Regional testing and knowledge centers are an integral part of the clean cooking sector. Testing centers provide stakeholders—policymakers, investors, donors, and consumers—with consistent and easy-to-understand information about technology and fuel options.

To ensure that they can continue to fulfill their critical role, regional testing and knowledge centers (RTKCs) must conduct their core business while also evaluating their portfolio of services, their pricing, and how to expand their client base to ensure that they are sustainable. Beginning in June 2015, the Alliance and partner I-DEV worked closely with select pilot testing centers to clearly define their value propositions, interview stakeholders, conduct detailed financial analyses and planning, and develop actionable business strategy plans. From this work, the RTKC Business Planning Toolkit, which guides testing centers through the process of creating a growth strategy and business plan, was developed. This analysis also resulted in guidance for stakeholders throughout the cookstoves and fuels sector to focus our support for RTKCs to fit the currently limited demand for testing, as well as future growth in the testing market.

Moving forward, it’s clear that both RTKCs as well as other players in the clean cooking sector will have to evolve to ensure that high quality testing services are available in a sustainable manner. Additional RTKCs will be using the Toolkit to develop clear costings of their services based on testing expenses as well as goals for client engagement, which will lead to greater sustainability. In addition, basic testing alone is not sufficient to fully support RTKCs; instead they need to consider additional areas that take advantage of their existing capabilities such as institutional energy strategy consulting, stove R&D consulting, as well as different areas of testing such as field testing and fuels testing. The Toolkit includes nine components that address these topics, and can be completed in about 30 days.

The research also pointed to a need for the sector to better coordinate support for testing centers. Currently, the variable and limited demand for testing services combined with the large number of testing centers in a region are significant barriers to RTKC sustainability. Policymakers, investors, donors, consumers and other sector stakeholders must drive demand for testing through standards and labeling policies and program requirements for testing.  In addition, it will be more cost effective to drive testing services to existing and experienced testing centers rather than start new RTKCs.

I-DEV led a webinar outlining the toolkit and how to work through each activity. A recording of that webinar will be available on the Alliance YouTube page. The full toolkit will soon be available on the Alliance website.