Sudhir Anand and co-authors recently published a fascinating book, The Costs of Inaction, which looks at cost-benefit analysis in a different way. All cost-benefit analysis requires the analyst to specify a counterfactual—how the world would have evolved in the absence of the project of program. This is critical. An evaluation in Kenya included increased use of cellphones as an indicator of project success — neglecting the fact that cellphone use in neighboring villages was just as widespread.
In many cases, the counterfactual could be “doing nothing.” For a number of important areas such as health and education in Africa, The Costs of Inaction calculates the costs of doing nothing in terms of lives lost or under-educated children.
Last October, the Government of Nigeria committed to save one million lives by 2015 by increasing access to cost-effective health services and commodities, a bold goal.
Crucially, the Federal Ministry of Health is coupling the scale-up of services and commodities with a focus on knowledge, using rigorous impact evaluation strategically and systematically across their programs (in partnership with the World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation Unit and the Gates Foundation). Each evaluation adapts promising evidence from elsewhere in the world to fit the Nigerian context, letting the Government and its partners see which interventions are most effective in saving lives.
by Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes
Contrary to persistent perceptions that sub-Saharan Africa is mired in intractable misery, many of the region’s countries have experienced sustained economic growth, deepening democracy, improving governance, and decreasing poverty in recent years.
To take just one aspect of the African Renaissance, in five of six countries for which recent data is available—Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana—rates of child malnutrition as measured by stunting have declined in the last decade. Because so much is changing in Africa, it is crucial to take this “background” change into account when evaluating the impact of local policy interventions.
This is evident when considering the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) evaluation, which we critiqued in a peer-reviewed journal article. Recently, we examined the three peer-reviewed papers that dealt with the MVP’s impacts and showed that they do not back up the project’s claims of large impacts, in part because they don’t take “background” change into account.
There’s a new development: The MVP has just released its first study that does try to distinguish changes observed at its village sites from broader changes happening across Africa.
Over and over again, and then again, and then some more, we get asked about evidence for the role of public opinion for development. Where's the impact? How do we know that the public really plays a role? What's the evidence, and is the effect size significant? Go turn on the television. Go open your newspaper. Go to any news website. Do tell me how we're supposed to put that in numbers.
Here's a thought: maybe the role of public opinion in development is just too big to be measured in those economic units that we mostly use in development? How do you squeeze history into a regression model? Let's have a little fun with this question. Let's assume that
y = b0 + b1x1 + b2x2 + b3x3 + b4x4 + b5x5 + b6x6 + b7x7 + b8(x1x4) + b9(x3x4) + e
Given its massive development deficits and the effects of the global economic crisis, many observers, included me, are calling for increased aid to Africa. Most of these appeals are based on Africa’s need for more resources. But there is a different argument.
Aid to Africa is today as productive as it has ever been.
Craig Burnside and David Dollar identified a group of policies (including fiscal stability and low trade barriers) that strengthened the link between foreign aid and per capita income growth. These are the very policies that African governments have been improving over the past decade.
Even after the onset of the global economic crisis, and despite the fears that these