Specificity killed the cat

The Climate & Development Knowledge Network innovation fund has opened to a second round of applications (with an African focus). In order to apply you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Are an applicant group that includes at least two (2) partners; Lead Applicants must be African (and not international institutions based in Africa), with additional partners also being African.
  • Are an applicant group which includes government institutions; if not, you must demonstrate significant government buy-in.
  • Are proposing activities that support an existing network/community of practice to ensure buy-in and sustainability.
  • Have game-changing project ideas/concepts focused on Africa that require development and shaping through an innovation process; provide a forum in which active (cross-sector and cross-regional) engagement, consultation and collaboration can directly take place and catalyse the direction, design and structure of a future project or initiative.
  • Are aligned with the evaluation criteria.
  • Can set up a sustainable uptake pathway for the results of the innovation process, for which a relevant target audience is clearly articulated.

I have two observations. Firstly, this is jargon overkill à la EU for what I imagine should be a wide-ranging call for proposals accessible to as many people as possible. What is an “innovation process” when it’s at home? Opaque language like this tends to restrict applications to the usual suspects who can navigate the linguistic contortions, the very opposite of what innovation is supposed to be about.

Secondly, these are very specific criteria. Why does it have to be 2+ partners, 100% African? Why demand government buy-in when civil society can be a more powerful agent of change? Why should applicants be working through a network and have to provide a forum for engagement etc? The problem with very specific funding criteria is that you encourage applicants to dream up projects specifically to meet your preconceived notions rather than to meet their own priorities.

This gets a thumbs down from me.

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