London — Results for Development (R4D) has been selected as the lead partner on the latest phase of the Frontier Technologies program (FT), an award-winning initiative from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Frontier technologies comprise a range of new and emerging technologies that are starting to fundamentally reshape existing ways of working in industry and communications. Examples include drones, machine learning/ artificial intelligence and 3D-printing, all of which are already redefining design, production and delivery processes in the private sector.
The FT program is designed to test the application of different frontier technologies to development challenges and explore their potential to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It does so by supporting DFID staff and their partners to understand how these technologies work, and then conduct rapid experiments to discover whether (and which) frontier technologies have the ability to improve the speed, reach and/or depth of development impact within their programming.
In the first phase of the FT program (2016-19), implemented by IMC Worldwide and Brink, 29 pilots were implemented with DFID country teams in 15 countries across Africa and South Asia, including testing new artificial intelligence-enabled tools for diagnosing tuberculosis in South Africa, and smart solar batteries supporting healthcare clinics in rural Zimbabwe. For the second phase of FT (2020-23), R4D is now working with the other Frontier Technologies Hub partners, to continue these pilots in more countries, sharing the learning from these to help build the global evidence base, and exploring pathways to scaling up the most successful.
“We are delighted to have R4D provide leadership for the second, expanded phase of our Frontier Technologies program,” said Magdalena Banasiak, senior innovation adviser, Research & Evidence Division, DFID. As an organization with deep expertise in innovation, research and learning as well as a commitment to exploring new models of development practice for greater impact, R4D brings a wealth of experience and value to the team.”
Although more and more actors around the world are starting to experiment with different frontier technologies, there is still widespread uncertainty around how they can be responsibly and effectively applied to help address complex development problems. As well as continuing to grow the evidence base around what does and doesn’t work, this next phase of FT will also expand direct support to DFID staff and other international partners around the world to understand how to integrate these new technologies into their policy and programming so they can stay ahead of the curve. It will also look at the critical success factors, enablers and constraints to helping take proven pilots to impact at scale.
“Joining the Frontier Technologies program is an exciting step forward for R4D in helping the global community of development actors harness the potential of these technologies in their work,” said Tom Feeny, senior program director of R4D’s scaling innovations practice. “We believe these technologies present a valuable opportunity to dramatically improve how products and services are delivered to benefit the lives of vulnerable populations around the world, while also supporting systems-level improvements in health, education and many other sectors.”
Research and learning will be a key part of R4D’s contribution to the FT Hub partnership, leveraging the expertise of staff from R4D’s Scaling Innovation practice with those from the Evaluation and Adaptive Learning team. In particular, the program will function as a great source of knowledge on many different areas, including (a) learning how specific frontier technologies can positively impact development problems in particular sectors; (b) better understanding the country-level innovation processes and technology ecosystems that are needed to enable these technologies to work at scale; and (c) experimenting with new forms of partnership that will be important between development agencies, governments, NGOs and academic institutions to help embed frontier technologies as part of system-wide responses.
Finally, FT aims to move quickly to explore how frontier technologies might help with immediate challenges and development priorities as and when they emerge. An example of this is the global call launched by FT Hub partners in March 2020, for technologies that can support the rapid manufacture of Ventilation Systems to support health systems in countries around the world fight the coronavirus epidemic. Being able to adapt the program to both immediate and longer-term needs in this way is a unique characteristic of FT, and one of the many reasons why R4D is excited to be part of this program over the next few years.
For more information and regular blogs / updates on the FT program, visit https://medium.com/frontier-technology-livestreaming
About Results for Development
Results for Development (R4D) is a leading non-profit global development partner. We collaborate with change agents around the world — government officials, civil society leaders and social innovators — to create strong systems that support healthy, educated people. We help our partners move from knowing their goal to knowing how to reach it. We combine global expertise in health, education and nutrition with analytic rigor, practical support for decision-making and implementation and access to peer problem-solving networks. Together with our partners, we build self-sustaining systems that serve everyone and deliver lasting results. Then we share what we learn so others can achieve results for development, too. For more information, visit our website at: www.r4d.org.