African Scholars Opportunities at DigiFI Africa
J-PAL Africa is invested in supporting African Scholars to develop and drive the research agenda on the African continent. DigiFI is excited to offer research funding, mentorship, and training to resident and non-resident African Scholars.
- Resident African Scholars: Individuals who have completed a PhD in Economics or a related discipline and are employed at an academic institution in Africa.
- Non-resident African Scholars: Individuals who completed high school in Africa, have a PhD in Economics or a related discipline, and are based in an academic institution outside Africa.
Interested African Scholars are encouraged to sign up for the African Scholars Registry to stay up to date with new research funding and training opportunities.
- Strengthening pathways for African researchers: Read the summary blog of our African Scholars efforts here.
Research Funding Opportunities
Research funds: Resident and non-resident African Scholars can apply for Proposal Development Grants (up to $15,000) and Pilot Grants (up to $75,000). African Scholars who have completed a pilot project funded by J-PAL are eligible for RCT funding (up to $400,000).
Policy dissemination funding: DigiFI offers policy outreach grants (up to $10,000) to support the sharing of research results with policymakers, study participants, and/or frontline workers. While priority will be given to activities featuring randomised evaluations that have received DigiFI funding, DigiFI will consider support for activities featuring randomised evaluations that clearly address the research themes identified in DigiFI’s framing paper and demonstrate strong potential for policy impact. For African scholars, the evaluation must have been funded by J-PAL.
Targeted mentorship: Mentorship support is provided to African Scholar teams who receive funds from DigiFI. The mentor, a J-PAL affiliate or Invited Researcher, will offer advice and guidance to the African Scholar team throughout the grant.
J-PAL Africa staff support: We offer a staff-led phone call to resident African Scholar applicants who are successful at the letter of interest stage. These calls are intended to provide initial feedback on the project design and implementation. DigiFI staff can also assist African Scholars in moving their projects to the next stage. Please note that funding decisions are taken by the DigiFI Board and not the staff.
Please see the following documents for more information on our funding process:
- DigiFI Africa Request for Proposal Overview includes information on the funding grants available at DigiFI Africa, eligibility criteria, proposal requirements, and the application and review process.
- DigiFI Africa Frequently Asked Questions covers frequently asked questions on the scope of DigiFI Africa, support that the DigiFI Africa team can provide, eligibility, and DigiFI Africa proposal requirements.
- African Scholars Frequently Asked Questions covers frequently asked questions related to African Scholars including eligibility requirements, what funding can be used for, how the proposal process works, what to consider when budgeting for your project, and more.
Capacity Building Opportunities
1. Training opportunities
- J-PAL course on Designing and Running Randomized Evaluations (JPAL102x)
This course equips students with the practical skills for running evaluations in the field. Students will learn the foundations of randomizations and research design, as well as practical tips and skills for collecting high-quality, reliable data in the field. It is a 12-week long course and can be audited for free. However, participants must pay a fee to take the course exam, which is required for course credit. The course runs three times a year, in Spring, Summer and Fall. Learn more here.
- Evaluating Social Programs course
J-PAL runs an in-person Evaluating Social Programmes course annually and is based in different locations. This is intended to give an overview of randomized evaluations for a practitioner audience. Keep an eye on J-PAL’s Education and Training webpage and J-PAL Africa's Training webpage for more details.
2. Resources for African Scholars
The DigiFI team has created and identified several resources that may be useful for African Scholars who would like to refine their skills in randomised evaluation and research designs:
- DigiFI Webinar: Introduction to randomised evaluations with application to her Fingerprinting study in Malawi - Jessica Goldberg (University of Maryland)
- DigiFI Webinar: Sample size and power - Patrizio Piraino (University of Notre Dame)
- DigiFI Webinar: How to write a good research funding proposal? - Emily Cupito and Gabe Tourek (University of Pittsburgh)
- DigiFI Budget Guide.
What we look for in research proposals
The proposal review process has been designed to ensure that all funded studies are policy-relevant and, methodologically sound and capable of identifying the causal impact of an intervention that can be isolated from other confounding factors. A two-level review process is used by DigiFI Africa to assess the quality and appropriateness of all proposals. The first level of review is carried out by a panel of peer researchers in the J-PAL network who do not have a conflict of interest. The second level of review is carried out by the DigiFI Africa Board Members. Full proposals are assessed according to the following criteria: appropriateness, technical merit and innovation, policy relevance/“pathways to impact” and logistical viability.
Research proposal generation and implementation: An eight-step guide
There are different stages of the research life cycle; we outline some of the key ideas and resources to consider at each stage.
1. Idea generation: I have a general research idea
- Think about why the question is interesting and important. Is there a specific puzzle you see in the world that this question is answering? Define the question you’re trying to answer succinctly while positioning it within a broader research agenda.
- Unpack the high-level Theory of Change to support your thinking. Why do you expect to see specific effects? In what ways do these effects lead to impact? What assumptions must hold for these effects to be true?
- Think about the type of questions you are looking to answer and the method required to answer the question. What data are already available? Could you answer this question using existing data? Check out J-PAL’s Dataverse for publically available data from past J-PAL studies.
Determine the right funding source: DigiFI Africa only funds research within the scope of the initiative and has a pathway to a randomized evaluation in the future. Consider alternative funding sources if the proposed idea is out of DigiFI’s scope or not building towards a more extensive randomized evaluation.
Sign up for the African Scholars registry to keep up to date with opportunities from J-PAL.
2. Pre-proposal submission: I am ready to submit my proposal
Confirm grant requirements and eligibility: J-PAL has a number of requirements in order to apply for DigiFI funding. Please keep in mind, that we can only fund projects where:
- The lead Principal Investigator is a resident (or non-resident) African Scholar by our definition. We encourage academics to form teams when applying to DigiFI, as there are benefits in having a range of skills on the academic team. Only one member of the Principal Investigator (PI) team needs to fulfill this eligibility criterion.
- The proposal is within the scope of DigiFI. Please see our framing paper, which provides more guidance on the scope of the initiative.
- There is a clear pathway to a randomized evaluation in the future. Proposal development grants and pilots should describe the preliminary work involved prior to running a randomized evaluation.
- Each PI is limited to being named on a maximum of three proposals to DigiFI Africa in a 12-month period (either as PI or co-PI).
Target at the right grant level: The level of your proposal submission will depend on the maturity of your research idea.
- Full RCT proposals not only must have a clear research question, but also demonstrate clear first-stage results (either through a pilot or administrative data), commitment from implementing partners, a method of randomisation, well-defined instruments, and sample size estimates. Proposals can also be submitted for funding for the continuation of research projects that have already started without DigiFI Africa funding (including those for which field data collection has been completed). The expectation is that these projects will inform government reforms and result in a high-quality paper published in a top economics or 3 political science journal.
- Pilot proposals generally have a very clear research question and lay the groundwork for a full randomised evaluation. A pilot requires a partnership with an implementing partner but in contrast to full proposals—which require a fully developed method of randomization, clear outcome measures, power calculations, and a scale-up plan—a pilot proposal should be at earlier stages of the project development. Pilots generally are used to test the logistical viability of the program and/or the take-up of the program in order to assess the impacts in a larger study in the future. Pilot proposals must clearly articulate the conceptual and methodological distinction between the pilot study and any future follow-on studies, and what exactly the pilot will enable researchers to learn. It is expected that pilot studies will function to assess the feasibility of a full study by establishing research protocols, informing sample size and detectable effects, and assessing implementation processes. Pilots grants are appropriate for projects requesting funds to conduct pre-randomisation activities.
- Proposal development grants are more exploratory. These smaller grants can be used to understand the context, build partnerships, and assess the barriers to take up. The proposal development grants are aimed to fund the pre-pilot work required, prior to rolling out a pilot research project.
- Policy outreach grants are intended to co-fund conferences, workshops, events, or other policy outreach activities to disseminate evidence from DigiFI-funded evaluations or other randomized evaluation research conducted that addresses the initiative’s research priorities.
When ready, please submit your letter of interest via our online portal. We will respond to the submission within 3 weeks and let you know if you should submit a full proposal.
Prepare for a pre-proposal call: After pre-proposal submission, the DigiFI team will have a call with the African Scholars team to learn more about the proposal idea.
3. Full proposal submission: My pre-proposal has been accepted, and I am preparing my full proposal.
Read the full proposal guidelines: These guidelines can be found on our call for proposal page. Please see both the overview document and the guide for the specific proposal type.
Start writing your proposal. Some general guidance includes:
- Make sure you follow the instructions in the full proposal guidelines. There are specific sections and pieces of information required for your proposal.
- Make sure to position the study within the broader microeconomics literature. Cite the foundational empirical research that relates to your topic.
- Think about how one could apply the proposed intervention more broadly. Explain why it’s important to test the intervention in your specific context.
- Get to the point. Make sure you plan your proposal layout, in order to dedicate sufficient space to the experimental approach.
- Be clear on the specific activities that will take place during this grant compared with a larger study. Articulate clearly if the partner engagement involves existing or aspirational relationships.
- Consider asking a colleague or friend to read the proposal to ensure the ideas are well communicated.
- Design your budget
- Use our budget guide to design your research budget. We outline some of the costs to consider when writing your budget.
- Make sure the budget makes sense and reflects how much it will cost to implement the idea proposed.
- Remember to include local IRB costs in your budget.
If you have any questions as to the full proposal submission or would like further guidance on the submission, please email the DigiFI team at [email protected]. We aim to respond to your proposal within 4 weeks after this submission.
4. Mentor-matching: My full proposal has been accepted, and I am ready to be connected with a mentor
We will match you with a mentor: An existing relationship with a J-PAL mentor is not a requirement for selecting African Scholar projects. If you do have an existing relationship with a J-PAL Affiliate/Invited Researcher, who you would like to have as a mentor, we will consider this preference.
Set up the mentor-mentee agreement: We will connect mentors and mentees to design an agreement. The African Scholars team must submit the mentor-mentee agreement to the DigiFI team once both parties are happy.
5. Grant set up: The mentor-mentee agreement has been established, and I need to start processing the award
Gather the items required to set up the award as soon as possible. These items include:
- Proposal development grant
- Signed notification letter;
- Copy of lead PI’s passport;
- Official bank letter for lead PI (including international SWIFT code);
- Signed UCT umbrella IRB document;
- IRB approval (or exemption) from an IRB. Please note we also require a local IRB approval, if the IRB of record is not locally based; and
- Additional Covid-19 requirements:
- At least a month before starting in-person research activities, including any field activities, you must submit a signed Covid-19 Research Ramp-Up Activities Attestation letter (attached) confirming that you will follow J-PAL’s Covid-19 research ramp-up checklist. If your project takes place in a country with a J-PAL regional office or an IPA country office, you are required to follow the COVID-19 safety guidelines and in-person research start policies established by that J-PAL regional office or IPA country office (even if your project is not directly operating through the J-PAL regional office or IPA country office). If your project takes place in an IPA country office, please refer to IPA’s risk map to gauge the baseline level of risk of conducting in-person activities in the country.
- Pilot and RCT
- IRB approval (or exemption) from an IRB. Please note we also require a local IRB approval, if the IRB of record is not locally based.
- A 1-2 page summary of the research being conducted, written for a general audience.
- Copies of any IRB-approved consent forms;
- Signed copy of the UCT umbrella application agreement;
- A formal letter of transmission from your host institution agreeing to the proposal and budget. This can simply be a statement, on letterhead, stating that they are pleased to support the proposal and plan on carrying out the work in accordance with the approved budget. They should also include contact information for the person who will receive and sign the sub-award on behalf of their organisation.
- If the amount awarded varies at all from the total amount of the budget submitted with the proposal, a new budget that matches the amount awarded precisely must be submitted.
- Institutional bank details (including SWIFT code);
- Confirm and complete details for contracting requirements;
- Complete and return the UCT financial due diligence form, with supporting information; and
- Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic; the following will also be required:
- At least a month before starting in-person research activities, including any field activities, you must submit a signed Covid-19 Research Ramp-Up Activities Attestation letter (attached) confirming that you will follow J-PAL’s Covid-19 research ramp-up checklist. ,
- Follow If your project takes place in a country with a J-PAL regional office or an IPA country office, you are required to follow the COVID-19 safety guidelines and in-person research start policies established by that J-PAL regional office or IPA country office (even if your project is not directly operating through the J-PAL regional office or IPA country office). If your project takes place in an IPA country office, please refer to IPA’s risk map to gauge the baseline level of risk of conducting in-person activities in the country.
- Plan a buffer period - The grants take approximately 8 weeks to process, and even longer for upfront payments. Please take this into consideration when planning your project.
- We require that all members of the research team complete human subjects certification. This guide explains how to register and sign up for the course which is free of charge. Please follow the instructions for non-MIT users. The course to complete is called “Social and Behavioral Research Investigators” and it will take approximately three hours to complete.
6. Research implementation: I am ready to start implementing the research project
- Read through the Primary data collection onboarding
- Read through the Grant reporting requirements on your notification letter
- Notify DigiFI of changes in the research protocols, IRB, and/or material adjustments to the implementation.
- Check in with your mentor regularly throughout your project.
7. Research completion and grant closure: I’m ready to close the grant and submit the final deliverables
- Read through the grant reporting requirements on your notification letter before completing your final deliverables.
- Submit the final invoice for the grant with final deliverables.
8. Taking the project to the next phase
- Schedule a call with your mentor to speak through possible next steps for the project.
Schedule a closure call with the DigiFI team to give feedback and think through the next steps.
What are randomised evaluations? How do they differ from impact evaluations?
A randomised evaluation is a type of impact evaluation that uses random assignment to allocate resources, run programs, or apply policies as part of the study design. Like all impact evaluations, the main purpose of randomized evaluations is to determine whether a program has a causal impact, and more specifically, to quantify how large that impact is.
Impact evaluations measure program effectiveness typically by comparing outcomes of those (individuals, communities, schools, etc.) who received the program against those who did not. There are many methods of doing this. But randomised evaluations have the benefit of ensuring that there are no systematic differences between those who receive the program and those who do not, thereby producing accurate (unbiased) results about the effect of the program. For more information see J-PAL’s introduction to randomised evaluations.
Training in randomised evaluations
J-PAL runs an in-person Evaluating Social Programmes course annually and is based in different locations. This is intended to give an overview of randomised evaluations for a practitioner audience. Keep an eye on our website for more details. A free online version of the course can also be found here.
J-PAL hosts an online training course in designing and running randomised evaluations (J-PAL102x). This course teaches learners how to both design randomized evaluations and implement them in the field to measure the impact of social programmes. It is a 12-week long course and can be audited for free. The course runs three times a year, in Spring, Summer and Fall. African Scholars are eligible to apply for scholarships to complete the exams and receive course credit.
Further reading on randomised evaluations
For a broad overview of how to design an RCT, please refer to Duflo, Esther, Rachel Glennerster, and Michael Kremer. Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit. In T. Schultz and John Strauss, Eds., Handbook of Development Economics. Vol. 4. Amsterdam and New York: North Holland, 2008.
We encourage all interested individuals to read Rachel Glennerster and Kudzai Takavarasha's book "Running Randomized Evaluations: A Practical Guide". Further information can be found on this website.
For an overview of experiments in development economics see Field Experiments in Development Economics E. Duflo, January 2006. Also see, Use of Randomization in the Evaluation of Development Effectiveness E. Duflo and M. Kremer, July 2003
Another good resource is Impact Evaluation in Practice P. Gertler, S. Martinez, P. Premand, L. Rawlings and C. Vermeersh
Access all of J-PAL’s research resources here.