[This post was produced by Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head-Policy Engagement and Communication, Training and Resource Mobilisation at the Public Affairs Centre.]
Research organisations and think tanks often find a barrier when justifying the relevance and utility of a research project to other stakeholders. Stakeholders (be them Government/funder/corporate/partner/community) often look forward to solutions to address specific problems. Hence a Proof of Concept become an important instrument while managing/designing a research project.
A Proof of Concept (PoC), simply put, tries to demonstrate a method or idea to prove the potential practicality of an issue/concern in research areas/topics. It is developed to demonstrate the functionality of a concept or theory that can be achieved. The benefits of having a PoC is to:
- Engage with stakeholders to show the importance of a research idea/concept
- Inform stakeholders the details of how or where a research project can be implemented
- Clarify roles and responsibilities
- Use it as a proven idea to take it forward
In short, a PoC is a design which tests an idea or an assumption. The difference between a PoC and a prototype is that a PoC depicts how an idea can be developed while a prototype tries to demonstrate/simulate a project and a pilot study tests an idea/concept. In a research project a PoC provides insights, data, and ways to develop and improve it. It could typically include qualitative and quantitative research, provide solutions and propose a strategy.
Key factors to keep in mind while seeking to establish a PoC
Writing a PoC involves a systematic approach to ensure its validity. To start with one needs to ideally identify the uniqueness of one’s idea. It should elicit the wow factor to enable a reader/audience to immediately accept the same. A PoC should also provide a realistic budget which should match the periodicity and list of activities. A focussed target group identified enables an intensive programme and ends up being purposeful. One of the most important aspect is to have a timeline, as often a stakeholder audience want to see results and hence a well thought out log frame which includes all of the above helps a stakeholder to not only see the whole picture.
By factoring all these elements, a well-presented and designed PoC reflects the capabilities and credibility of an organisation. It also helps a stakeholder in making decisions about the project in question – either take it forward or reject it.
5 Steps to Follow for Writing a Winning PoC
It is important to understand that the main objective of creating a PoC is to present the practicality of what is being addressed. Based on several tested approaches the following steps can be adopted to create a successful PoC
Step 1: Statement of the problem/issue
In this stage it is important to understand the requirement of a stakeholder/audience and their interest in a specific policy issue. One this is clear, the research organisation/think tank can step in to address this problem/issue. This stage includes:
- Establish a basis to understand the evidence around the problem
- Describe the concept/project and its intended impact
- Describe the uniqueness of the methodology to be followed
- Compare and demonstrate your experience
Step 2: Stakeholders
It is a well-known fact that any research project is, in most cases, catered to an audience. Most organisations work for and in communities. For instance, at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) we adapt the bottom-top approach in our research areas. Also one should bear in mind that there are different types/levels of audience in any research project. They broadly include communities, policy makers, media, partner organisations to name a few. Hence ensure that you:
- Establish the target audience
- Identify potential partners
Step 3: PoC as a “solution” document
A PoC should serve are as “solution” providers to specific policy problems. Hence always ensure to:
- Include information on earlier studies
- Describe and introduce intervention strategies
- Describe the desired outcomes and how they will be measured
- Provide an outline of the pilot study
Step 4: Key details to include
To make a PoC more robust and clearer ensure that:
- Concepts are clearly defined to garner interest
- Required resources are explained
- Funding Sources are presented
Step 5: Measuring Success
An integral part of a PoC is to ensure that indicators to measure the success of a project is defined and included. It is important to:
- Identify the expected outcomes (realistic)
- Introduced the indicators that will measure these outcomes
- Acknowledge potential unintended outcomes
- Ensure that appropriate procedures and processes are in place to evaluate and assess the project
Scaling up a PoC to support the government in India
Public Affairs Centre has been successful in establishing and scaling up a Proof of Concept in the monitoring of Fair Price Shops (FPS) which are part of the Public Distribution System (PDS). While the government has established vigilance committees which were to be chosen out of the beneficiaries in the PDS to resolve the issues, it was not effective nor functional.
With support from the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, PAC aimed to develop a standardised Citizen Monitoring Process for Fair Price Shops. The process involved monitoring the functioning of a Fair Price Shop by a team of 4 trained citizen volunteers called Citizen Monitoring Teams (CMTs). These CMTs shall identify the problems and inefficiencies prevailing in the day to day functioning of the selected FPS. The members of the CMTs are chosen by a special Gram Sabha. PAC also tested a second iteration of the Citizen Monitoring Process, where all members of the CMTs are women members of Self-Help Groups (SHGs).
Two years into the project covering 180 FPS, PAC has found that CMTs whose members come from Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are the most effective model for citizen monitoring. This model is currently being scaled up across 60 FPS in 30 districts of Karnataka state to further strengthen the proof of concept.