Scaling Innovations: Perspectives from the NGO Community

Innovations are one of the driving forces behind accelerating effective development. They can offer new approaches to address complex development challenges in a way that is more efficient, sustainable, and less costly. Ultimately, innovations play an important role in the future success of development.

Given the ability of innovations to impact programs quicker, cheaper, and more sustainably, civil society organizations, including InterAction and its members, recognize the importance of incorporating innovations into development. This recognition of its importance prompted USAID to launch the U.S. Global Development Lab in April 2014. The Lab, tasked with accelerating USAID’s development impact in helping to end extreme poverty, works to discover, test, and scale innovations that can impact millions of people. To date, it has successfully sourced hundreds of innovations that have the potential to address development challenges. Now that the Lab has identified potential high-impact innovations, it is now focusing on how it can apply those innovations in USAID's traditional work to help test and scale the most promising innovations.

To that end, USAID staff from the Center for Development Innovation, housed within the Global Development Lab, reached out to InterAction earlier this summer about starting a dialogue with our members on scaling innovations. Given the opportunity to convene USAID and our members, many of whom are USAID implementing partners, InterAction was happy to get the conversation started.

In late June, InterAction hosted a meeting bringing together our members and USAID’s Applied Innovation and Acceleration team to discuss the practical dimensions of how NGOs scale innovative practices. Specifically, USAID sought feedback from our members on ways to:

  1. Incorporate specific innovations into more USAID programs with the goal of greater development impact and to share data/evidence about innovations to a wider universe of stakeholders to stimulate learning and application.
  2. Encourage USAID implementing partners to apply innovative methods that allow for more open, collaborative, outcomes-driven and adaptive approaches to program design and implementation.

This is what we learned: A frequent challenge for NGOs implementing USAID programs is that they have to balance interests in compliance with innovation as well as the risk of negative application evaluation by USAID with robust innovation adoption approaches. To help address this challenge, the Applied Innovation and Acceleration team asked InterAction members to submit model proposal instructions, formats, and evaluation criteria which USAID could incorporate into Requests for Applications (RfA) and Requests for Proposals (RfP). Using this feedback from InterAction members, USAID plans to circulate the revised RfA/RfP language to USAID Missions and/or Operating Units that want increased innovation in their activities. The revised language would allow Missions and/or Operating Units to signal to implementing partners an interest in, and an appetite for, innovation and risk-taking in a particular activity. Ultimately, a goal is to provide USAID implementing partners with the confidence that they are going to be evaluated with an eye toward innovation.

InterAction appreciates that the Global Development Lab recognizes the value of seeking feedback from its implementing partners. These partners, many of whom are InterAction members, are well positioned to provide USAID with valuable feedback that can facilitate its mission to successfully scale innovations.  We hope that the Global Development Lab, in addition to sharing the revised RfA/RfP language with its Operating Units and Missions, will also follow through on its intention to incorporate aspects of the revised language into the procurement process during this next fiscal year.

InterAction and USAID implementing partners alike look forward to seeing the result.