Research, Evidence, and the Global Innovation Ecosystem

Research, Evidence, and the Global Innovation Ecosystem

A Performance Evaluation of the Use and Utility of the Higher Education Solutions Network to Solve Development Challenges
Published: May 11, 2021
Publisher: Mathematica
Associated Project

Performance Evaluation of the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network

Time frame: 2019-2021

Prepared for:

U.S. Agency for International Development


Audrey-Marie Moore

Key Findings

The evaluation results show that:

  • HESN activities funded through core investments from USAID tended to generate products that were more useful to a public audience (for example, data sets shared and reused by other researchers).
  • In contrast, activities funded directly by Missions, Bureaus, and Independent Offices (MBIOs) (“buy-in activities”) were most useful in meeting the strategic goals of specific countries.
  • Products supported using a hybrid of core and buy-in funding often led to follow-on work for the HESN Development Labs. Because they served a broader audience, these products also tended to be more cost-efficient.
  • A cost-efficiency analysis suggests that investments in universities located in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) may obtain the best value for money for research and innovation projects.

USAID launched the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) program in 2012 to strengthen the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in development. Since its founding, HESN has invested $115 million in eight HESN Development Labs in universities throughout the United States and in Africa. These funds build lasting partnerships between HEIs and diverse stakeholders in LMICs, which allows them to finance workshops and learning events, produce high-quality data sets and new methodologies, and carry out a broad array of research. USAID commissioned this evaluation to help stakeholders understand (1) the conditions and models that generate effective partnerships with MBIOs; (2) how HESN worked to improve the use of research findings; and (3) their potential LMIC policy impacts. The mixed-methods performance evaluation uses survey, bibliometric, administrative, interview, and focus group data to examine the use and utility of the core- and buy-in-funded activities to USAID and its development partners. The evaluation shows that the eight HESN Development Labs played a vital role in achieving HESN’s goals in collaboration with USAID, policymakers, and other partners. HESN-supported researchers and development practitioners created more than 900 products and technologies that address poverty-related challenges in communities worldwide. The HESN Development Labs developed 291 data sets or data-related technologies, engaged more than 1,200 partners in 83 countries, and directly affected 7.1 million beneficiaries across 35 countries.

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