Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation

Launched in 2012 with a consortium of MIT partners, the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) was established to develop new methods for product evaluation in global development. It was premised on the idea that, while countless practical, low-cost technologies have been designed to solve several global development challenges, very little information exists about which solutions work best—and perhaps just as importantly, which do not. In filling this knowledge gap, CITE was the first-ever program dedicated to assessing products designed for people living in poverty. CITE has developed and deployed an interdisciplinary approach to better understand how well a product performs its purpose, how effectively the product’s supply chain reaches consumers, and how users interact with the product over time. 

Action-oriented in spirit, each CITE evaluation tackles research questions that were crafted hand-in-hand with local partners to address an immediate need. CITE’s evaluations further equip product designers, procurement officers, government officials, and global development practitioners with the information they need to develop and deploy better products that improve development outcomes. 

Led by MIT D-Lab since 2017, CITE has expanded its research focus to include a broad range of emerging global development topics, including innovation systems, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Project website

One more tool for the food aid toolbox? Experimental evidence on food aid packaging

International food assistance reaches more than 90 million people per year, much of it through in-kind programs that distribute food. Several key aspects of in-kind programs—what food is shipped, when and from where it is sourced—have been changed to improve program effectiveness and efficiency, becoming helpful tools in the modernized in-kind food assistance toolbox. Packaging—in what food is shipped—remains an unstudied and underused tool despite more than 50 million bags per year passing through in-kind supply chains, affecting program effectiveness and efficiency. We conduct an experiment with 46 shipments using different packaging materials and sizes to measure the effect of packaging on shipment quality, cost, and timeliness. Analyzing the data with randomization tests, we find that, relative to the current materials, new materials maintain shipment quality and cost while improving timeliness and in some cases may reduce cost. One promising material that balances cost and effectiveness is a bag with a biopesticide applied, designed to prevent insects from reproducing. We also find that, relative to the current size, larger bags may improve costs at least in the domestic portion of the supply chain. Donors and their partners should consider packaging as one more tool in the modernized food assistance toolbox. As the toolbox continues to fill, the coming opportunity and challenge to identify situations where the various tools work in complementary ways.

A behavioral investigation of supply chain contracts for a newsvendor problem in a developing economy

The business context in developing economies introduces challenges in scaling production that are often distinct from those faced in mature economies. This study focuses on the potential for risk-sharing mechanisms to overcome some of those challenges for agricultural supply chains in Uganda. The study follows a two-stage research approach conducted in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which supported adoption of hermetic crop storage products such as silos in the country since 2013. In the first stage, through interviews with six artisanal silo manufacturers we identified three constraints in scaling silo production that were accentuated by the newsvendor dynamics in this market. In the second stage, we considered the potential for risk-sharing contracts to help alleviate some of those constraints and explored behavioral explanations to account for differences. We ran a laboratory experiment using two contracts that our interviews suggest are feasible in this business context: a buyback mechanism that allows manufacturers to share the risks of procuring excess metal sheets and a salvage mechanism that allows them to share the risks of over-producing silos. The results reveal a consistent under-ordering across both contracts. They also show that while buyback participants respond to contract prices as existing theory would predict, salvage participants do not. Our study provides insights regarding the potential, and the limitations, of different risk-sharing mechanisms to increase the supply of products in developing economies.

Modeling the values of private sector agents in multi-echelon humanitarian supply chains

Humanitarian organizations (HOs) increasingly look to engage private sector supply chains in achieving outcomes. The right engagement approach may require knowledge of agents’ preferences across multi-echelon supply chains to align private sector value creation with humanitarian outcomes. We propose a multi-attribute value analysis (MAVA) framework to elucidate such preferences. We formalize this approach and apply it in collaboration with a HO pilot aiming to facilitate better private sector availability of malaria rapid diagnostic tests in Uganda. We demonstrate how HOs could use criteria weights and value functions from MAVA for project evaluation; in the process, we reveal business model insights for importers, distributors, and retailers in the pilot. We also show how MAVA facilitates the impact assessment of hypothetical options (i.e., combinations of products, services, and subsidies) to guide HO resource deployment. This paper offers the first attempt, to our knowledge, to develop quantitative measures for economic and non-economic objectives involving all agents in a multi-echelon supply chain, either humanitarian or commercial. We hope that this initial step stimulates further research to validate results and develop the framework proposed.

Access to Affordable Bicycles: Summary of the Findings from the Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews

As part of a USAID-funded project, Access to Affordable Bicycles, an MIT D-Lab CITE team has been conducting research to understand the background, current state, and opportunities for bicycles to benefit underserved communities, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the initial phase of the project, the team conducted a literature review and key informant interviews. This paper outlines the key findings from the first phase of the research. The team has also identified some gaps that could be addressed in the next phase of the research.

Although the literature on bicycles is limited and some of the sources are older, the team was able to identify a number of opportunities and challenges related to bicycles. The benefits include improved gender norms, improved access to education, increased productivity and income, and improved efficiency and time savings. Although there are several benefits, there are also a variety of challenges and barriers to adoption, which include cost and access to credit to pay for bicycles; high transportation costs, tariffs, and taxes; government regulations that restrict access to bicycles; social and gender norms; difficult terrain, weather and inadequate infrastructure; design of bikes often not suited to use case or user; safety concerns; spare parts and aftermarket services may be limited and repair costs can be expensive; and organizational capacity to implement and evaluate programs may be limited.


Assessment of Potential Opportunities for Use of Digital Payments for Smallholder Farmers in Northern and Central Senegal

This research project, carried out in collaboration with the USAID’s Feed the Future Program, explored 1) how digital services can address the unmet financial needs of smallholder farmers; 2) the conditions under which smallholder farmers adopt digital financial services (DFS) to address these unmet needs; and 3) the characteristics that predict, incentivize, or are barriers to adoption of DFS by smallholder farmers.


Assessment of the Gender Gap in Access to Digital Financial Services in Burkina Faso

This research project, carried out in collaboration with the USAID, explored 1) the role DFS plays in making female entrepreneurs more resilient and 2) the conditions that permit greater DFS access and use among women.


Assessment of Potential Opportunities for Use of Digital Payments for Smallholder Farmers in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

This research project, carried out in collaboration with the USAID’s Feed the Future Program, explored 1) how digital financial services (DFS) could help address the unmet financial needs of smallholder farmers (SHFs); 2) the conditions under which SHFs adopt DFS to meet these needs; and 3) how different stakeholders perceive farmer needs, DFS availability, and incentives and barriers to DFS Guatemala.


Last-Mile Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Evaluation in Tanzania

Throughout rural Sub-Saharan Africa, grid electricity coverage remains sparse. In Tanzania, the site of this study, only 15% of the population has access to electricity. A substantial urban bias exists: 41% of the urban population has access to electricity, while only 4% do in rural areas, where 68% of the country’s 55 million people live (World Bank 2017). Even in areas where grid electricity is accessible, it remains out of reach economically to low-income households, who find hefty connection fees and recurring monthly utility bills prohibitive.  As a consequence, low-income households desire more lighting options, especially given the ongoing expenses associated with, and the health ramifications of, kerosene lamps, the predominant lighting source in rural Africa (Tracy and Jacobson 2012).  

Even as the Government of Tanzania’s (GoT) efforts to provide for the energy needs of its citizenry have been met with some success, issues of affordability and availability continue to pose significant challenges to rural development. This presents an opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship, both in terms of technologies and service delivery models. As a result, non-state actors have begun to try to fill this "energy gap" by providing rural households with various off-grid energy options, often in the form of solar lighting. Although some for-profit firms are engaged in trying to reach remote, "last-mile" households, the cost and effort of reaching them at scale remains a challenge. Further, one-off drives, campaigns, or giveaways, while certainly helpful to households in the short-term, do not address the structural barriers that continue to hinder people’s sustained access to energy. A middle ground between a purely for-profit or purely philanthropic approach, social enterprises have emerged as a business model that can, in principle, reach those households most removed from the grid and who likely lack few electricity and energy alternatives.

This study seeks to understand the impact of one such social enterprise in Tanzania, Solar Sister, in providing access to clean energy—in the form of household solar lanterns—to remote, rural areas, or what we call "last-mile” households throughout this report. Solar Sister's business model uses a network of trained women entrepreneurs—Solar Sister Entrepreneurs, or SSEs—to sell solar lanterns in their local communities. The argument for employing women in this way is not only that it promotes gender empowerment through economic opportunity, but also that such a model, where the salesperson is embedded in her community, reaches customers that other social enterprise and business models do not. 


Solar Powered Water Pumps Evaluation in India

The Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is dedicated to developing methods for product evaluation in global development. CITE is led by an interdisciplinary team at MIT, and draws upon diverse expertise to evaluate products and develop a deep understanding of what makes different products successful in emerging markets. Our evaluations provide evidence for data-driven decision-making by development workers, donors, manufacturers, suppliers, and  consumers themselves.

From September 2011 to March 2017, CITE researchers evaluated solar-powered water pump systems. These are the most technically complex    products yet to be considered under CITE’s “3-S” evaluation framework of suitability, scalability, and sustainability. While other products evaluated by CITE have been relatively simple, as in water filters and food storage technologies, solar pumps include components of power generation,  power electronics, and pump components. In addition to partners in the United States, the team worked closely with partners in three locations in India and two locations in Myanmar, as shown in Figure 1. These partners have been instrumental in choosing the solar pump technology used by farmers in their communities.