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Have Descriptive Development Papers Been Crowded Out by Impact Evaluations?

David McKenzie's picture

During our August break, there was an interesting discussion on twitter after Scott Cunningham tweeted that “Seems like the focus on identification has crowded out descriptive studies, and sometimes forced what would be otherwise a good descriptive study into being a bad causal study. It's actually probably harder to write a good descriptive study these days. Stronger persuasion req.”

Others quickly pointed to the work by Piketty and Saez, and by Raj Chetty and co-authors that have used large administrative datasets in developed countries to document new facts. A few months earlier, Cyrus Samii set up a thread on descriptive quantitative papers in political science.

But the question got me thinking about recent examples of descriptive papers in development – and the question of what it takes for such papers to get published in general interest journals. Here are some examples published over the last ten years, including some very recently:

When Is A Baseline More Than A Baseline? 5 Uses for Your Baseline Survey

David Evans's picture

So you’ve designed an awesome impact evaluation, you’ve carried out a rich baseline survey, you’ve presented the baseline results to the government of Brigadoon, and now you….wait two years until the follow-up survey? What else can you do with this baseline data? You can do a lot! You can write a report, you can write a brief, you can publish papers, you can test targeting strategies, and you can even [drumroll] affect policy.