Redeemer's University, Nigeria

How We Know It’s Working: Evaluation at Seeding Labs

Christina Viola Srivastava Blog, Impact Leave a Comment

This is the second in a series of posts by our Metrics & Evaluation Manager on the impact of Seeding Labs and our Instrumental Access program.

In 2008, Seeding Labs was founded with two core beliefs:

  1. Scientific talent is everywhere, and
  2. Providing talented scientists with access to the tools of modern science will change the world for the better.

Ten years later, Instrumental Access is a unique model for delivering specialized material aid to scientists around the world—and we have evidence that it works. Where does that evidence come from?

We measure, of course! So what’s unique about measurement (or, in nonprofit lingo, metrics and evaluation) at Seeding Labs?

We make it a priority.

We take data collection very seriously around here. Why? Well, one reason is that most of our staff has a background in science, and it’s second nature for us to want as much data as we can get to inform our decisions.

(True story: Our staff meetings have been known to erupt into spontaneous cheers when somebody whips out a new chart or graph!)

Another reason is that we know that you, our community of donors and supporters, share those values. You deserve proof that your resources are being invested wisely to support global science. We take great pride providing you with the information you crave!

Our approach is prospective, rigorous, and fully integrated with our operations.

2014 was a pivotal year in the history of Seeding Labs. With generous support from USAID, we significantly scaled up our Instrumental Access program. We took full advantage of that opportunity to integrate measurement and evaluation into all of our processes.

The lifecycle of an Instrumental Access shipment spans years, from the application process through the useful lifespan of the equipment we deliver to our awardees.

We’ve identified opportunities for data collection throughout:

Data collection times

Our data collection instruments—including surveys, interview guides, and reporting templates—have been carefully crafted to balance our need for information against the time and resource constraints of our awardees.

Our mission is to help scientists make discoveries that improve life and the planet.

Seeding Labs is dedicated to strengthening science in developing countries because the world can’t afford to let scientific talent go to waste. We don’t just focus on health, or food security, or energy and environment, or economic development—we aim to transform them all.

By putting the tools of modern science in the hands of our talented awardees, we directly enable the research and discovery, teaching and learning, and institutional capacity-building that are essential to solving development challenges such as improving healthcare, adapting our agricultural systems to climate change, and generating clean energy.

Solutions to Development Challenges

The sheer breadth and complexity of what we’re trying to accomplish poses one challenge from the standpoint of measurement.

A second challenge is the long time horizon over which we can reasonably expect to see impact. Research often takes years to produce tangible results. Building research careers and institutions from the ground up can take even longer.

To address these challenges, our measurement strategy has to be broad, flexible, and adaptable. Our initial focus is on four categories of measurable outcomes that result directly from use of Instrumental Access equipment:

  1. Enhanced STEM teaching, including more and better practical lab sessions
  2. Theses and dissertations conducted by graduate students on campus
  3. New or enhanced research projects by faculty members
  4. Leveraged resources for research, including new funding

In addition, we try to cast a wide net so that we can capture progress towards a range of development impacts. These include scientific breakthroughs, innovation and technology transfer, career development, evolving scientific networks, as well as impacts on community practice and public policy.

We prioritize both quantitative metrics and case studies.

To describe our broad range of outcomes and impacts, we rely on both quantitative metrics and case studies.

Dr Fabrice Boyom

Dr. Fabrice Boyom

Cumulative numbers are important to us, but we also value the stories of talented individuals like Dr. Fabrice Boyom of the University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon. 

Equipment from Instrumental Access has helped Dr. Boyom secure new funding from Medicines for Malaria Venture to pursue his search for a drug to fight toxoplasmosis.

Stories like Dr. Boyom’s illustrate the connection between direct outcomes and impact. In this case, new funding and expanded capabilities for Dr. Boyom's lab have resulted in promising new drug targets to fight a disease for which there is currently no safe and effective treatment.

Meet more Instrumental Access awardees who have equally inspiring stories:

Dr Collins-Fairclough

Dr. Aneisha Collins-Fairclough
Safeguarding public health while also prospecting for biological riches at a landfill in Jamaica

Dr Paulino

Dr. Robert Paulino
Established the Dominican Republic’s first research institute focused on infectious disease

Garden City

Garden City University College
Filling critical gaps in Ghana’s healthcare system by training the next generation of lab technologists

Dr Haakuria

Dr. Vetjaera Haakuria
Searching for new antibiotics in the soil of termite mounds in the Namib desert

Christina Viola Srivastava

As Seeding Labs' Metrics and Evaluation Manager, Christina collects and analyzes information to document the impact of Seeding Labs' programs and to identify opportunities for improvement. She has 14 years of experience as an evaluator of research programs and portfolios.

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