Announcing the Innovation in Government Initiative

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Photo: Paul Smith | J-PAL/IPA

Today we are announcing J-PAL’s Innovation in Government Initiative (IGI). IGI’s mission is to work with governments to adapt, pilot, and scale evidence-informed innovations with the potential to improve the lives of millions of people living in poverty in developing countries.

For more than a decade, J-PAL has built long-term partnerships with governments around the world to increase the use of evidence from randomized evaluations in policy, and adapt and scale programs informed by evidence.

We work with government partners on policy priorities they have identified, helping them determine whether and how evidence is relevant to their context or not, supporting pilots of programs leveraging relevant evidence, and building systems for data-enabled program delivery and monitoring 

We believe this middle phase is vital to bridging the gap between the generation of promising evidence and the scale-up of effective programs. IGI is designed to support this important work to help catalyze the transition from research to scale.

An example of evidence informing large-scale change: Teaching at the Right Level

In classrooms around the world, many students are not learning at grade level and struggle to catch up. To help address this learning crisis, Co-Impact recently announced support for Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa, an initiative led by J-PAL and the NGO Pratham, to work with governments across sub-Saharan Africa to adapt and scale up Pratham’s evidence-based Teaching at the Right Level approach to reach three million children in the next five years.

This is an exciting new chapter in a two-decade-long story that began and flourished in India, traveled to Zambia—where the Zambian Government, J-PAL Africa, and Pratham have worked together for more than three years to adapt, pilot, and monitor the program in public primary schools—and most recently, launched the new TaRL Africa initiative to support several more governments in adapting and scaling the approach.  

This case is a testament to the broad coalition of partners and funders, as well as the large amount of research, capacity building, and policy work, that it takes for evidence to inform large-scale change in governments.

This change is well worth the time it takes to cultivate. As the primary providers of social services around the world, even small improvements in governments’ effectiveness can potentially benefit millions of people. 

The Innovation in Government Initiative

While universities and research organizations are producing evidence and many governments are eager to use it, we know that good research and demand from governments is often not enough to change lives.

Using evidence to inform change at scale also requires a deep understanding of context and systems, political will, a policy window where evidence can make a difference, and institutional and implementation capacity. Identifying these opportunities and building strong partnerships to apply evidence takes time.

Starting in 2019, IGI will host scale-up innovation competitions to support this important work. The competition will be open to teams of governments, J-PAL regional offices, and J-PAL affiliated professors in low- or middle-income countries working on priority problems or opportunities government partners have identified.

IGI funding can be used to support a broad range of technical assistance to governments to adapt, pilot, monitor, evaluate, and scale evidence-informed innovations. By innovations, we don’t just mean new programs, but also changes to existing programs, processes, or delivery systems.

IGI will initially focus on innovations in three areas in which there are promising opportunities to take programs to scale given a large body of existing evidence and high government demand for collaboration: education, health, and social assistance.

We will also prioritize partnerships that explore technology- and data-enabled program delivery, implementation science, and cost analysis—crosscutting themes that we believe are key to implementing and learning from programs at scale. For more information on what IGI will fund, head here.

IGI’s first Request for Proposals will be issued in spring 2019. Stay tuned to our blog, newsletter, and Twitter account for more details on our first scale-up innovation competition.

For more information about IGI, including opportunities for foundations and individuals to support this important work, please contact [email protected].