Reflections from the field Part 2: On the road with communities in Laos

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On to Laos….

Last week, I shared the experience from Myanmar’s CDD program and the role it is playing in making the country’s growth more inclusive for all.

The next stop on my mission was Laos. Moving on to Laos was a bit of a jolt to my system. This is another Asian country that’s experienced high annual GDP growth rates, averaging 7% over the past decade. Yet when one travels to the country’s remote rural villages, it’s as if time stood still. Despite significant gains in poverty reduction over the past decade, issues of social inclusion and effective service delivery feature prominently in the country’s development discussions. Considerable differences in poverty rates persist among different geographic areas and the country’s 49 different ethnic groups. 
 
Elderly woman in survey village in Laos
This time around, I was visiting Laos to oversee the fielding of the impact evaluation for the Laos Poverty Reduction Fund II (PRFII), another CDD program in which some 70% of project beneficiaries are ethnic minorities.The impact evaluation is a nice 4,400 household randomized experiment in four provinces, using quantitative and qualitative research methods. The baseline was completed in 2012 and we’re now measuring interim results three years later.  Rigorous impact evaluations are difficult to pull off in practically any situation but CDD impact evaluations can be especially tricky. Why? Well, first many CDD projects such as the Laos PRFII are multi-sectoral investments so gauging impacts is not as easy as simply measuring a single sector intervention like education. The diversity of village-level investments complicates the formulation of specific performance measurements and outcome indicators. Second, we don’t know ex-ante what types of investments communities will choose. Third, because of the project design and finite resources, not all villages necessarily receive a subproject so determining whether or not there was in fact a “treatment community” requires investigation. Lastly, measuring impacts on local governance and/or social capital can be treacherous. 

The local research firm is doing a fantastic job of the survey. Particularly impressive are the advances in data collection technology. The firm is entering the survey data into tablets which saves a lot of time normally spent on data cleaning and analysis.  Results on access to services, community participation and governance are due out next February, in time to inform the next phase of the program. Stay tuned….!
 

Authors

Susan Wong

Sector Manager, Social Development

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