AT Impact Fund: How we do impactful research

Rhys Williams
6 min readApr 29, 2021

The Assistive Tech Impact Fund is the world’s first investment vehicle dedicated to scaling assistive technology innovation and provision in emerging markets.

Given our role as a driving force in this emergent sector, we know that demonstrating our impact will be crucial to building upon early momentum within the AT ecosystem. That’s why alongside investment and venture building, a core activity within our Fund is to conduct robust research, evidencing and insights creation. Our commitment to research and sharing learnings ensures we can demonstrate not only the impact that our grants and venture building have on the companies in our portfolio but also the end-users of the AT produced by our portfolio.

The theory of change for the AT Impact Fund is shown in three boxes. A link to a screen readable text version of this is linked in the caption.
A screen readable version of the Theory of Change can be found here

Our Theory of Change

We adopt a double-sided Theory of Change which tackles two of the biggest problems in the AT sector.

Our Research Questions

To continually improve the way we enact our Theory of Change, we also take a targeted approach to research and focus on six questions that we believe are fundamental to enacting change in the sector.

  1. Why are stakeholders drawn to Assistive Technology?
  2. What is the attitude of investors and funders towards Assistive Technology?
  3. What are the markers of successful AT companies and their teams?
  4. What are the perceived barriers to scale for AT companies in Africa?
  5. What venture building support is most effective to help our portfolio sustainably reach more users?
  6. For end-users of AT, what impact does AT access have upon their lives?

Our approach

Our research and impact team have strong ties to University College London and the Global Disability Innovation Hub Academic Research Centre (ARC) and industry research and insights experience. Our approach, therefore, blends the best of practical and actionable insights with academic rigour.

To conduct our research, our efforts are underpinned by three approaches:

  • Mixed methods: quantitative data informs the scale of the progress of each portfolio company and the macro-progress of the sector; qualitative data collection helps us to understand the complexity and human perspectives in our work
  • Multi-perspective: we consider the perspectives of many ecosystem stakeholders, our team at ATIF, our portfolio companies and the end-users of assistive technologies
  • Regularly measured: to ensure we do not miss small yet valuable insights, we work closely with our venture building team and portfolio companies to capture emergent learnings at multiple points of engagement.
A triangle is shown with ‘Portfolio entrepreneurs’, ‘ecosystem stakeholders’ and ‘AT Impact Fund team’ on each of the points of the triangle.

When we conduct research, we also operate in two modes. Firstly, we make use of the ‘Atomic-research’ model. Atomic research ensures that we can quickly convert small pieces of data into actionable insights, which improve our operation and generates emerging insights that we can share with the ecosystem. Secondly, we undertake more extensive long-term academic research to interrogate the sector and our approach as a Fund formally. The resulting academic papers, frameworks and models will create foundational knowledge in the impact investment sector and across the assistive technology and disability literature. Our academic research will act to shift the conversation on the scale of governments, large institutions, and academic interests.

Core research activities

To put our research into practise, we take a four-stage approach:

5 circles are shown. The first circle has a lightbulb in it, circle 2 has a data graphic, circle 3 has a smiling face in it, circle 4 has a magnifying glass in it. The central circle has the words ‘AT ecosystem’ in it.
  1. As a Fund, we capture emerging insights that we discover from working with our portfolio companies; these can range from improved ways of working, emergent barriers and solutions or geographical conditions, or notable team dynamics and traits of successful teams.
  2. Each quarter, we monitor up to 37 key business and ecosystem indicators, ranging from the reach of our work as a Fund to financial and growth metrics of companies in our portfolio. We can, therefore quantitatively see how our portfolio is progressing, the relative health and traction of our portfolio, and indications of health, interest and awareness in the AT sector.
  3. Once we begin to see signs of growth with companies, we work with our Impact measurement partner, 60 Decibels, to validate impact. Our co-developed disability focussed impact measurement tools ensure we can understand precisely what Assistive Technology unlocks for the end-users of the products and services our portfolio companies provide. Robust impact measurement will empower us to tell the stories of end-users to grow the sector and provide portfolio companies with evidence of their solution- something which is invaluable in activities such as fundraising.
  4. We also regularly run small scale studies which involve ecosystem stakeholders such as investors, founders and other key players such as government actors. These studies help us connect to and understand ecosystems across Africa, emergent trends, and how we as a Fund and the AT ecosystem can continue to grow the sector.

Open research

Our research will optimise our operations as a fund and help grow the ecosystem. That is why we will continually share our learnings with the ecosystem and work to create validated public good offerings which can help entrepreneurs and investors enter the space of assistive technology.

If you would like to discuss our approach to impact measurement and research, book a virtual coffee meeting with Rhys Williams here.

Who we are

Our research and insights team is lead by a small team who have experience across industry, academia and clinical environments, lead by Dr Rhys Williams.

A picture of Rhys Williams is shown. He is a white male with brown hair.

Dr Rhys Williams
Head of Innovation Insights, GDI Hub

Rhys leads the research and insights work across the AT Impact Fund and the Global Disability Innovation Hub. He is an expert in multidisciplinary and mixed-methods research and has specialist knowledge of assistive technology, tech development and entrepreneurship. He has years of experience both in academia and as a UX researcher in industry.

Louisa Cotton

Innovation Researcher, GDI Hub

Louisa is a qualitative researcher whose work with international, national, community and local partners has improved AT access in several LMICs. She has a passion for understanding complex systems that lead to practical and implementable recommendations. Her 25 years of experience as an Occupation Therapist and Rehabilitation and Public Health professional provides a unique clinical perspective.

Professor Catherine Holloway

Co-founder and Academic Director, GDI Hub

Catherine has over 20 years of experience researching the disability sector. As a Professor at UCL, she conducts world-leading research pushing the boundaries of what is possible in Assistive Technology. Through GDI Hub, her work influences at the highest levels through collaboration with partners such as the World Health Organisation and UNESCO.

Partners and Funders

AT Impact Fund has been launched out of the UK aid funded AT2030 programme, led by the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub. It is operationalised as a collaboration between GDI Hub, Brink, and Catalyst Fund as venture partner, providing deep expertise in AT, innovation and venture-building in Africa respectively.



Rhys Williams

I work between entrepreneurship, product development and assistive technology. I write content about all three and occasionally throw in self-reflections.