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The Innovation in Government Initiative (IGI) helps low- and middle-income countries implement evidence-based policies, and provides assistance for effective policy scale-up to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty. IGI is an initiative of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and operates through close collaboration with J-PAL regional offices and J-PAL affiliated researchers. It is a successor to the Government Partnership Initiative.
Founders Pledge estimates that IGI is roughly three times as cost-effective as direct cash transfers and recommends IGI as a high-impact funding opportunity in the area of global health and development.
What problem are they trying to solve?
Roughly every tenth person in the world lives on less than $1.90 a day.1 This means that although the share of people living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically over the past century, there are still hundreds of millions of people suffering in extreme poverty around the world today.
Source: Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2013). "Global Extreme Poverty". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty [Online resource].
As we explain in our report on Evidence-Based Policy, a large proportion of development money comes from local government revenues and flows through social spending programs. Moreover, research shows that the cost-effectiveness of social programs and global health and development interventions has a large spread, from those that are a complete waste of money to those in our Global Health and Development Fund, some of which we believe are ten times as cost-effective as direct cash transfers.2
This means that supporting local governments to adapt, pilot, and adopt cost-effective, evidence-based interventions at scale can be one of the most effective ways to approach the problem of extreme poverty. IGI’s work helps to “bridge the gap” between innovative academic research on effective interventions and government adoption of the most effective solutions at scale.
What do they do?
IGI funds technical assistance to “adapt, pilot, and scale evidence-informed innovations with a strong potential to improve the lives of millions of people living in poverty".3 In their own words:
“we work with government partners on their policy priorities, helping to determine whether and how evidence is relevant to their context, supporting them in piloting programs leveraging this evidence, and building systems for data-enabled program delivery and monitoring at scale.”4
This includes running requests for proposals (RFPs) and using an expert review board chaired by Nobel Laureate and J-PAL Director, Abhijit Banerjee, and J-PAL Global Executive Director and former Indian policy maker, Iqbal Dhaliwal, and composed of other leading academics and former policy makers, to evaluate the most promising proposed policy projects. Founders Pledge has evaluated two IGI interventions:a reform ofIndia’s largest social protection program; and a scale-up of an educational reform initiative in Zambia, now known as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL), which is itself a Founders Pledge recommended charity.
Examples of projects IGI recently funded include boosting immunization demand in Haryana, India, working with the Ministry of Education and the Tutoring Online Project (TOP) in the Dominican Republic, and supporting the Togolese government to use mobile phone and satellite data for its emergency cash transfer program.
Why do we recommend them?
The following section is based on our Evidence-Based Policy Executive Summary, originally written by Marinella Capriati in 2018, and updated by Christian Ruhl in 2022.
Cost-effectiveness and track record
To assess IGI’s track record, we focused on their contribution to two policy changes. We chose these case studies as examples of successful scale-up initiatives, and made a forecast based on their base rate of scale-up success to estimate how frequently IGI helps catalyze such scale-up successes.
The first project took place in India and focused on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the country’s largest social protection program. A series of reforms simplified the way funds were disbursed to beneficiaries. We estimated that the reform led to large savings by decreasing opportunities for corrupt officers to appropriate funds, and reducing “idle funds” (funds sitting in accounts that earn no interest). The second policy change we looked at took place in Zambia, where the Ministry of General Education piloted, and then decided to scale-up, “Catch-up,” a program delivering remedial education. This consisted of grouping children according to their learning level (rather than age or grade) for part of the time they spent at school, and is now Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL). Evidence suggests it is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve learning. In both cases, we think it is likely that the reforms significantly improved the wellbeing of affected citizens and that IGI funding played a central role in enabling the efforts that made the reforms happen. Our cost-effectiveness analysis suggests that IGI is roughly three times more cost-effective than direct cash transfers.5
Other successful scale-ups included a labor law reform in Mexico, corporate tax administration reform in Indonesia, targeting of cash transfers in Togo, and West Bengal Covid-19 messaging.
IGI’s funding criteria and the nature of its funding support reflect most of the strategies proposed by the literature on implementing evidence-based policy. For example: IGI requires each project to be formally endorsed by decision-makers involved in the relevant policy; they seek to enable J-PAL researchers to build long-term personal relationships with government partners; they have a quick turn-around time in making funding decisions and awarding funding; and they accept proposals outside their official funding cycle for urgent projects, to take advantage of policy windows.
Organizational strength and transparency
IGI has a lean structure. Decisions about the grants are made by the review board, which consists of J-PAL affiliated researchers and former policy makers. They currently have two staff members, both working for IGI less than half-time, otherwise supporting J-PAL’s broader Evidence to Scale work. IGI has been transparent throughout our interactions with them and provided all the data we asked for.
We re-evaluated IGI in 2022, focusing on new evidence about their ability to successfully scale-up evidence-based policy, which has increased our confidence that they remain a high-impact funding opportunity. Based on the base rate of past success and information provided by IGI, we estimate that IGI’s hit-rate of scale-up success is between 29% and 71%, with a best-guess of about one success every two years (though this has varied due to Covid-related disruptions).
Why do we trust this organization?
We have recommended IGI since 2018, and recently re-evaluated their cost-effectiveness. Moreover, IGI has been supported by other organizations whose research on effective giving we trust, including GiveWell.
IGI has demonstrated a track record of catalyzing further funding since 2018. For example, we reached out to USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) arm, which provided some funding to TaRL, to assess the impact of IGI’s work. Yvonne Naluvwi, Senior Education Cooperation Advisor, USAID Zambia, explained that:
"The pilot work that J-PAL did was critical to USAID/Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) funding. JPAL’s initial technical assistance and policy advocacy work with the Ministry of Education led to an initial pilot of 80 schools in 2016-2017. Based on the promising outcome of the pilot, the Ministry sought funding for the scale-up, which was funded by USAID via DIV."6
From this exchange and other successful scale-up examples, we believe that J-PAL’s IGI is able to act as a funding multiplier in addition to successfully scaling-up promising projects.
What would they do with more funding?
According to data that J-PAL shared with Founders Pledge, IGI has an annual funding shortfall of around $1-1.2 million to fund their annual budget of $2-2.5 million. Above this budget, IGI could productively absorb $1 million over the next 12 months, and $5 million over the next three years.7 Currently, projects that IGI funds are limited in the amount of funding they can request: in the latest request for proposals, projects can receive up to $300,000 per round (with typical grants between $25,000 and $200,000) and a maximum of $500,000 over their life cycles. These funding caps are due to J-PAL’s limited funding (for further explanation of this, see the “Message from the Organization” below). In recent communication with Founders Pledge, J-PAL noted:
“Currently, IGI has to restrict the size of grants we award due to limited funding, not as a result of lack of demand for larger grant awards from high-potential projects. We believe the funding landscape has a significant gap in funding available for projects at larger grant sizes than current IGI grant caps. Therefore, additional funding would enable us to increase our grant sizes above our current caps, in addition to funding more projects through more funding competitions in any given year. Every year, we see more demand from our growing research network for the funding IGI offers”.8
In other words, with more funding, IGI could award both (1) more grants to more projects and (2) larger grants to more ambitious projects. For these reasons, we believe that IGI has the capacity to absorb significantly more funding.
What are the major open questions?
Open questions include:
- How long will Covid-19 related disruptions continue to pose challenges for scaling-up evidence-based projects?
- Do policy innovations become harder to find over time? That is, should we expect diminishing returns to IGI’s work in the coming years?
- How does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting spike in food and fuel prices affect the rate of poverty reduction?
We are working to incorporate probabilistic forecasting into our grantmaking and evaluation processes. To this end, we have made the following forecasts, which we will score at the stated resolution date:
|Will IGI report at least one additional successful national-level scale-up by the end of 2024?||87%||31 December 2024|
|Will IGI continue to be more cost-effective than direct cash transfers (as assessed by future Founders Pledge evaluations) at least until the end of 2024?||80%||31 December 2024|
|Conditional on IGI re-evaluating their own grantmaking by 31 December 2022, will our rating of IGI change by more than 20%?||25%||31 December 2022|
Message from the organization
“Despite growing interest in evidence-informed policy making, understanding of how to effectively catalyze the adoption at scale of effective policies and programs remains limited. Successfully scaling an evidence-informed program or intervention requires: a deep understanding of both global evidence and the specific local context and systems; a policy window where change is possible; political will to change the status quo; adequate funding resources; and capacity to monitor and implement the program well. No single organization’s mandate covers all of these conditions, so IGI works to enable collaborations among policy makers, researchers, practitioners, funders, and evidence-to-policy organizations. We recognize that taking advantage of time-sensitive policy windows and working creatively to fill knowledge and capacity gaps requires flexible funding, which, even in small amounts, can be highly catalytic investments in enabling governments to adopt policies and programmes at scale.
“Despite the massive social returns on this type of work, it is hard to raise funds for it for many reasons. First, many donors only want to fund the end stage of a program at scale, but not the higher-risk earlier stages of building partnerships with governments, carefully adapting an evidence-informed intervention to the local context, piloting it, and iterating on the model to lay the groundwork for scale. Second, establishing credibility, building a government partnership, and delivering impact at scale often follows a longer and more circuitous path than many donors have the appetite for. Third, many donors are hesitant to support government-led work due to concerns about corruption, accountability, and the political cycle, but meaningful policy impact at scale is hard to achieve without learning to work through and with governments. We are grateful to Founders Pledge and its members for recognizing the value of this work and providing crucial resources to this underfunded space.”
- Founders Pledge's Evidence-Based Policy Executive Summary
- Founders Pledge's Global Health and Development Fund
- Founders Pledge's write-up of Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)
- IGI's website
- GiveWell's write-up of IGI
- Data on global extreme poverty from Our World In Data
Disclaimer: We do not have a reciprocal relationship with any charity, and recommendations are subject to change based on our ongoing research.
Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2013). "Global Extreme Poverty". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty [Online resource] ↩
For more information on how we think about the effectiveness of charities, see Our Approach to Charity. ↩
Email exchange with DIV, 22 March 2022. ↩
Data provided by J-PAL to Founders Pledge via email, August 2021. ↩