ILRI PhD Graduate Fellowship: Innovation Portfolio Management in the public sector

  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Full-time
  • CapDev

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Wageningen University (WU) seeks to recruit a PhD graduate fellow to work on innovation portfolio management under the CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa (Ukama Ustawi). The successful fellow will be hosted by the Impact at Scale program at ILRI.                                                                                                   

ILRI works to improve food and nutritional security and reduce poverty in developing countries through research for efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock. It is the only one of 15 CGIAR research centers ( ) dedicated entirely to animal agriculture research for the developing world. Co-hosted by Kenya and Ethiopia, it has regional or country offices in East, South and Southern Asia as well as Central, East, Southern and West Africa.   

The Impact at Scale program is responsible for spearheading the scaling-up of innovations of all International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) programs for a sustainable future. The innovations have been tested and proven to be effective. The program aims at ensuring that many people can benefit from these technologies. Impact at scale program

Wageningen University & Research’ mission is to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment. The unique Wageningen approach lies in its integrated approach to issues and the collaboration between different disciplines. The Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group has played a global leading role in advanced science on agricultural innovation systems and responsible innovation and scaling

ILRI and Wageningen University collaborate under the CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa (Ukama Ustawi). Work Package 6 focusses on scaling innovations and coordinating CGIAR and partner activities in the region through a scaling hub that uses the Scaling Readiness approach to inform, activate and bring to scale innovations that respond to regional or country demand. It is in this context that ILRI and Wageningen University are investing in state-of-the-art science on scaling innovation, in order to advance the practice of scaling innovation for societal benefits.

Scope of Work

The science of scaling is a new, exciting field of study that is concerned with better understanding and guiding the scaling of innovation for achieving positive societal impacts such as those defined under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The PhD will be action-oriented in that it seeks to conduct scientific research in support of achieving development outcomes and impacts. The design, testing and validation of decision-support tools to advance effective innovation portfolio management with CGIAR and partners will be a central part of the PhD project. The CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa (Ukama Ustawi) offers a dynamic science and learning environment for data collection and piloting new approaches with CGIAR and partner teams.

This PhD position will play a key role in advancing the science of scaling. The state-of-the-art knowledge, products and experiences are meant to inform curriculum development and strengthen capacity in practice of scaling. The focus of the PhD position will be on advancing the science of scaling.
Innovation portfolio management refers to the strategic management and oversight of a portfolio of innovation and scaling investments (e.g. initiatives and projects). It involves making informed decisions about which innovation to pursue, allocate resources to, and prioritize based on their alignment with the organization's goals and objectives. Innovation portfolio management is commonly used in the private sector to ‘stage-gate’ innovations along their pathway from novel idea to use at scale. Innovation portfolio management is less commonly used in the public, non-for-profit sector, although that sector could equally benefit from managing innovation portfolios in a more intentional and systematic way.

An innovation portfolio typically consists of a range of innovations at different stages of development, from early-stage ideas to mature products or services. Innovations may be technological, process, business models, or policy innovations.

The key elements of innovation portfolio management include:

  1. Alignment with strategic objectives: Evaluating innovation projects against the organization's overall strategic goals and objectives to ensure that they are in line with the organization's vision and mission, as well as with the needs and interest of innovation users/ clients.
  2. Data, metrics and information: Timely access to quality data, metrics and information on key indicators such as scaling and impact potential, competitive landscape, feasibility, resource requirements and partnerships.
  3. Resource allocation: Allocating resources, including financial, human, and time to different innovation projects based on hard and soft criteria, including strategic importance, potential impact, and cost-benefit and cost effectiveness analysis.
  4. Strategic decision-making: This involves making trade-offs and strategic decisions with regards to significant value and how innovations align with the organization's capabilities, client/ user needs, resources and strategic objectives.
  5. Monitoring and evaluation: Continuously monitoring the progress and performance of innovation projects, tracking key metrics (e.g. Scaling Readiness), and evaluating their success and impact. This helps in identifying and addressing any issues or challenges that arise during project execution and determining whether to continue, modify, or terminate innovations.
  6. Culture and mindset: An important aspect of innovation portfolio management is the transition from subjective and adhoc towards more systematic, transparent and evidence-based decision-making. In many organizations this means a significant culture change which needs to be carefully nurtured and supported.

By actively managing their innovation portfolios, organizations can optimize their investments in innovation, balance risk and reward, foster a culture of impact, and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes for its clients. It enables them to strategically navigate the innovation landscape, adapt to changing innovation system dynamics, and drive sustainable growth and impact.

Overall, the goal is to contribute to contribute to critical scholarly perspectives on innovation portfolio management in the public sector, by exploring how the ‘right’ combination of methods, mechanisms and mindsets can foster more intentional, effective and transparent innovation management to achieve sustainable societal outcomes and positive, responsible impact at scale.

The PhD fellow is expected to lead the co-design, testing and validation of methods, approaches and/or tools that can strengthen meaningful innovation management in the public sector in close collaboration with CGIAR and partner teams. This is expected to generate insights on the conditions, factors and processes that enable or constrain innovation management in CGIAR which will generate lessons for the broader public sector.

Responsibilities of the fellow:

Design, implement and document/ publish scientific PhD research.

  • Develop a PhD-research proposal to be accepted by the Wageningen School of Social Sciences, that covers various aspects of innovation portfolio management (e.g., from metrics and decision-making criteria to organizational impact culture change).
  • Develop and conduct a personal Training and Supervision Plan.
  • Conduct research on the topic described in close collaboration with the CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa (Ukama Ustawi).
  • Lead the design, testing and validation of approaches and/or tools that can advance effective innovation portfolio management for societal outcomes and impact.
  • Write scientific articles about the findings and publish them in scientific journals.
  • Present PhD research findings at seminars and conferences.

Other duties

  • Collaborate and exchange with other PhD students in the science of scaling domain.
  • Contribute to Ukama Ustawi activities that align with PhD research.
  • Collaborate with the CGIAR Scaling Readiness team on topics that align with the PhD research.
  • Provide periodical reflections and recommendations to Ukama Ustawi Work Package 6 team.
  • Contribute to strategic communication efforts on the PhD research.

Requirements & qualifications:

  • A university degree (MSc) in a relevant scientific field that includes considerable social/ innovation science substance.
  • Strong interest in agricultural research for development, innovation and development impact.
  • An understanding/appreciation of the socio-economic and political dynamics of agricultural innovation and development in low- and middle-income or specifically SSA countries.
  • Ability to ‘think out of the box’ and proactively propose creative research ideas (e.g., translating concepts and tools used in other sectors).
  • Experience in independently designing, implementing and documenting scientific research.
  • Strong interpersonal, communication and network skills.
  • Good knowledge of English language, in listening, speaking and writing.
  • Ability to use advanced data collection and analysis tools, methods and software (e.g., machine learning, R, ODK).
  • Strong digital skills, including proficiency in presentation, project management and collaboration tools.
  • Experience in low- or middle-income countries in agricultural/ development settings.
  • Experience in facilitating events in a multi-cultural environment.
  • Teamwork – ability to lead work in an agile and fast-paced environment.

Duty Station & Terms of appointment

Location: ILRI Nairobi, Kenya. The position might involve international travel, including prolonged periods at Wageningen University, Netherlands and for conducting field work.

Duration: 4 years.

Terms of appointment and stipend:

This is a 4-year sandwich PhD-position at WUR. The candidate is expected to spend 20 months in Wageningen, the Netherlands (course work, proposal development and paper writing) and 28 months in East and Southern Africa to conduct field work. The successful candidate will be supervised jointly by an ILRI scientist and the university/academic supervisor/s and will be provided with:-

  • A living allowance during stay at Wageningen University, the Netherlands and in the project location.
  • Medical insurance cover.  
  • A budget for the PhD research that includes travel.
  • Support to obtain a residence permit for your stay in the Netherlands.
  • Logistical and administrative support in organizing the PhD.

Applicants MUST provide the following documents:

  • A cover letter of maximum 1 page that eludes the candidate’s motivation and fit for the PhD position.
  • A curriculum vitae that clearly shows how the applicant fulfills the requirements and qualifications listed above.
  • Names and contact details of three referees who are knowledgeable about the candidate’s professional qualifications and work experience.
  • Scanned copies of academic diplomas (bachelor and master) and associated lists of marks/ qualifications for courses followed.
  • A completed assignment in relation to the PhD research you would like to undertake (Appendix 1).

Appendix 1:

As a candidate for the position of PhD, you will play a crucial role in driving science on innovation portfolio management. In today's rapidly evolving and complex public sector landscape, innovation plays a crucial role in addressing societal challenges, improving service delivery, and driving positive change. Effective management of innovation portfolios is essential for public sector organizations to strategically allocate resources, prioritize initiatives, and maximize the value of their innovation efforts. In this writing assignment, we would like you to outline the key aspects of innovation portfolio management in the public sector, emphasizing the importance of understanding the context, defining key concepts and frameworks, formulating research questions, exploring innovative methods and analytics, and highlighting the societal relevance of this research area.

The candidate is requested to develop a research note along the following lines:

1.         Understanding the context: a) Describe public sector research and development and its key features (e.g. organizational culture, how public R&D is organized, etc.). b) List key challenges and opportunities for innovation management in the public sector. c) Briefly introduce how other (private) R&D sectors manage innovation portfolios

2.         Key concepts: a) Define innovation portfolio management and explain why it is crucial in the context of food system transformation. b) Propose a theoretical/ conceptual framework or approach for studying innovation portfolio management (visualizations are encouraged, and integrating concepts from other sectors is encouraged.

3.         Research questions: a) Define 1 overarching research question, and 4 interrelated sub-research questions that could form the backbone of the PhD research. b) shortly elaborate how these main and sub-questions interrelate and link the conceptual framework.

4.         Innovative methods and analytics: a) list a set of innovative (mixed) methods and corresponding analysis tools that the candidate expects to use to generate results/ answers to the listed sub-research questions. b) Ideas on overall case study or experimental design for the study in the context of the CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa.

5.         Societal relevance: a) Discuss the importance of tackling the research questions for more effective innovation innovation portfolio management. b) Briefly explain how the science could inform innovation and scaling curriculum development, as well as advance the innovation portfolio management practice,

Please ensure that your response is well-structured, supported by examples and references to relevant research, and demonstrates a thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of the topic. Your writing should reflect critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to apply theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. The assignment should be approximately 1500 to 2000 words in length (excl. reference list). The use of visuals and images is encouraged.

By submitting the written assignment, the applicant declares to have developed this research note without external support and attests originality to the results and takes full responsibility for it.

Applications should be sent to the Capacity Development Manager, ILRI by clicking on the tab "APPLY NOW" on or before 30th September 2023. The position title and reference number REF: GF/IAS /02/2023 should be clearly marked on the subject line of the cover letter.

We thank all applicants for their interest in working for ILRI. Due to the volume of applications, only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

ILRI does not charge a fee at any stage of the recruitment process (application, interview meeting, processing or training). ILRI also does not concern itself with information on applicants' bank accounts.

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