Data Innovation Mini Grants: Results and lessons learned after one year

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*Andrew Thornley works for The Asia Foundation, and Derval Usher is the Manager of Pulse Lab Jakarta.

In 2015, Pulse Lab Jakarta hosted  a Data Innovation Mini Grant competition to promote a shift from theory to action in data innovation and support the Government of Indonesia to provide more effective services.  Pulse Lab Jakarta is pleased to report on progress one year after the winning projects were announced.

The competition aimed to highlight burgeoning local innovation and offer a wide variety of examples across the Indonesian archipelago of how small scale ‘mini grants’ could potentially trigger better public services by making changes with new methods, ideas and products.

The mini grants, funded by the UNDP Innovation Fund, were intended to find innovative ways to tackle data gaps and seek novel approaches in areas like: frontline service delivery, protection of the poor and the vulnerable, and implementation of the village law.

Award winners included local civil society organizations, a university faculty, and a local government department.

In collaboration with the Knowledge Sector Initiative, Pulse Lab Jakarta examined?—?one year on?—?the successes and impact of the four winning projects and tried to capture lessons to inform ongoing support for data innovation for development.

Below is a summary of the results of the four projects one year after they were announced:

  1. The South Halmahera Malaria Center (SHMC) in North Maluku successfully developed and tested its SMS-based LaCaK Malaria reporting system to improve the speed and quality of malaria reporting. As a result, SHMC secured local government funds to fully support implementation of LaCaK Malaria.
  2. Swandiri Institute in West Kalimantan demonstrated that unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) mapping could support cheaper and more effective treatment of pests and disease in order to improve rice yields. As a result of the project pilot, Sungai Itik village budgeted for its own UAV aerial mapping. The Swandiri Institute won a coveted GovInsider award, presented in Singapore on 28 September 2016, as one of five outstanding drone for development projects, in recognition of its work under this grant.
  3. Pulse Lab Jakarta developed a comprehensive toolkit on urban vulnerability mapping based on the project experience of Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) in Jakarta testing an integrated method for data collection, management, and visualization that empowers local citizens.
  4. Padjajaran University, working with Floodtags and Radboud University in the Netherlands, used the experience of this project?—?in particular, relating to validation of field data and classification of tweets?—?to inform a longer-term research strategy into the use of social media data in forecasting water-related diseases.

Pulse Lab Jakarta is not only pleased with the overall results and impact of the mini grants but also happy with some important takeaways from the competition:

Innovation really is about people

People on the inside. Innovation begins with the generation and communication of ideas but depends on the collaboration imperative. Longer-term success requires employment of appropriate human resources and the engagement of partners and champions along the way who can help facilitate technical expertise, support networking, and promote advocacy with key stakeholders.

People on the outside. Innovation for development entails beneficiaries as well as important stakeholders who have the capacity and political incentive to facilitate or hinder successful implementation. These actors should be considered early in design processes, featured extensively in testing, and remain front and center of implementation strategies.

Ground-truth initial hypotheses. Ideally, innovation addresses challenges and problems that have been observed and validated on the ground.

Keep it simple and real. The experience of these initiatives further confirms that development innovations are successful when they use environment-appropriate technology and demonstrate clear and immediate benefits.

Securing financial support. Innovation prototypes are never the end game. Pilots developed under small grants such as these inevitably aspire to significant impact. The journey to implementation and scalability requires financial support?—?and so even small grants should help in preparing partners plan for this reality. Projects should also consider all hardware and software needs to sustain implementation, including procurement of relevant licensed software?—?important in an environment where reliance on pirated software is rife.

The importance of data analytics. Project partners sometimes aim for promotion of a community of practice, local community engagement on spatial analysis or social media analytics, or engagement with policy makers around relevant data-driven evidence. But the success of this depends on sufficient analytical capacity among implementers as well as key stakeholders.

Set realistic targets and report accurately. From donors to community-based organizations and government institutions?—?projects should avoid hubris in the initial definition of project goals and objectives as well as in project reports. Overreach of aims at project outset can set the stage for unjust criticism of actual results or a temptation to exaggerate stated project results, neither of which supports effective learning. Objective reporting can be complicated by the reality that while innovators embrace failure, this particular appetite may not be shared by other stakeholders or among other implementing partners.

Communicate effectively. Innovation is one-part inspiration. Institutions such as Pulse Lab Jakarta can serve as important publication platforms and venues to amplify sharing?—?both in Indonesia and with an international audience.

Plan around stages of innovation for development. This is the focus of a forthcoming blog which will detail the various stages involved.

The purpose of Pulse Lab Jakarta’s mini grant competition was to demonstrate that even modest support can facilitate the achievement of concrete and cost-effective results. But results and experiences vary. And so, of equal importance is the extent that these small grants have yielded valuable lessons from which partners can benefit.


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