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Assessing Innovations in International Research and Development Practice


Describe The Approaches Utilized To Measure / Assess This KM Initiative: 

The study employs mixed methods to assess innovation in international development partnerships. This paper integrates two distant bodies of literature — the literature on impact assessment of research and development interventions, and the literature on social psychology of assessing learning and innovations. Based on case studies of a series of projects implemented in India and Nepal under DFID’s 11-year Renewable Natural Resources Research Strategy (RNRRS) programme between 1995 and 2006, a social innovation assessment tool was developed and implemented. The tool includes questions about critical incidents and modes of stakeholder interactions to be ranked on a four-point scale depending on how often the statements apply to the respondents’ work environments. The social innovation assessment provides critical learning lessons for social innovation generation and overall performance improvement in collaborative research and development interventions at the organisational, network and system levels.



What Do You Think Are The Main Unanswered Questions Or Challenges Related To This Field Of Work?: 

One of the main challenge in this field of study is to assess emergent properties of a system that is visible only at higher systems levels.

What Was The Purpose Or Motivation For Assessing This KM Initiative?: 

The motivation for this kind of assessment comes from the contemporary challenges to assess social innovation in international development partnerships, particularly multi-stakeholder collaboration at the local level.

What Were The Most Important Lessons Learned About The Assessment Process?: 

The social innovation assessment discussed in this study is more an approach than a structured tool because the design of the social innovation survey questionnaire at the second stage depends on the documentation of the critical incidents using case study research methods at the first stage. Another distinguishing feature of this process is to document incidents leading to successes as well as failures. Under the realm of participatory research and development, attributing impacts to a particular actor — such as an initiator of crop improvement projects — and to a particular intervention can become further challenging. In this case, moving from attribution to contribution of various factors and actors, and generating critical learning lessons to innovation generation are desirable.

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?: 

Further research will have to focus more specifically on the role of individual change agents within an organisation, network or system is imperative as the latter can either facilitate or constraint the agency of individuals. This could be one area where institutional learning lessons from the monitoring and evaluation of international development interventions can contribute towards enhancing research and development impacts.

Describe The KM Initiative: 

Enhancing impacts of international development interventions has become a central issue of the twenty-first century. Conventional monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tools either focus on efficiency (output-to-input relationships) or strive to demonstrate a logical progression from specific actors and factors of an intervention to development impacts (inputs => activities => outputs => outcomes => impacts). However, in complex adaptive systems there is neither such a linear results chain nor can impacts be unambiguously attributed to an actor or a factor. Therefore, alternative ways of doing M&E focus on outcomes — the changes in behaviour and social relations — rather than on impacts, such as poverty reduction, environmental protection and social inclusion. Innovation systems thinking, particularly in renewable natural resource, agriculture and rural development, informs that the dominant paradigm of impact assessment should be complemented by social innovation assessment, providing research and development actors with critical learning lessons.

What Advice Would You Give To Others Based On Your Experience?: 

Mixed methods assessment is one of the effective ways to move forward particularly in a situation characterized by key features of a complex adaptive system, such as non-linear cause-effect relationships, emergent innovation and self-organizing sub-systems.




This case was submitted as part of the KM Impact Challenge in 2011. The challenge was sponsored by USAID's Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development project, as a key part of the project’s Assessing & Learning component, which sought to improve the understanding of how investing in learning can increase and extend the overall impact of USAID's development efforts.

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