Monday, September 21, 2015

Assessing for Success

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, my primary task over the summer was researching and writing a best-practices needs assessment to help innovation programs more effectively provide acceleration services to innovators. The resource was a best-practices document in the sense that I sourced many of the questions from existing needs assessments. I analyzed needs assessments from programs such as Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) and Grand Challenges for Development (GCD). Needs assessments are surveys that innovators complete once they have been selected as finalists in one of the programs above, similar to the survey a start-up company completes once it has been selected for a venture accelerator.These needs assessment surveys collect information such as what business experience a team has, when the organization expects to make a profit, and what feedback the organization has heard about its innovation from end users. 

Here is an excerpt from the innovator needs assessment tool which I developed: 

This resource is a guide for innovation programs to identify and assess the needs of innovators. This needs assessment lists a broad range of questions in order to better support innovators’ transition to scale through a more targeted and focused provision of acceleration services.

Assessing innovator needs is an essential first step to the successful provision of acceleration services and to the successful implementation of nascent and early-stage innovation programs. Acceleration support programs can fill a number of gaps in innovation strategy which are key to bridging the gap between early stage innovation and transitioning to scale. These services range from early stage support such as funding, technical product advice, and Monitoring & Evaluation support to later-stage support including match making, partnership building, and PR advisory. It is also important to note that not all innovations transition to scale the same way, and needs vary from innovator to innovator. Therefore, it is imperative to have a tool that appropriately identifies needs based on an innovator’s current situation.

To this end, having quality, up-to-date information on innovator needs allows innovation programs to overcome challenges in real time and insures against developing cookie-cutter approaches that are of limited usefulness. The Innovation Design Team aims to assist innovators and acceleration service providers in the initial data collection processes with this tool. Derived and expanded from USAID programs, the Innovator Needs Assessment Tool aims to complement existing needs assessment practices.

The questions included in this document are collected and adapted from innovator applications and surveys from Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) and three Grand Challenges for Development (GCD): the All Children Reading (ACR), Securing Water for Food (SWFF), and Powering Agriculture (Powering Ag).

Regardless of the stage of innovation, innovator challenges can be clustered into six basic categories:

       I.        Organization: talent acquisition, financing, business strategy development, business model testing, pitch deck development, legal advice, market research, and advertising
      II.        Product: product testing, human-centered design training, adapting the product to new geographic regions, and engineering the product to be less costly
     III.        Finance: accessing credit, establishing credibility, connecting with potential investors, and managing internal accounting procedures
    IV.        Communication: user-facing advertising campaign development, investor-facing communications documents and presentations, social media, graphic design, placement of news articles, speaking engagements at industry conferences,  and public speaking training
      V.        Market Partnerships: connections to and matchmaking with USAID’s private and public sector contacts, potential investors, USAID missions and bureaus, universities, and other grantees
    VI.        Knowledge Management and Monitoring & Evaluation: educational resources, training, webinars, coaching on business model and strategy, assistance with USAID compliance, assistance with implementing M&E frameworks

A mix of open-ended and selected response-based questions follow the structure of those six clusters. For instance, a product question is, "What percentage of end-users and/or buyers in your target market can afford your innovation?" Responses that innovators could select ranged from, "not affordable for any end-users or buyers in the target market" to "affordable for 100% of end-users or buyers in the target market." An example of a Market Partnerships question is, "Who are the partners needed to get this innovation to scale? Please rank which groups you are most interested in connecting with during the next 18 months." Groups ranged from "other grantees" to "corporations" to "technical experts."

 Top: The Saving Lives at Birth "DevelopmentxChange" event in the Ronald Reagan Building was an event where innovators pitched to a panel of judges to receive funding for their projects. Bottom LeftMy team collaborated to create best-fitting groups in a cluster analysis of the various acceleration services provided to innovators. Bottom Right: I present my Innovator Needs Assessment Survey tool to the HESN interns and other USAID employees who attended.

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