The Importance Of fit-for-purpose Research Design


The principle that policies should be designed using the best available evidence is one that is difficult to contest. Proponents of evidence-based policymaking argue that research evidence should also influence/drive policymaking. However, the notion of a linear relationship between evidence and policy is a far cry from the reality. That is not to say that evidence cannot play a key role in crafting policy. Our experience has identified key strategies that can be employed alongside the research process to facilitate the translation of evidence to policy.

Involving reputable and influential actors in the research process enhances the authority of the evidence produced and encourages buy-in from policymakers. Though Randomised Controlled Trials are considered the gold standard for research, they may result in difficult and time consuming field processes. Usually, they achieve too little, too late.

A variety of methodological tools can be used and should involve a wide range of stakeholders in the production of evidence. Acknowledging that decisions are rarely rational helps to inform the way evidence is presented to policymakers. It should be in simple, clear, uncomplicated language that tells a story and speaks to our emotions. Timing is everything in case of policy influencing. So, when an opportunity appears, one should opt for a methodology that suits the purpose on hand, especially in terms of timelines.

It must be remembered that the standard methodologies do not always yield optimum and timely results. The research methodology employed, hence, need to be fit-for-purpose, rather than trying to be what is considered the best.

Ultimately influencing policy is more an art than a science. The policy process is a complex system that requires political astuteness and an understanding of the complex dynamics of power.


Using Evidence To Influence Programme Design


Breakthrough’s Early Marriage Campaign, implemented in three districts of the Indian States of Jharkhand and Bihar, aims to utilise a media (mass and community) programme that challenges existing norms around gender and sexuality, for discouraging the practice of early marriage.

We are the impact evaluators for the campaign, to assess what changes it has brought about in the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour related to early marriage — in extent and in intensity. For the study, we employed a mixed methods design that was implemented sequentially. This helped the client to better understand which component of the campaign has been most effective in influencing/ changing knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour related to early marriage in the community.

While the evaluation is still on, the midline findings indicate that modification of programme design through evidence generated by evaluation studies can strengthen the outcome potential of the programme. There is a complex play of factors that determines the effectiveness of delivery mechanisms and efforts in programme implementation. Under the campaign, media interventions (which include traditional mass media channels, as well as, community-based media such as street theatre, wall painting, youth trainings etc.) approached all in the community in a similar way. Through our evaluation methodologies, we found that the families were generally well aware of the ills of early marriage, but decisions regarding it were made by the fathers. We shared our findings with Breakthrough and recommended that they modify the programme design to include mechanisms that focus the intervention on fathers to discourage the practice of early marriage. Here, the willingness of the organization implementing the programme to consider evidence-based recommendations to modify programme design is a crucial element. Breakthrough was highly receptive to evidence, and took up our suggestions to relook and modify its programme design. Understanding the need for the prescribed revision, it promptly adopted a mechanism for targeted communication with fathers (of young girls and boys) to influence behaviours.

While we are yet to see what impact this will bring, through the endline assessment, we know the change is positive for the programme, being based on evidence. This experience provides significant insights. It implies that if evidence generated through effective evaluation of an ongoing programme can be used to influence programme design, it can reduce errors in assumptions, tap resources better, and create scope for course correction, thereby improving the programme outcome possibilities.




Calling information a “life-saving resource”, the World Disasters Report, 2005 noted: “Disaster-affected people need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter: accurate, timely information can save lives.”

Indeed, it can. But how do you manage and provide accurate information on time in an emergency response situation?

Here we share our experience of managing information exchange during the two-year relief and rehabilitation intervention in the Tsunami-hit Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, India. What we did, observed, and learnt, converge to deliver insights into how a strong information exchange system can be built and sustained to ensure efficient humanitarian response to disasters.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, as governments, organisations, and individuals sprung into intensive rehabilitative action, an innovative public-private partnership mechanism called NGO Coordination and Resource Centre (NCRC) was established to facilitate coordination of relief and rehab efforts of various organizations and individuals at the district level. This allocated a prominent role to Information Exchange and Communication (IEC). Generating precise and timely information, and in a form that could directly be used for decision-making by a variety of stakeholders, was key.

As experts in M&E systems design and implementation in India, we were asked to lead the IEC Division of NCRC. Our efforts in Nagapattinam centred around the principles of speed, accuracy, and the ability to address rapidly changing needs. We swiftly established a robust information exchange system after identifying stakeholders, their roles, and information needs for decisions.This need was continuously and concurrently assessed throughout the two years of relief and rehab interventions. To provide accurate information at all times, we updated the content on our website frequently — almost every hour, initially. Appropriate technologies and medium of communication were used to ensure collection, analysis and timely dissemination of information.

To address the challenge of working with multiple partners, and make information reach where required on time, we put in place several well-thought-out mechanisms. One of them was a network of Village Information Centres (VIC), established to collect and share information to the communities, and equipped with computers linked to the district-level unit, and further to the District Collectorate through a wireless intranet.

We also ensured relevance of content throughout. As such, what we shared varied with the rehabilitation phases — from accurate information on locations, damages, and profiles of people harmed, to guidelines for responses, good practices, and case studies, among many. In the final phase, the information needs primarily revolved around disaster preparedness, and called for developing data on disaster prone areas using geo-referencing, vulnerability mapping, etc.

The NCRC IEC division established strong linkages between the NGOs, and ensured that all of them worked in tandem and at optimum levels in terms of coverage, issues and impact. This also meant avoiding duplication of efforts, adding to the overall efficiency of the relief operations. Again, it enabled the district administration to take data directly from the field, which expedited their pace of relief work. On the other hand, the general public could easily access the information important to them, like compensation amounts/status, which brought in transparency, enhancing their trust and hope in the ongoing operations.

More interestingly, the field study we did while setting up the IEC division, brought in significant insights for better identification of issues. Unlike the perception of the funders and government, it informed that not only the fishermen community, but also farmers had been affected by the Tsunami as their farmland had been degraded by salt water. Farmers thus got included into the rehabilitation plan, and rightfully so.

Our experience in Nagapattinam bears testimony to the power of information to improve the quality, and accelerate the pace of disaster response. And, therefore, to save lives.




Social impact organizations are catalysts in developing countries to alleviate some of the biggest socio-economic issues. Their vision, aligned to the core idea of solving problems, is to create social impact and transform communities. However, there are many roadblocks on this pathway to ensure organizational sustainability, including uninterrupted funding which is critical. Even as corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects have opened funding channels in the social impact sector, opportunities fall short, particularly for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). organizations receive grants and donations, which primarily cater to the programme implementation but there is hardly any funding for an organization’s internal growth, development and system building. Donors are traditionally more inclined towards investing in programmes but not ideas. Some also have domain and region-specific preference. There is often a mismatch between donors’ objective versus the aspirations of social organizations. Most of the social development programmes such as poverty alleviation interventions require long gestation periods to reap intended outcomes. However, donors may not express patience required putting undue pressure on the programme teams to deliver and show impact within these short timelines. Donors often emphasise on economic returns over social impact. Many donors equate the size of an organization to its success.

Lack of donors’ support and uninterrupted funding options stall ideas and projects. These factors eventually compel the organization to change its ‘vision and mission’ altogether to cater to the requirements of donors. Consequently, they fail to create the intended impact. So, how should one warrant enough funds to support and scale efforts towards social impact?

Given the dynamic economic and political environment, it becomes imperative for organizations to transform towards sustainability. While donors remain key stakeholders, the need of the hour is to make the social impact organizations financially sustainable. Organizations should look at models essential for financial transformation and contextualise the ideas that work. The need is to increase funding streams to cover operating costs and above expenses to continue to deliver their impact with quality of programme delivery intact.

Few of the suggestions that emerged from our discussions that organizations can follow towards financial sustainability are:

  • An organization should first set realistic impact goal and determine financial requirements accordingly. The next step could be looking for donors with similar ideas or goals. Organizations should refrain support from donors with contradictory visions. The donors should invest in the cause and not just programme.
  • organizations should upgrade their story-telling strategies to donors. They should regularly conduct outcome assessments and use the data to demonstrate the impact that their work has generated.
  • A strong recommendation was to have a robust financial strategy and track of the financial flow within the organization.
  • An organization should never hinge on just one funding source. There should be at least three or more sources as single-source dependency is unpredictable and can potentially halt an entire initiative.
  • Organizations must also start exploring internal funding options. This becomes imperative, especially in a dynamic business environment. One can explore feasibility models such as dual pricing, sponsorship and membership fees to streamline funds.
  • Hybrid models of organizations can also help pave the way to sustainability. Such models offer flexibility and room for the acquisition of finance from both commercial and philanthropic sources. A conventional non-profit can generate revenues through commercial activities while in parallel addressing social challenges.
  • Technology is the need of the hour and its adaption and adoption can help improve operational efficiency., This can help an organization with overall strategy, donor engagement and expanding financing strategies through communication, outreach, online platforms and much more.

It becomes crucial to balance and ensure the organizational vision stays intact to achieve the intended goals without compromising on financial health.

Is your organization aspiring towards organizational sustainability? How can we make organizations financially viable?

Have thoughts or ideas? Write to us on [email protected] / [email protected]

This article is based on the larger discussion held in the ‘Transform for Scale’ solution circle during the Catalysing Social Impact (CSI) event held on August 29-30 in Bengaluru.

The author, Shweta is a Research Associate at Catalyst Management Services, Bengaluru.


Innovative Financing: Adjusting to the Waves of Change


Innovative Finance for social development is the use of non-traditional mechanisms to raise additional funds for development thereby enhancing the efficiency of financial flows and making it outcomes- or result-oriented. This allows the doers to focus away from mobilization of resources and more on delivering positive social and/or environmental outcomes through market-based instruments. We aim to scan the new and emerging financial instruments in the sector and focus on bringing out efficient and effective solutions that could be scaled. Our Solution Circle lead Narendran elaborates further, “Societal problems are complex, and some key sectors are not attracting sufficient investments (e.g. Child Marriage, Disability). Today’s social development issues are more protracted and affect more people than ever before. Innovative financing is one potential approach that could address these rapidly changing and growing needs of this sector.”

Innovative financing has “mobilized nearly $100 billion USD and grown by approximately 11% per year between 2001 and 2013”. Given the pivotal nature of finance in designing effective programmes and delivering above par outcomes, it makes absolute sense for various stakeholders to place greater expectations on the future of innovative financing.

As traditional financing becomes obsolete, more and more funders look for not only verifiable and quantifiable outcomes but also for a combination of social and financial return on investment.

Innovative financing has tremendous untapped potential. To make an impact and elevate the platform for innovative financing in India, a 2 pronged approach is essential. Firstly, focusing on methods available to strategize and adopt key innovative finance mechanisms specifically for complex social problems; secondly, creating a marketplace for connecting those with demand for funds and investments, and those providing funding.

Evaluating innovative financing mechanisms and assessing the most effective one amongst them is a task. In India, we have only a handful of such innovations running in practice. Innovative financing though, now has gained high interest, especially in the development sector. Outside of the country, one such initiative was UNITAID, founded by Brazil, Chile, Norway, France and the UK, where they leveraged innovative funding for targeted interventions to impel lasting change globally. With its core focus being on health by increasing access to qualitative medicines, diagnostics and related commodities in HIV, malaria and TB by making an impact in the market, UNITAID provides an exceptional example of what such funding models could achieve in a short time. UNITAID’s funding showed proven results: 50% reduced price for AIDS medication, 3 in 4 affected children in the world are on HIV therapy, scaled-up national Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programmes etc. Within India, we have seen a few with initial successes like the development impact bond pilot implemented by Educate Girls in Rajasthan. A few more similar results-based financing models are now in various stages of planning and implementation across sectors like health, education, sanitation in India, each pointing to an evolving ecosystem for such interventions.

Given that innovative financing has a strong emphasis on results, it is reasonable to conclude that establishing partnerships amongst public-private sectors can yield better results. With an effective distribution of delivery and financial risk, a marketplace that helps strengthen the ecosystem for innovative financing products is the need of the hour. Through practitioner insights and experiences shared with exchanges of ideas, we aim to co-create a white paper for a marketplace that would act as a platform for various stakeholders to transact efficiently. There is no such platform that currently exists in India, but we have seen a few successful examples in countries such as Jamaica and Canada. The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) was primarily designed to channel resources to various small-scale community-based projects. They ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency by following an Operations Manual with clear instructions. The JSIF was initially funded by a loan negotiated between the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank. Though the Fund was initially established as a temporary one, it has been in operation for over 10 years.

Knowing the importance of innovative financing and how it surfs through is key in utilizing and leveraging it for optimum results. With the participation of some of the foremost development and development financing stakeholders in the sector, in the Innovative Financing Solution Circle, we believe this is a task well begun and will create some lasting ripples of change.

This article was first published on


Creating Social View


As experts in social value assessment of business models, we support various corporates to monitor the social performance and assess the impact of their initiatives.The idea of social value is distinct from CSR, and is way broader.

Unlike CSR, social value creation considers social concerns not as disconnected problems but as opportunities linked with business strategy. Thus, for a farmers model, social value would include the changes that the business investment, the product features, and the business model of engagement brought about in (a) the farms and allied enterprises of the farmers – effective practices, reduced costs of production, ensured output marketing, overall net incomes and assured returns; (b) the lives of the farmers and their families – awareness, increased incomes leading to other investments in human and material assets, such as education, promotive health, household and business assets, etc; and (c) the local agricultural ecosystem – in terms of use of efficient and good practices, collective and bulk marketing, better inputs supplies and market linkages.

The overarching parameter for social impact assessment, as also for the sustainability of the model, is the worth that the value-chain operators (staff, agents, channel partners, if any) derive out of the business association (reaching scale, new skills and expertise, impacts in terms of incomes, sustainability of their businesses, etc.).

Organizations have started to realise that long-lasting economic value cannot be created without creating social value. We think it is a good beginning.