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fieldwork

Six Questions with Chris Udry

David McKenzie's picture
This is the first in a potential new series of posts of short interviews with development economists. Chris Udry was one of the pioneers of doing detailed fieldwork in development as a grad student and has continued to be one of the most respected leaders in the profession. While at Yale he taught David, and advised both David and Markus, and is famous for the amount of time he puts into his grad students. Most recently he has moved from Yale to Northwestern. We thought this might be a good time for him to reflect on his approach to teaching and advising, and to share his thoughts on some of the emerging issues/trends in development economics.
  1. Let’s start with your approach to teaching development economics at the graduate level. The class when you taught David in 1999 was heavy on the agricultural household model and understanding micro development through different types of market failures. Most classes would involve in-depth discussion of one or at most two papers, with a student assigned most weeks to lead this discussion. There was a lot of discussion of the empirical methods in different papers, but no replication tasks and the only empirical work was as part of a term paper. How has your approach to teaching development changed (or not) since this time?

Try as I might, I have made little progress on changing my basic approach to teaching. The papers and topics have changed, but the essence of my graduate teaching remains the in-depth discussion of a paper or two each class. I’ve tried to expand the use of problem sets, and had a number of years of replication assignments. The first was hindered by my own inadequate energy (it’s hard making up decent questions!). I found that replication exercises required too much time and effort in data cleaning by students relative to their learning gain. Students were spending too much time cleaning, merging and recreating variables and too little time thinking about the ideas in the paper. I’ll reassess assigning replication this year, because there may now be enough well-documented replication datasets and programs available. With these as a starting point, it would be possible to get quickly into substantive issues in the context of a replication.

Experiments in Development from Every Angle: A Review of Tim Ogden's new book

David Evans's picture



Randomized controlled trials are kind of a big deal in development economics right now. A recent article in The Economist shows a sizeable rise in the use of RCTs in economics overall over the last 15 years, and recent analysis by David McKenzie shows that RCTs make up a large minority of development papers in top journals (see the figures below).

Source: The Economist on the left; McKenzie (2016) on the right.

In his new book Experimental Conversations: Perspectives on Randomized Trials in Development Economics, Tim Ogden has assembled interviews with a distinguished group that interacts with RCTs in every imaginable way: you have those who pioneered the use of the method in development economics, the next generation of researchers, the chief critics of the method, and consumers of development RCTs at organizations like GiveWell, the Ford and Grameen Foundations, and the Center for Global Development. You also hear from one broader observer of economics as a field (Tyler Cowen) and one of the scholars who pioneered the use of RCTs in U.S. policy (Judy Gueron), to give added perspective.

Notes from the field: October edition

Markus Goldstein's picture
In our continued series on experiences in implementing impact evaluations in the field, here are a couple of observations from my recent experiences in the field on some enterprise related impact evaluations I am working on:
  • The case of the fired up implementers.One of the evaluations we are working on is comparing two different types of business training – with both being delivered by the same service providers.Apparently the training of the trainers worked too well; in at least one location the trainers were so entrepreneurially energized by the training that they developed their own hybrid model that combines the two (yes, there already was a third arm where folks get both).This reminded me the importance of always knowing (at multiple points in time), as best you can, what is actually being implemented.

A curated list of our postings on Measurement and Survey Design

David McKenzie's picture
This list is a companion to our curated list on technical topics. It puts together our posts on issues of measurement, survey design, sampling, survey checks, managing survey teams, reducing attrition, and all the behind-the-scenes work needed to get the data needed for impact evaluations.
Measurement

Notes from the field: Setting up a firm survey in Malawi

Markus Goldstein's picture

I am currently in Malawi rolling out a firm survey with my colleagues Francisco Campos and Manuela Bucciarelli.    As we’ve gone through the enumerator selection and training this week and a pre-test of the survey, a number of observations have come up – some related to firm surveys in particular, some more general.   In no particular order:

Measuring secrets

Markus Goldstein's picture

One of the things I learned in my first field work experience was that keeping interviews private was critical if you wanted unbiased information.   Why? I guess at the time it should have been kind of obvious to me – there are certain questions that a person will answer differently depending on whom else is in the room. We were doing a socio-economic survey of rural households in Ghana, and we thought that income, in particular, would be sensitive, since spouses tended to share information on this selectively and perhaps in a strategic way.