into their existing protocols and processes.

 

While developing the guide what were some interesting diversities from different demographics and geographical spaces?

We definitely wanted to create a guide that appealed to actors across the development and humanitarian spaces, including community-based organizations, NGOs & aid agencies, donors and the public sector.

CITE’s evaluation methodology is multidisciplinary, which means that it can be applied to any type of development technology. In order to convey this to a diverse audience, we incorporated case studies from past CITE evaluations and TEL projects, which included a variety of different product families and geographical contexts: from an evaluation comparing the technical performance of wheelchairs alongside international NGOs focused on disability in Southeast Asia, to evaluating how distribution models of small businesses in Uganda affect the uptake of malaria diagnostics.

Were there any particular challenges that made you re-think the unanimity of the guide for different regions/problems?

We were very meticulous to make sure that the guide and the tools within are accessible to all types of organizations, especially resource-constrained NGOs and individual practitioners tackling a slew of persistent development challenges. We created a large resource library in the appendix of the guide in which we point users to protocols, resources and tools for implementing aspects of the framework – such as rapid needs assessments and surveying – within a humanitarian context.

A young woman near Marigot, Haiti faces a river she must cross every day in order to go to school. Photo by Fr. Stanley Rousseu.

What are you dissemination plans to ensure that it reaches the right global audience?

TEL benefits from a vibrant network of technology innovators, implementers and supporters, in addition to a vast ecosystem of like-minded NGOs. In addition to offering the guide as a free resource to such organizations, we are also here to provide back-office support to those looking to conduct their own comparative evaluations or to organizations looking to build capacity internally by designing better in-house evaluation and procurement protocols.

Have you received initial feelers?

We have received a warm response from all different types of development professionals, but one segment which has been particularly interested in the guide is that of donors, and it makes total sense! As organizations look to incorporate technology into their programs, it is crucial that they perform due diligence to ensure that the technologies they select respond to the needs of end-users and geographical contexts, while also incorporating input from key decision makers, such as donors.

Do you foresee any systemic changes? If yes, any time-frame you might predict?

I think that the proliferation of appropriate technologies necessitates clear and easy to use frameworks for determining what products and technologies are best suited for specific development contexts, and I also think that people are beginning to realize this. Just because a solution works well in one context, does not mean it will succeed in another. It can be hard to see past the hype when exciting new innovations emerge, and it can also be difficult to look past the failures some of these innovations experience when they are applied in the wrong context. I believe that the availability and accessibility of toolkits like the Practitioner’s Guide will lead to development actors taking a more nuanced view of the context-specific appropriateness of development technologies, and will allow a greater diversity of actors to have a role in selection and procurement.

You are collaborating with Siemens Stiftung. What are the mutual benefits?

We have partnered with Siemens Stiftung for the past four years, and the mutual benefits to our respective networks have been huge. On our end, we have directly supported the implementation of solutions from the empowering people. Network, such as the SkyHydrant and Ram Pump through our programs in India and the Philippines. Beyond that thousands of users have discovered solutions from the empowering people. Network through our online platform. For Siemens Stiftung’s network members, this represents not only expanded visibility but also business opportunities to have their solutions implemented in new markets. For us, it expands our network of high-quality development innovations for TEL users to discover, acquire and benefit from.

Researcher installs sensors on evaporative refrigerator. Photo by Lauren McKown, MIT D-Lab.

A D-Lab researcher discusses solar lanterns with a Moroccan consumer. Photo by MIT D-Lab.

The Practitioner’s Guide can be downloaded here.

Brennan Lake | Programs Director | The Technology Exchange Lab

Brennan Lake is the Programs Director of The Technology Exchange Lab (TEL), a nonprofit organization that drives the adoption of innovative technology solutions to problems of poverty. Through his work with TEL, Brennan has designed and launched projects to sustainably implement appropriate technology solutions for energy access, water & sanitation and agriculture across developing regions worldwide. In addition to his work with TEL, Brennan is active with the Latin American startup community, and mentors for social entrepreneurship programs in Massachusetts.

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