“We recognized that the Blum Center represented something special: a center for deep analysis and broad engagement that not only generates new ideas, but also tests and applies real-world solutions. In fact, we’ve admired it so much that it is now the model for a network of development laboratories we’re forming across the country.”
—Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
The Development Impact Lab (DIL) is a global consortium of research institutes, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and industry partners committed to advancing international development through science and technology innovations.
With the support of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and in collaboration with the U.S. Global Development Lab, DIL is formalizing the application of academic science and engineering disciplines to social and economic development. This approach is embodied in a new field called Development Engineering. This system of inquiry and practice combines engineering and the natural sciences with insights from economics and the social sciences to generate sustainable, technology-based solutions to development challenges.
The Lab is headquartered at the University of California (UC) Berkeley, where it draws upon the innovative work and leadership of the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA). It is closely allied with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, an unparalleled scientific research facility supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. Other core university affiliates include UC San Diego, IIT Bombay, and Makerere University.
The DIL consortium is part of a constellation of seven Development Labs that comprise USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN). These unique research centers “harness the intellectual power of great American and international academic institutions and catalyze the development and application of new science, technology, and engineering approaches and tools to solve some of the world’s most challenging development problems.”
The DIL Approach: Development Engineering
The role of science and technology in driving breakthroughs in international development has long been recognized, yet there is little understanding of what contributes to the success (or failure) of technology-based development solutions. Increasingly, engineers, development practitioners, and others are recognizing the ways in which social and economic barriers such as market failures and weak institutions can prevent potentially transformative innovations from reaching the world’s poor.
DIL aims to integrate insights from development economics and allied fields with world-class science, engineering, and social science research, to create more effective approaches to “technology for development.” Our Laboratory is divided into four divisions:
A portfolio of technology projects that demonstrate the Development Engineering approach is curated by a panel of expert advisors using performance assessment techniques adapted from academia, DARPA, ARPA-E, and the private sector.
To seed an entire pipeline of promising technology projects and to broaden the pool of investigators in the network, DIL issues a series of carefully designed incentives for innovation, such as grant competitions, prizes, and milestone payments.
To rapidly and rigorously measure the performance and impacts of new technologies in “real world” settings, DIL researchers design data collection and analysis toolkits based on novel hardware and software approaches.
To extend the impact of DIL in academia and development organizations, the Lab generates an ecosystem for Development Engineering that engages students and researchers as well as USAID and other development practitioners.
The DIL Headquarters at UC Berkeley: The Blum Center and CEGA
Blum Center for Developing Economies
The Blum Center for Developing Economies was established in March 2006 to focus the energy and talent of students and faculty to find solutions to the most pressing needs of the poor. Today, the Blum Center spans four University of California campuses, catalyzing university action on global challenges by creating innovative curricula and accelerating new technology approaches. Among many other initiatives, the center runs the largest minor on campus, Global Poverty and Practice, and the BigIdeas@Berkeley social entrepreneurship competition for students.
Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA)
The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) works to improve lives and generate opportunities globally through innovative research that drives effective social policy and development programming. CEGA’s faculty affiliates use two powerful techniques—rigorous evaluation and economic analysis—to measure the impacts of large-scale social and economic development projects. The Center integrates business and economic approaches with expertise in agriculture, public health, education, and the environment.