As a university researcher and educator in anthropology and international development, I am interested in how academic work can be made actionable.
I think the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California Irvine, which is funded by the Gates Foundation, presents a very good model for academic, industry, policy and civil society collaborations.
IMTFI funds researchers, predominantly from the Global South, to conduct qualitative research into poor people’s everyday innovations with mobile money. Its premise is that only through an in-depth understanding of the complexities of marginalized groups’ financial lives, and the way in which these groups adapt financial services such as mobile money to their own needs, can workable and scalable solutions be found. Over the years, IMTFI has funded 6 cohorts of Fellows working in all parts of the world (for full disclosure, I was part of the very first cohort of Fellows).
IMTFI has also used design as a way to make its knowledge actionable. Every year, it hosts a conference bringing everybody together, where it runs workshops and brainstorming sessions. It has published a set of design principles and a report on warning signs for digital client uptake. Because it operates according to an open source model, everything is available to the public and people in industry and policy circles often make use of IMTFI’s findings.