Lessons from RIU Best Bets process
22 June 2010
RIU starts to pull lessons from Best Bet process and suggest lessons for future capacity building programmes
RIU has produced a paper reviewing the applications to its Best Bets programme
, co-author of the paper, said:
"We received more fundable projects from the East, Central and Southern Africa call for Best Bets, than we did from the equivalent call in West Africa. This was despite a strong feeling amongst our colleagues in West Africa that the Best Bets approach would fit with the regional entrepreneurial culture. We need to understand more about why this is this case."
The early lessons seem to indicate that programmes like RIU Best Bets need to invest much more heavily in awareness raising and providing guidance, capacity building and in some cases brokering partnerships.
Director of RIU Ian Maudlin
"RIU has two main strands of activity. The Africa Country Programme, located in Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Zambia, where the focus is on building capacity for innovation, promoting effective networking and partnerships, and serving a range of brokering roles to establish effective ways of working between partners and stakeholders. Then we have the Best Bets approach, which is about factoring in private sector expertise alongside originators of research to achieve research for development impact at scale. What we appear to have identified is both the problem and the solution: RIU Best Bets needs to take more lessons from the work of the Africa Country Programmes about new ways of working. At the same time, however, the Africa Country Programmes have been increasingly incorporating private sector partnerships and Best Bets-style approaches to their repertoire."
"If we are to push the Best Bets programme into new countries there are some emerging lessons about how we need to design the process.
There are real dangers, of course, in heavily over-subscribed funding schemes. The amount of resources required by, say, 500 organisations applying needs to be balanced by the positive impact of the first couple of projects funded.
RIU Best Bets was predicated on the idea that the process of applying for development funding should be developmental. The people we rejected only had to complete simple applications and got quick responses about the investment decisions which included helpful feedback. The shortlisted applicants went through a more extensive development process; even the people we did not ultimately fund described this as valuable.'
Summary of the paper
To ensure wider applicability of the RIU's Best Bets initiative, including in countries with poorly developed private sectors or those with weak networks between researchers and the private sector, a more proactive approach is required during the concept note writing phase.
This could include direct support to the teams developing proposals, brokering stronger partnerships and actively seeking-out promising research-into-use opportunities.
The majority of the programmes funded as RIU Best Bets are crop programmes in East Africa. Suggested reasons for this include:
- possible greater awareness of the call in East Africa
- more capacity in East Africa for active support by RIU due to a much stronger network in East Africa
- the teams behind the Best Bets proposals which were eventually funded had often consulted with RIU team members to shape the concept notes and seek clarifications and guidance
- in some cases, RIU team members had been involved in the original research projects on which they were based
- the Shujaaz proposal was actively facilitated by RIU rather than passively waiting for proposal to be submitted
- Best Bets was intended as a means to put any suitable existing research into use and research products generated by the DFID-funded RNRRS were expected to be particularly suitable candidates. There were far fewer RNRRS projects located in West Africa compared to East Africa: of the validated RNRRS research outputs previously compiled by RIU, 115 were based on work in East Africa and just 40 in West Africa
- it is striking that four out of the five Best Bets funded in East Africa had strong links to former RNRRS projects, as did the only funded Best Bet from the West Africa call
- East Africa proposals often had stronger and broader partnerships, including those involving international partners (research organizations, universities and the private sector) and national and international consultants
- West Africa proposals tended to rely more on public sector partners than those from East Africa
- West Africa proposals had less time available to achieve impact (approximately 12 months) than those from East Africa (18 months). While neither timescale was considered adequate, the time pressure on West Africa was even more severe
- it has been suggested that strong national SME sectors could have been an important factor in successful Best Bets bids. This may explain, for example, why Kenya did better in the Best Bets process than Sierra Leone; it does not, however, explain why West African countries with strong SME sectors, such as Ghana and Nigeria, did less well than East Africa
- many proposals from both regions were rejected because they did not adequately address the criteria, were too project-oriented with no clear mechanism to achieve sustainability, lacked detailed explanation of what was going to be implemented, or were for further research rather than putting existing research into use