Estimating the direct and indirect benefits of transport projects remains difficult. Only a handful of rigorous impact evaluations have been done as the methodologies are technically and financially demanding. There are also differences between the impact of rural and urban projects that need to be carefully anticipated and evaluated.
Can we simplify the methodologies?
Despite the Bank’s rich experience with transport development projects, it remains quite difficult to fully capture the direct and indirect effects of improved transport connectivity and mobility on poverty outcomes. There are many statistical problems that come with impact evaluation. Chief among them, surveys must be carefully designed to avoid some of the pitfalls that usually hinder the evaluation of transport projects (sample bias, timeline, direct vs. indirect effects, issues with control group selection, etc.).
Impact evaluation typically requires comparing groups that have similar characteristics but one is located in the area of a project (treatment group), therefore it is likely to be affected by the project implementation, while the other group is not (control group). Ideally, both groups must be randomly selected and sufficiently large to minimize sample bias. In the majority of road transport projects, the reality is that it is difficult to identify control groups to properly evaluate the direct and indirect impact of road transport improvements. Also, road projects take a long time to be implemented and it is difficult to monitor the effects for the duration of a project on both control and treatment groups. Statistical and econometric tools can be used to compensate for methodological shortcomings but they still require the use of significant resources and knowhow to be done in a systematic and successful manner.
3ie was set up to fill ‘the evaluation gap’, the lack of evidence about ‘what works in development’. Our founding document stated that 3ie will be issues-led, not methods led, seeking the best available method to answer the evaluation question at hand. We have remained true to this vision in that we have already funded close to 100 studies in over 30 countries around the world.
Last week, my unit at the Bank organized a workshop on Cost Analysis for Interventions in Human Development. No – this wasn’t a ploy to gather a bunch of accountants in one place to see how many it would really take to change a light bulb.
One area in which we see very little impact evaluation is the realm of trade related interventions and reforms. In a recent paper Olivier Cadot and coauthors give us a discussion of these types of interventions and how we might evaluate them (they also have an attendant book with some applications).