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The paper argues the case for innovative trail-setting projects and reviews the experience of the North Bengal Terai Development Project (India). It summarises several of its lessons: creating the conditions for ‘in-project’ cost effectiveness, managing goodwill, promoting innovation through the full cycle of scaling up and consolidation, linking ongoing government programmes and private initiatives with ground-level policy development, and relying on local talent. The case is made for an opportunistic approach in institutional development and policy innovation, focusing on what can be made to work rather than what is preconceived to be the correct way of doing things.

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