The Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education’s (CUE) Knowing-Doing Network Leadership Coalition (KDNLC) selection process spanned seven months from February to September of 2023. The purpose of this document is to provide a summary, clarity, and transparency on the evaluative review and selection process to all key stakeholders, as well as offer CUE and its partners opportunity for reflection on this process. Detailed evaluation criteria, rubrics, tools, and/or forms were developed by CUE after consultation with civil society actors from around the world, as well as organizations with experience designing large grant competitions.

In total, 195 organizations located in 58 different countries from around the world expressed interest in participating in the KDNLC. 113 organizations—or 58 percent—met all of the eligibility requirements and were invited to submit a full application. Of these, 95 organizations submitted a full application. After a rigorous selection process, 10 of these organizations were invited to participate in the KDNLC. All 10 organizations accepted the invitation.

Overview of the Selection Process

Timeline of selection process for the KDNLC

Expression of Interest (EOI) Phase

February 17 to March 31 , 2023

There were five steps in the EOI Phase of the selection process. The objective in this phase was to maximize inclusivity establishing criteria that would enable a wide range and size of organizations that do not traditionally access international funding to apply. CUE provided a self-reflection tool to all organizations invited to submit a full application to assess their readiness against the KDNLC application criteria.

Step 1: Open Call for the Expression of Interest, February 17 to March 31, 2023

The open call was announced at CUE’s Education Systems Transformation Symposium on February 17th and disseminated broadly through email, social media, and the KDNLC project webpage on the Brookings website. Interested organizations were asked to complete a form providing basic organizational information by March 31, 2023.

Step 2: Threshold Criteria Review

CUE reviewed the threshold eligibility criteria and all applications for completeness. CUE then determined if criteria were met or not. Organizations that did not meet all threshold criteria were not invited to submit a full application. Threshold criteria included:

  • Complete basic contact information for organization
  • Local organization (headquartered in the same country where it principally operates)
  • Nonprofit organization (legally recognized and registered under applicable law)
  • Nonpartisan organization (does not take a public stance for or against political figures or parties)
  • Nongovernmental organization (less than 50% of funding from local political or government entity)
  • Eligible to receive grants from U.S. entities

Step 3: Evaluative Criteria Review

In-depth assessment of the information provided utilizing a 3-point scale where:

  • “0” indicates insufficient evidence of meeting the criterion.
  • “1” suggests basic evidence of meeting the criterion.
  • “2” reflects substantial evidence of meeting the criterion.

There were 10 evaluative criteria, totaling 20 possible points:

  • Organizational Focus (3 criteria)
    • Education-focused mission stated that speaks to work with children and/or youth.
    • Organizational goals and objectives support education change via research and evidence to inform policy toward holistic learning.
    • Key projects have clear education research and/or policy focus and are related to systems change for holistic learning.
  • Credibility (3 criteria)
    • Evidence of research and policy work related to systems change for holistic learning.
    • Participation in two or more networks or collaborations with strong relevance to education
    • Evidence of significant interaction with policy actors (not lobbying).
  • Local Engagement (2 criteria)
    • Evidence of frequent engagement with a range of partners across education policy ecosystem
    • Hosting of recent events related to education systems change for holistic learning.
  • Capacity (2 criteria)
    • Designation of two senior staff (management and research) members to participate in KDNLC.
    • History of managing and supporting budgets similar to the size of the proposed subgrant.

Organizations scoring below 5 points were not invited to submit a full application. Those with 5 to 10 points were reviewed on a case-by-case basis, while those with over 10 points were invited to submit a full application.

Step 4: Invitation to Full Application Phase

Eligible organizations were notified and invited to submit a full application.

Full Application and Review Phase

April to July 2023

The KDNLC full application process had five key steps that aimed to ensure a rigorous and fair review. The process described below supported the selection of the 10 KDNLC member organizations.

Key dates: Applications were reviewed when received and were divided into two submission groups for the full application based on the date of their invitation to submit.

  • Group 1 deadline: May 5, 2023
  • Group 2 deadline: May 15, 2023

Step 1: Confirmation of Organizational Legal Standing (April to May)

  • Review of countries on the U.S. Sanctions List.
  • The following due diligence documents were required:
    • Charity Registration Letter
    • Board List
    • Organizational Chart or Senior Staff List
    • 2 years of financials (audited preferred but not required)
    • Governing Documents (Articles of Association, Statutes, Bylaws, Constitution, etc.)

Step 2: Initial Evaluative Review (May 2023)

  • Review of all eligible applications with evaluation rubric.
  • All reviewers received training on scoring rubric, which included an inter-rater reliability exercise and workshop to refine and strengthen the rubric.
  • The 6 evaluative criteria at this stage were:
    • Geographic Focus: Organization is working to address causes of systemic marginalization in under-resourced local contexts (headquartered in the local area in which it primarily works).
    • Credibility: Organization is non-partisan and has a track record of professional operation.
    • Organizational Focus and Experience
      • Organization is a mission-based education entity with staffing, governance, and expertise in place to pursue research and inform policy on holistic learning and education systems transformation.
      • Organization has the proven ability to inform system change in a non-partisan manner.
    • Local Engagement Practices: Organization has a track record of regularly engaging local actors across the education ecosystem.
    • Capacity to Participate in the KDNLC: Organization demonstrates thoughtful commitment to and clear capacity (including organizational and financial) for short- and long-term participation in the KDNLC.
    • Financial and Institutional Capacity: Organization has the ability to absorb, spend and report upon funding in compliance with Brookings’s policies and requirements.
  • The scoring rubric assigned scores of 0 to 3 for each section within the evaluative criteria.
  • Each application was reviewed by at least 2 reviewers. Application scores were analyzed for inter-rater variance. Any cases of significant variance between reviewers resulted in a third review.
  • By the end of Step 2, 32 organizations were moved to the next round. This was based on the application’s evaluative scores and additional “group composition” criteria including: region, area of focus, organization size, staff size, and budget (see below for more on group composition criteria).

Step 3: Expert Evaluative Review (May to June 2023)

  • 19 reviewers (Sixteen external and three internal reviewers), experts in education research and policy, assessed the 32 applications selected in Step 2. Reviewers underwent training and signed non-disclosure agreements. Each application was reviewed by at least three reviewers, and the final score was based on combined scores across categories from individual reviewers and the aggregate scores of the three within each category.
  • After completing the individual organizational evaluations, the reviewers were asked to assess the applications in a more comprehensive manner, considering the overall objectives of the KDNLC and their merits in comparison to other applications.
  • Based on the expert review, 20 organizations were shortlisted for the due diligence process. The due diligence was conducted by a third-party that was selected through a bidding process and chosen for its expertise in international grantmaking.
  • The short-listing process considered evaluative scores, comments by expert reviewers, geographic regional spread, and group composition.
  • The 20 organizations reviewed the proposed scope of work for the KDNLC, as well as the draft subgrantee agreements, and submitted draft budgets for year-one.

Step 4: Collaborative Group Sessions and Draft Budgets

The 20 short-listed organizations were invited to participate in a co-constructed group interview; these organizations submitted the questions that they would like to ask each other. They then engaged in interactive sessions – four organizations at a time, plus representatives of CUE’s KDNLC team – that provided an opportunity to learn more about the organizations, especially in terms of collaboration, systemic analysis, and local network strength. In addition, each organization at this step was asked to provide a draft budget for year 1 KDNLC activities; CUE provided feedback on budgets with organizations later offering revisions.

Step 5: Due Diligence

Brookings conducted three rounds of due diligence discussions on 20 organizations , including CUE’s follow-up and budget support. Brookings also conducted supplemental searches on organizations, CEOs/Executive Directors, and board members, and engaged a third party due-diligence firm for extended reviews of each organization. The Brookings internal due diligence team was comprised of representatives from the Office of General Counsel, Office of Financial Services, and the Global Economy and Development program.

Final Selection of the KDNLC Organizations

September 2023

Ten organizations were selected as finalists and represent organizations that are deeply engaged in education systems transformation work in diverse geographies across the world. Organizations demonstrated multiple strengths across the evaluative selection criteria and described long-term commitment to the work of the KDNLC.

Maintaining Applicant Regional Representation

Among the short-listed organizations, CUE considered regional distribution in the final selection to ensure geographic diversity among its members.

  1. CUE calculated and analyzed the regional distribution of organizations applying in the EOI phase.
  2. This regional distribution was largely maintained in the Full Application invitations. Representation of organizations headquartered in Europe and North America fell, primarily as these organizations did not meet the “local” criteria (i.e., they were headquartered in one country but worked primarily in another).
  3. After having reviewed applications based on the evaluative criteria, CUE shortlisted organizations by region, seeking to maintain the same regional distribution as that present in the application pool.