Trade-offs and considerations for the future: Innovation and the COVID-19 response

Essay by Benjamin Kumpf: “…Here are some of the relevant trade-offs I identified. 

Rigour vs. Speed

How to best balance high-quality rigorous research and the need to gain actionable insights rapidly?  

Responding to a pandemic requires working at pace, while investing in ongoing research and the cross-fertilization of disciplines. In our response, we witness the importance of strong networks with academia and DFID’s focus on high-quality research. In parallel, we invest in supporting partners with rapid data collection through methods such as phone surveys, field visits, onsite interviews where possible as well as big data analysis and more. For example, through the International Growth Centre, DFID has supported a Sierra Leone COVID-19 dashboard, providing real time data on current economic conditions and trends from phone–based surveys from 195 towns and villages across Sierra Leone. ….

Breadth vs. depth

How to best balance providing services to large proportions of populations in need, while addressing challenges of specific communities?  

We are seeing emerging evidence that the virus and measures to prevent spread are disproportionately impacting marginalized communities and minorities. For example, in indigenous people are disproportionally affected by the virus in Brazil, Dalits are among the worst affected in India. In development and humanitarian contexts, it is paramount to guide innovation efforts with explicit values, including on the trade-off between scale and addressing last-mile challenges to leaveno–one behind. For example, to facilitate behaviour-change and embed insights from behavioural science and adaptive practices, DFID is supporting the Hygiene Hub, hosted at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The Hub provides free-of-charge advisory services to governments and non-governmental organizations working on COVID-19 related challenges in low and medium-income countries, balancing the need to reach large audiences and to design bespoke interventions for specific communities.  

Exploration vs. adaptation

How to best diversify innovation efforts and investments betweensearching for local solution and adapting proven approaches? 

Adaptive vs. locally-led

How to best learn and adapt, while providing ownership to local players?

Single-point solutions vs. systems-practices

How to advance specific tech and non-tech innovations that address urgent needs, while further improving existing systems? 

Supporting domestic innovators vs. strengthening local solutions and ecosystems

We need explicit conversations to ensure better transparency about this trade-off in innovation investments generally.…(More)”.