The Development Learning Lab

Launching the Development Learning Lab: A new research and learning center for better results

What works and what does not work in development aid? The Development Learning Lab, a joint effort by CMI, the Norwegian School of Economics, the University of Bergen and Centre for applied research at NHH (SNF), aims to fill the knowledge gaps and increase the success of development programmes.

Ingvild Fossgard Sandøy (Professor at UiB) (from the left), Ottar Mæstad (Director at CMI), Kjetil Bjorvatn (Professor at NHH), Espen Villanger (Research Director at CMI) and Hilde Selbervik (Research Director at CMI) have developed the Development Learning Lab concept. Centre for applied research (SNF) was not present during the photo session.
Eivind Senneset

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Governments, NGOs and other donors invest huge sums and efforts in development programmes. But how effective are the programmes, do they bring the expected results?

After successful experiences in contributing to partners’ development programmes and intensive planning, the Development Learning Lab is ready to be launched. On September 2, the Norwegian Minister of International Development, Dag Inge Ulstein, and Stefan Dercon, policy advisor to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in the UK government and professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford, are among the influential speakers participating at the grand opening in Bergen’s University Aula.

Click here to see the opening from 14.00

-DLL responds to a clear need in the development community, says Espen Villanger, DLL Director and research director at CMI. – We often do not know whether the programmes work or not. Many practitioners do not use research-based evidence when they develop policies and programmes. DLL will make sense of the relevant research literature on what works and offer thematic Learning Arenas for researchers and practitioners to come together and learn from the evidence and each other.

The main idea behind DLL is to improve learning about how to achieve the development objectives. This ambitious goal is achieved through close collaboration with research partners in the global South, development practitioners and policy makers.

-We know surprisingly little about how interventions work but this is important for achieving key objectives under the SDGs. DLL works jointly with development organizations to conduct research on the programmes to find out what works. We contribute to the design of the programmes in ways that enables the research to foster learning and spur innovation. We apply scientific methods to reliably measure and evaluate results and to understand the reasons for success and failure, says Villanger

The knowledge generated with the partners must be supplemented with knowledge generated from other relevant projects and research. Systematic reviews are crucial. However, this is often not possible for practitioners.

-Development practitioners rarely have time to delve into the existing research literature. DLL can provide a better understanding of existing research, and also of how it can be relevant for future projects, says Villanger. -We assist in reviewing the research literature, assessing its reliability and relevance, and drawing lessons for practical use.

However, simply collecting and analysing the existing research does not guarantee actual learning.

DLL will establish Learning Arenas where the development community can come together to learn from the evidence in a systematic way. The learning arenas will consist of both digital and physical venues in which researchers, policymakers and practitioners working on specific topics can share knowledge and experience in safe environment.

The DLL recipe circles around close collaboration throughout the entire project cycle. Knowledge gaps and needs are identified in a continuous dialogue with the partners, and the researchers will establish rapid feedback loops to make sure that any important findings can be taken into account along the way and influence the way practitioners work.

-The way we work ensures that we continuously expand the knowledge base on which development programmes are built. This is key for achieving better results, says Villanger.

A rigorous approach to research methods, and the research partners’ extensive experience in development research, ensures trustworthy results - The initiative originates in research milieus with an impressive track record in development research and evaluations. CMI has scored high in evaluations of its research and impact, and Fair (NHH) and CISMAC (UofB) have both been awarded Centre of Excellence status.

-It is extremely inspiring for us to be working in such excellent teams with researchers and practitioners to contribute to solving key development challenges, says Villanger. -Through learning from each other we can improve the outcomes of development programmes and hopefully make important contributions towards achieving the SDGs.