MIT-USAID Program Releases Pioneering Evaluation of Solar Lanterns
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
When a person lives on less than $2 a day — as some 2.7 billion people around the world do — there isn’t room for a product like a solar lantern or a water filter to fail.
It’s a challenge development agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and consumers themselves face every day: With so many products on the market, how do you choose the right one?
Now MIT researchers have released a report that could help answer that question through a new framework for technology evaluation. Their report — titled “Experimentation in Product Evaluation: The Case of Solar Lanterns in Uganda, Africa” — details the first experimental evaluations designed and implemented by the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported program led by a multidisciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students.
Building an evaluation framework
CITE’s framework is based on the idea that evaluating a product from a technical perspective alone is not enough, according to CITE Director Bishwapriya Sanyal, the Ford International Professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning
“There are many products designed to improve the lives of poor people, but there are few in-depth evaluations of which ones work, and why,” Sanyal says. “CITE not only looks at suitability — how well does a product work? — but also at scalability — how well does it scale? — and sustainability — does a product have sticking power, given social, economic, and environmental context?”
CITE seeks to integrate each of these criteria — suitability, scalability, and sustainability — to develop a deep understanding of what makes products successful in emerging economies. The program’s evaluations and framework are intended to better inform the development community’s purchasing decisions.