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randomized controlled trials

Are we over-investing in baselines?

Alaka Holla's picture

 
When I was in second grade, I was in a Catholic school, and we had to buy the pencils and pens that we used at school from a supply closet. One day I felt like getting new pencils, so I stood in line when the supply closet was open and asked for two. Before reaching for the pencils, the person who operated the supply closet, Sister Evangelista, told me a story about her time volunteering in Haiti, how the children she taught there used to scramble about in garbage heaps looking for discarded pieces of wood, charcoal, and wire so that they could make their own pencils. I left the closet that day without any pencils and with a permanent sense of guilt when buying new school supplies.
 
I now feel the same way about baseline data. Most of the variables I have ever collected – maybe even 80 percent – sit unused, while only a small minority make it to any tables or graphs. Given the length of most surveys in low- and middle-income countries, I suspect that I am not alone in this. I know that baselines can be useful for evaluations and beyond (see this blog by David McKenzie on whether balance tests are necessary for evaluations and this one by Dave Evans for suggestions and examples of how baseline data can be better used). But do we really need to spend so much time and resources on them?  
 

What the HIV prevention gel trial failure implies for trials in economics

Berk Ozler's picture

For the World AIDS Day, there is a sign at the World Bank that states that taking ARVs reduces rate of HIV transmission by 96%. If this was last year, a sign somewhere may well have read “A cheap microbicidal gel that women can use up to 12 hours before sexual intercourse reduces HIV infection risk by more than half – when used consistently.” Well, sadly, it turns out, so much for that.