Digitalisation is the key to the efficient and transparent delivery of NIRAS’s grant management services, covering the entire grant lifecycle.
What digitalisation can achieve
Fund management entails the responsible and transparent award of large amounts of taxpayer capital to innovative projects around the world. The use of digital tools is invaluable in all elements of grant fund management. This includes establishing fund structures in compliant and accessible systems and in a cost efficient manner, designing fund procedures, conducting , as welldigital outreach and marketing as the operation and administration of the facility itself and the continuous monitoring and evaluation of fund performance.
Applying digital tools to these processes enables us to deliver value for our clients through efficiency while ensuring that the applicants and grantees have full confidence in the fairness of the allocation and management of funds. Large grant volumes make this accountability all the more important, which is why working within robust digital systems with built-in privacy and trust measures is a core part of the philosophy. Due diligence and remote monitoring of project activities is also of critical importance, and the use of digital tools can substantially ease the burden of monitoring activities. Finally, large quantities of information must be gathered, evaluated, and stored securely in a cost-efficient manner. It is critical to have stable and secure platforms for this purpose.
Services we offer
- Digital platforms for managing the full grant cycle and automating the processes, reducing administrative burden for grantees;
- Development of state-of-the-art secure cloud-based databases storing structured and unstructured data (e.g., SmartME platform);
- Digital-based outreach and marketing to grantees and wider target audiences, for example online videos, social media strategies;
- Developing digital inclusive and secure solutions tailored to grantees and drawing on our in-depth knowledge of the sectors, country contexts including low-bandwidth environments;
- Using AI to automate the process of drawing insights from grantee reporting and monitoring data; and
- Innovative use of digital tools for conducting due diligence at the appraisal stage and real-time grantee monitoring and evaluation during grantee implementation.
Some examples from our work
Investing for Employment (IFE) facility
NIRAS, in consortium with GFA Consulting Group, is responsible for managing the KfW-funded IFE facility with the goal of creating up to 100,000 new decent jobs in eight African countries. The full fund volume is anticipated to reach €500 million through the lifecycle of the fund. To ensure efficiency and high quality in management of such a large volume, NIRAS employs SmartME to handle applications, evaluation, and monitoring. With nearly 2000 applications for funding received in the first two years of implementation, the system enables the distributed IFE team to conduct rigorous evaluation of applications and supports remote monitoring and verification of progress and impacts.
UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Programme
NIRAS’ in-house data scientists used AI-based natural language processing tools to assess the extent to which a gender perspective was included by grantees for the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Programme. The NIRAS data scientist team worked closely with the NIRAS gender team to develop the methodology and verify the findings. The approach included defining a rules-based system for differentiating between grantee reporting that was gender neutral or transformative. The work was conducted as part a wider evaluation of the Fund and included other innovative machine-learning based data science methods to automate the analysis of grantee research outputs linked to SDG outcomes.
Monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL)
The NIRAS MEL team offer our clients cutting-edge digital solutions supporting evidence-based decision making in real-time. With in-house data science, data engineers and digital specialists NIRAS is able to customise and adapt innovative solutions for our clients. We are also thought-leaders in the responsible application of natural language processing tools (e.g., ChatGPT) for MEL.
What digitalisation can achieve
The exponential growth of digital data and technologies over the past few years is transforming the way MEL data is collected, analysed and shared. Key trends and opportunities across the evaluation cycle include: (1) Growth in the amount of existing digital data we can draw from in MEL assignments, reducing the costs associated with collecting new data (e.g. using website content, digital documents and administration records, satellite data), (2) Easier and lower cost of collecting and storing data with digital technologies (e.g. web-scaping, speech-to-text translation, APIs), (3) Improvements in the ability to analyse digital data and automate analyses using machine-learning and software engineering, and (4) Emergence of online MEL management information system (MIS) platforms, dashboards and web-based applications (e.g. Power-BI and Python Dash), which support real-time decision making and adaptive management.
Services we offer
- Full range of data collection services such as web-extraction, Earth observation, phone surveys (text and enumerator-based);
- Thought-leaders in the responsible application of cutting-edge natural language processing tools for MEL, including the new breed of pre-trained generative large language models on which ChatGPT is built;
- Advanced data analytics services ranging from machine learning (with text, image data), causal inference (quasi-experimental), forecasting and optimisation;
- Interactive online platforms, advice on using off-the-shelf solutions and development of bespoke solutions that automate data collection, analysis and communication processes;
- Digital-data governance-related advisory services, providing advisory services on data quality, privacy, inclusion and ethics;
- Training and capacity building for evaluators and evaluation commissioners; and
- Tailored data science support to impact investors and ESG reporting.
Some examples from our work
The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF)
NIRAS is a core partner in a consortium contracted since 2019 to support the UK Government’s CSSF in developing an overall monitorial, evaluation and learning (MEL) system at the fund level. As part of this, the consortium has worked with the client to generate learning on how data analytics can support decision making across the fund. This involved piloting a range of data analytics techniques, some of which involved machine learning prediction tools on future events or trends such as migration flows or terrorism events.
We have also developed products to demonstrate how the client could use social media data to develop evidence bases to support programme decision-making. One such product involved using Twitter to gauge how migrants and refugees are perceived by the host population over time by location. To accomplish this goal, the project team created a web application/ dashboard that uses Twitter data and an AI model to classify sentiments. The dashboard displays a map of the country with highlighted negative and positive sentiments related to migration and plots showing change over time. The entire project was created in the R programming language, which is open-source and free to use. The web application is created using R Shiny, the R programming language’s primary web application/ dashboard API. The AI sentiment model is a state-of-the-art bidirectional encoder representations from transformers (BERT) model trained explicitly on Twitter data. The web app/dashboard is self-sustaining and updates nightly with new data.
Frontier Data Study
NIRAS led the UK FCDO's Frontier Data study, which identified emerging digital data and technologies that have the biggest potential for the international development community across a range of priority sectors for FCDO including climate change and education. The study explored how digital technologies can support real-time learning from monitoring and evaluation data. As an off-shoot of the study, NIRAS led the development of a seven-part podcast series that interviewed thought leaders and practitioners who have used digital data technologies in international development.