Evaluation 2017 Conference Reflections: The Importance of Systems Thinking

Eval 2017 Logo

The American Evaluation Association’s (AEA) Evaluation 2017 Conference brought together evaluators from around world for a week of exciting dialogue and hands-on learning experiences. The presiding AEA President, Kathryn Newcomer, presented this year’s conference theme, “From Learning to Action,” which explored the many ways “our community can learn from evaluation to create better practices and outcomes.” The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI)’s Chief Operating Officer, Sara Farley, and Senior Program Officer, Katie Bowman, led a conference session on November 9 that focused on using collaborative systems mapping tools to track and analyze change in complex systems over time. The international development sector has seen a growing focus on systems thinking and systems practice in recent years, and this focus showed up as a major theme in the Evaluation 2017 conference. AEA President Newcomer notes, “I think the systems thinking portion at [Evaluation 2017] was the fastest growing program and it shows that it’s something you need in your toolkit to design evaluations and programs.” “I think systems thinking will become as natural as brushing your teeth in the morning. I can’t imagine anyone not thinking about systems when practicing evaluation. It’s normal science now.” When speaking with Newcomer, she stressed the importance of using systems approaches for program design and evaluation. Furthermore, she recognized the value of embracing a “mixology” of systems tools. She explained that there is no one best tool, and users should combine different systems tools to evaluate complex systems and design effective interventions. Regardless of the tools used, it’s clear that a vast and growing number of international development professionals recognize how critical systems approaches are for maximizing sustainable impact, due diligence, and evaluative thinking throughout the program cycle. As Newcomer put it: “I think systems thinking will become as natural as brushing your teeth in the morning. I can’t imagine anyone not thinking about systems when practicing evaluation. It’s normal science now. The goal should be the same–which is to get a more authentic understanding of […]

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Global Knowledge Initiative Publishes New Report on the Role of Innovation in Transforming Food Systems in Emerging Markets

Picture of a lightbulb with a plant growing inside of it

Washington D.C., USA: The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, has published a report examining how innovation can help improve food systems in emerging markets over the next 20 years. Recognizing the profound, large-scale changes happening around the world and the staggering amount of food that is lost on its way from farm to market (upwards of 50%, as estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), a team of GKI researchers set off to uncover the innovations most aptly suited to support humanity in feeding its growing population in a sustainable way. Engaging with 50 experts from around the world, the team harnessed the power of collective intelligence to illuminate new technologies, processes, policies, and business models that can revolutionize food systems in both the short- and long-term. In the short-term, the report lays out 22 investible innovations that can help to reduce the problem of postharvest food loss over the next 5 years. These are innovations with significant potential to positively impact peoples’ lives, particularly considering that in Sub-Saharan Africa between 30-60% of all food grown never reaches consumers. Looking farther out, the report identifies the most significant macro-level trends shaping food systems in emerging markets, and points to long-term opportunities for emerging areas of innovation, such as quantum computing and synthetic biology, to fundamentally transform the way we produce, process, distribute, store, sell, purchase, and even eat food. Amira Bliss, Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation, said about the report, “To tackle the complex food and agriculture challenges of today, we need to deploy the most appropriate and innovative solutions that will improve conditions for tomorrow. This report takes stock of the most relevant disruptive innovations that could be applied today and in the future. The Foundation and our partners are eager to utilize this thorough assessment of transformational innovations that have high potential to change the landscape for, and improve the livelihoods of, smallholder farmers and other vulnerable populations.” […]

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GKI Unveils New Resource to Support Innovation in Global Development

Improved Innovation Decision Making Visual Description of the 6 components: cultivate, network, resource, prioritize, design, and plan and improve

For immediate release: September 15th, 2017 Improving the Ability to Make Decisions that Advance Organizational Innovation Washington D.C., USA: New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) reveals that the approach used by many organizations to assess and adopt innovation is subpar.  Lacking are better processes to understand when and why innovation is needed and incorporate it into organizational and individual work.  The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) collaborated with MIT on this research, examining the path to innovation adoption in the agricultural sector specifically, with case work in Tanzania. As a result of the research and GKI’s extensive experience training individuals, organizations, and networks, GKI has launched an Improved Innovation Decision Making (IIDM) Toolset. The IIDM guide for practitioners is designed to aid organizations and individuals seeking to build the capacity of problem solvers to innovate and collaborate more effectively. This innovation resource addresses two key components: (1) cultivating an innovator’s mindset and (2) improving the processes that support decision making along the journey from idea to impact.  GKI asserts that both of these ingredients are vital for decision making to yield improved innovation. The stages of decision making the Toolset guides users through include adopting the right mindset and utilizing clear processes for generating insights, reframing challenges, developing and testing new ideas, and determining a course of action. GKI’s work in the field of global development has emphasized the need for more support for individuals at the front lines of complex, interconnected, and dynamic challenges where organizations are frequently expected to do more to solve challenges with fewer resources. GKI’s Chief Operating Officer Sara Farley emphasizes, “The increasing gap between the need to innovate within global development organizations and the limited support given to innovation capacity building beckons for a response. We (GKI) knew we were in a prime position to develop a framework to adapt and address complex change and we’re thrilled to collaborate with organizations to address dynamic, uncertain futures […]

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Fighting Food Loss begins with Coordination and Collaboration

Women sifting through tomatoes ready to sell to customers

This post was originally featured on Securenutrition.org written by Chase Keenan and Renee Vuillaume for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, GKI’s partner in the Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition Network (PLAN) Recent studies in Nigeria estimate that if we could reduce food loss and waste of a single crop—tomatoes—by 25% we could improve the diets of nearly one and a half million children by providing them with the required daily dose of Vitamin A. These aren’t additional tomatoes that need to be grown, these are grown tomatoes that don’t get eaten. In a country where upwards of 30% of all children are Vitamin A deficient, this seemingly simple solution of ensuring the food that farmers grow gets eaten could make a huge difference. But we know it isn’t that simple. Addressing postharvest loss of nutritious foods is complicated. Changes must occur at the intersection of agriculture, transportation, energy, environment, policy, trade, and public health, among other sectors. While challenging, this reveals a critical piece of the solution: collaboration among disparate fields and connection between businesses and the knowledge and resources they need to reduce losses in their operations. To this end, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) created the Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN), which seeks to (1) coordinate measurable actions to reduce losses in perishable and nutritious food supply chains, and (2) increase access to these foods for vulnerable populations.  Launching the Network In partnership with the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), we launched the PLAN Network in May 2017, hosting an event that brought together agribusiness, finance and investing, government, and social sector actors from Nigeria and the United States. Together, they began laying the foundation for their common objective: connect agriculture businesses in low-resource countries to the information they need to improve their operations, reduce losses in their supply chains, and ultimately bring more nutritious foods to market. During the launch, PLAN members imagined what the network could accomplish, and zeroed in on several key […]

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A Science-led Horizon Seen at the March for Science

March for Science Participants braving the rain to support science

Despite the day-long drizzle that doused marchers, participants in the Washington, DC March for Science returned to the lobby of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in high spirits.  As scientists and non-scientists alike mingled amidst earth-inspired artwork, a latent energy permeated the crowd. The pre-march rally, with notable speakers such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and former US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, had amplified the desire of the attendees to do everything they could to support science.  But a key question hung in the air: What could they do next? While conversation on the topic undulated through the crowd, a GKI team was helping marchers channel their ideas through a not-so-subtle 8-foot tall Three Horizons poster, which invited them to think about their vision for an ideal future and the impact science could have on that future. As marchers approached, they pondered the sinusoidal like curves that flowed the chart, wondering what the three horizons represented.  Horizon 1 (The Present) was the role of science in American society today – both the good and bad.  Horizon 2 (The Journeys), created a journey from the present to the future by linking the elements of the present that signaled either a positive or negative trajectory toward a vision for an ideal future in which science is cultivated and impactful (Horizon 3). This journey was presented as a list of concrete actionable steps that could be taken to move from the present to the ideal future. Marchers got creative while envisioning the ideal future.  Ideas ranged from intergalactic travel to electing a scientist as President of the United States.  Despite diversity, two central themes emerged: the ideal future would include widespread and inclusive science knowledge and the integration of science into the political decision-making process. This reflects the recognition that it’s not that people don’t care or that they are ill-intentioned, but that science is often inaccessible to much of the population. In Horizon 2, marchers proposed […]

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When Simple is Difficult: Agriculture Technology in the Age of Innovation

A pair of hands holding potatoes freshly harvested

This post was originally featured on the Chicago Council of Global Affairs’ Blog, Global Food For Thought As a US Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural Ugandan village in 2010, I never expected my neighbors to own satellite TVs. We couldn’t buy carrots at a market within a 30-kilometer radius.  I planted beans with my neighbors by stuffing my cheeks with seeds like a chipmunk, slicing rows in the ground with a hoe, and spitting the seeds into the soil at two-foot spacing.  No one in my village owned a plow or had access to diverse, quality seeds, but I could watch Al Jazeera each night. This bewildered me. Why do some technologies spread like wildfire across the globe while others stagnate in the prototype stage, in a seemingly perpetual cycle of minor iterations? In 2015, almost 4.5 billion people owned a mobile phone, about 2.5 billion of them smart phones.  In 2016, 3.5 billion people had access to the internet. Innovation diffusion theorists have a lot to say about what it takes for an innovation to spread. Risk. Market potential. Social influence. But the “invisible hand of innovation diffusion” is agnostic to the societal value of a successful innovation; sometimes, the technologies that stick aren’t the technologies that are most needed. And sometimes what’s needed are the most simple or incremental innovations. For example, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), in its role as the Innovation Partner for The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative, recently conducted an Innovation Scan for solar drying technologies appropriate for smallholder farmers in Nigeria who grow tomatoes. Nigeria is Africa’s second largest tomato producer, but 40-50 percent of the harvest is lost before it reaches a market. The remaining portion faces price volatility during the harvest glut. Drying offers one solution to this challenge. Smallholder farmers in Nigeria are familiar with drying their excess or damaged tomatoes. They often do so in the sun on mats, rocks, or roofs; it is a slow, unreliable process that can […]

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An AUSpicious Journey: GKI’s New Partnership in Australia

A participant adds sticky notes to the wall to contribute to the exercise known as challenge mapping

Current evidence points to the fact that the world is more educated, healthy, and safe than ever before. In the Asia Pacific region specifically, the last several decades have seen major economic growth in the age of globalization and information technology. However, despite greater access to information and greater capacity to address complex challenges, large proportions of the population still do not have the ability to feed their families, earn an education, and lift themselves out of poverty. The Asia Pacific region, perhaps more than ever, is vulnerable to a multitude of shocks resulting from climate change, natural disasters, disease, and economic factors. The region experiences 70% of all worldwide natural disasters, has high levels of stunting and obesity, and includes 13 of the 30 global countries most affected by climate change. In 2015 the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) launched the InnovationXchange (iXc) to “take seemingly intractable development problems and come up with the best and most practical ways of solving them in the Indo-Pacific.” GKI has been asked to join the Innovation Resource Facility (IRF), which is a consortium led by AECOM in partnership with OpenIDEO, Struber, and the University of Technology Sydney. The IRF consortium will help the iXc: Contribute to embedding innovation in Australian aid programs Enhance the innovation capabilities of the Australian government’s foreign aid programs to maximize impact Measure, evaluate, and communicate out the results of innovation activities While still in its nascent stage, GKI’s work with the iXc will ultimately scan a breadth of development challenges. GKI is looking forward to providing more information as this work progresses, and we thank DFAT and the iXc for their groundbreaking efforts harnessing innovation to improve the livelihoods of individuals in the Asia-Pacific region. […]

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Identifying the Next $100 Million Idea for Social Impact

Imagine that moment when you’re planning a financial investment.  Investing in a high-potential offering, when it is still in early days, allows you to maximize the return on your investment. Now consider the pervasive challenges faced by the poor and vulnerable communities in the world.  How might investors in solutions to those challenges identify investments that can yield high social returns?  This is where the Horizon Scanning work of the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) team offers exciting insights. The GKI team is collaborating closely with The Rockefeller Foundation to pilot the design of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Scanning function to help identify pressing problems facing our economies, ecosystems, health systems, and communities that are ripe for engagement and innovation.  The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot.  Horizon Scanning builds on an established Strategic Foresight method and looks for weak signals indicating the emergence of new patterns of activity, new solutions, and new frameworks of understanding.  These can point to high-leverage opportunities for social impact. Workshops run by skilled facilitators employ various prompts to guide participants through the scanning process to leverage their expertise, experience, imagination, and creativity to identify these weak signals.  The Annual Asia Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) conference in Hong Kong presented an excellent opportunity to host a scanning convening. On May 27, more than 60 leaders in global philanthropy, impact investing, and social innovation joined GKI and The Rockefeller Foundation to identify emerging trends and weak signals of change on a range of issues of interest to the Foundation. The Outcomes? Participants identified 297 early signals of change on the twelve problem spaces listed below: Food waste and post-harvest food loss Weak public health systems in the face of disease outbreaks Inefficient, expensive, or polluting transit systems Insufficient municipal service delivery for the poorest Weak economic systems after health crises Under-addressed mental health challenges Warming and acidifying oceans Imprecise measurement of the true value of ecosystems Poor […]

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GKI Facilitates a Global Network Innovating for Food Security

Thought for Food's 3 Horizons

“Feed 9 billion people by 2050.”  That was the invitation extended — our opportunity and our challenge — at the Thought for Food Global Summit.  And who better to attempt to crack this behemoth problem than 300 creative and committed young entrepreneurs representing 100 countries?  Putting method and an exciting structure to this challenge, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) was privileged to facilitate the Summit’s plenary event. Not your average conference As the Huffington Post described it, the Thought for Food Global Summit is a mash-up between innovation hackathon, rock concert, and start-up competition, but with sportsmanship between global teams so striking journalist Pedro Rodriguez called it“required viewing for Presidential candidates.” Upon approaching the Summit venue it’s clear: this is not your typical convening.  The Thought for Food (TFF) Global Summit makes for a dreamlike experience.  Convened at Giardino Verde (Green Garden) on the outskirts of Zurich, upon arriving we were immediately transported into a rainforest with towering palm trees, large glowing mushrooms, and origami bugs floating through the air.  Participants tumbled into an innovation mindset against this Alice in Wonderland-esque backdrop.  Provocative ideas pulsed through our brains like the electronic dance music from the morning rave…and suddenly, our imaginations were unleashed.  We were off on a nonstop 2-day journey that would challenge and inspire us in equal measure. The tale of tomorrows: mapping pathways to a food secure future Key to translating the ideas of 300 young visionaries into coherent roadmaps is a process of sensemaking.  Through months of exploration and design with Thought for Food’s executive team, GKI agreed to develop and facilitate a plenary session that would make visible and shareable Summit participants’ wide range ideas for a food secure future – or, more accurately, futures.  Using a futures-foresight tool honed and deployed in a variety of settings by GKI, called “Three Horizons,” the GKI team constructed a three-hour experience that helped groups imagine and then deepen their ideas for multiple versions of a food secure future.  […]

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Waste Not, Want Not: The Challenge of Feeding Nine Billion People and the Innovations Making It Possible

  The statistics on food waste and food loss are staggering.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that one third of all food produced worldwide is either lost (i.e., goes bad before it can be eaten) or wasted (i.e., thrown away).  That adds up to an unimaginable 2.8 trillion pounds of food—enough to feed three billion people.  To make matters worse, by 2050 the planet must have effective systems in place to supply food to nine billion people, but governments, international institutions, and businesses have yet to solve this global challenge. Against the backdrop of finding and developing innovations to feed those 9 billion people, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) became a proud partner of the Thought for Food (TFF) Global Summit, a movement dedicated to engaging with the many complex challenges surrounding global food security.  TFF is designed to mentor teams of three to five students from top universities around the globe in a highly engaging and competitive setting.  The TFF Global Summit provides the space and the tools to design, develop, and implement innovative solutions to mitigate food waste and food loss at all levels of the food cycle, from farm to table. After groups present their innovations, judges choose from among the most effective solutions to provide further support, including a Grand Prize of $10,000 to the top team.  In 2014, a winning team of Australian college students created the food-swapping app called Food! UP that encourages communal sharing by letting neighbors post about their extra food on the app and find willing partners who agree to a food price (whether monetary or barter-based) or decide to share for free.  Meanwhile, a team of Indian students took inspiration from Uber (an app used globally to pair riders and drivers) and developed Aahaar, an automated refrigeration truck system to effectively transport short-shelf-life foods before they perish.  Aahaar can reduce food spoilage during transportation from 50% to a mere 10%. This year, GKI is […]

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