Transforming how we monitor R&D public funding

The "SPI+i Dashboard" is an analysis and data visualization tool for publicly funded R&D projects

6 de Noviembre de 2023

Read the Spanish version here

PROCIENCIA is a program from the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT, for is acronym in Spanish) that funds research and development (R&D) projects, with a projected investment of $168.5 million until 2027 to promote science and technology development in Paraguay. Ensuring efficient execution and proper tracking of the 600+ projects funded by this program is crucial to achieve success. Alejandra Samaniego, PROCIENCIA’s General Coordinator, recalls how the program gradually incorporated technology.  "PROCIENCIA began in 2014, and its first call for proposals required physical submissions. On the last day of that first call, there was a several blocks queue of people carrying folders with paper submissions. One by one, we had to receive them, count how many pages they contained, and assign them a tracking number. On that occasion, we received 400 projects." 

The lack of digital information management tools hindered the selection process for the initial projects to be funded. This experience led CONACYT to launch a digital project submission platform that is still in use today: the Instruments Submission System (SPI, for is acronym in Spanish). Since its creation, this tool has streamlined the process of receiving and analyzing project submissions. However, over the years, project monitoring was still being done manually, without any digital data management tool, leading to information fragmentation and a lack of clear and verifiable monitoring indicators, causing significant accountability issues. Until 2019, Alejandra worked in the Monitoring and Evaluation department and remembers the daily challenges. "Some officers were responsible for up to 100 projects, and I had to work with each one of them. They shared Excel spreadsheets with me including project information such as when the disbursement was made, when they submitted their report, the available amount in their financial report, the report numbers... Is it overdue or not? Did they receive a notification? This monitoring must be continuous, and doing it manually consumes a lot of time, leaving very little for other critical control tasks."

A Challenge for Public Innovation 

A CONACYT team participated in the Public Innovators Program, promoted by the National Innovation Strategy (ENI, for is acronym in Spanish) and the CONACYT, in collaboration with the UNDP Innovation Lab and and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This initiative provided training in public innovation management to teams from various institutions through workshops led by public innovation and applied R&D specialists. These specialists also guided participating teams in developing specific innovative proposals to address challenges certain within their institutions. In the case of the CONACYT team, they developed a proposal to enhance the existing SPI tool, transforming it into a monitoring tool for funded projects. How? By creating the SPI+i Dashboard: a data analysis and visualization-based monitoring tool that allows end-users to create their own reports. 

Over two months, the team worked on developing the tool in multiple sessions alongside a dedicated specialist. The result was the addition of a control panel and data visualization tools to the SPI, enabling effective real-time monitoring of the technical, financial, and work schedule progress of each funded project, with an alert system to facilitate issue resolution. Furthermore, it has the potential to link information with the institution's Open Data Portal in the future. 

"These tools are essential for management today; we cannot afford to lag behind, we cannot continue with the same work dynamics because decisions need to be made today."
Alejandra Samaniego, PROCIENCIA’s General Coordinator.

Alejandra Samaniego, PROCIENCIA’s General Coordinator.

At this stage, the dashboard is in the process of being transferred to CONACYT's technical and administrative officers. In the next phase, researchers and technicians will be able to access their project status on the system using a username and password. "We’re CONACYT, we cannot fall behind: we need to stay at the forefront." To achieve this, innovation is the key: by integrating clear visualization, automatic alerts, and an intuitive interface, we can streamline support for R&D in Paraguay.