Published on Development Impact

New year links: knowledge-stuffing, reconsidering MNREGA, starting research work in a new country, and more…

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·       Cornell’s ETRM blog interviews Julieta Caunedo about macro development, scaling of interventions, being a woman in a typically male-dominated field, and more…They also interview me about how I (try to) balance multiple projects, where I see the frontier of development, differences between working at the World Bank vs academia, how I get research ideas, and more…

·       Interested in how to scale up personal initiative (PI) and soft skills training for microentrepreneurs? IPA had a “best bets” webinar in which I presented an overview of some evidence, followed by great presentations by Jakob Weers of the NGO Doorways about implementing and adapting PI to different contexts, psychologist and originator of the PI training Michael Frese on key aspects, and a panel discussion on scaling issues. Video and slides are now up on the IPA page.

·       The latest VoxDevLit is now out, on Land Transport Infrastructure: “The survey draws on research using a range of empirical and theoretical methodologies to describe key evidence on the impacts of roads, railroads, metros, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in developing countries.” For why this is a big area: “The World Bank’s portfolio currently includes 165 active transport projects with $33.2 billion in commitments, representing about 10% of total World Bank lending” and for our IE crowd “We particularly focus on techniques that combine difference-in-difference specifications with instrumental variables (IV) and those that use GE models borrowed from the trade literature to understand how infrastructure affects aggregate welfare through trade and commuting linkages using market access measures.”

·       In the Hindustan Times, the evolution of economist thinking about the MGNREGS rural employment guarantee scheme in India from “the favourite bugbear of economists and economic commentators… they feared that it would distort rural labour markets” to “somewhat of an automatic stabiliser, raising consumption levels of rural households facing economic distress” and something which helps correct distortions in rural labor markets caused by labor monopsony “Most economists failed to anticipate MGNREGS’ positive impact because they had an idealised view of the rural labour market. They viewed it through the lens of a perfectly competitive market model, in which a large number of employers interact with a large number of labourers to determine wages. In reality, the rural labour market tends to be dominated by a few large landowners who can easily collude to fix an artificially low wage rate.”

·       IPA has a scoping review of evidence from evaluations of programs for displaced populations: from 44 evaluations covering a range of topics and outcomes, including household welfare, food security, education, health, livelihoods, and social cohesion.

·       Alice Evans has a substack about how she goes about starting work in a new country and making connections to be able to do qualitative work – through a combination of social media, building trust, using new technologies to help with language, and a network of kindness.

·       UCSD grad students Riccardo Di Cato, Aakash Bhalothia, and Santiago Cantillo have launched the 'Backstory Podcast.' They “chat with researchers about the real stories behind their papers. From the first idea to the final draft, we uncover the ups and downs of their journey. It's a behind-the-scenes look at economic research. Tune in and discover the stories papers don't tell.” Among the episodes is this one with Lelys telling the story of her work on violent discipline and parental behavior in El Salvador.

·       I love the phrasing in this Fast Company piece by Chris McCarthy which argues for the need for job training programs to be much more experiential and hands-on “Traditional learning and development has primarily focused on knowledge dissemination through in-person seminars and classes, courses, online content, books, podcasts, instructional videos, and so forth. The focus is on stuffing as much knowledge into people as possible and hope that they retain some of it. Such forms of learning tell us nothing about whether someone can apply their skills correctly on the job.”

·       Conference overviews of papers presented at the recent firms, trade and development conference and videos of a keynote Presentation by Robin Burgess (LSE) titled "Job Variety, Firms, and Development", and a Policymaker Panel Session on "Fostering Growth in Developing Countries" with Dean Karlan (Northwestern University, USAID), Adnan Khan (FCDO), and Liz Lloyd (BII); as well as insights from a conference on climate, environment and growth with video of a keynote address by Esther Duflo and video of an inter-disciplinary panel on modeling climate impacts with human/social feedback.

·       NPR’s Goats and Soda blog summarizes some of the takeaways from the first 2 years of impacts of the GiveDirectly UBI currently being trialled in Kenya, comparing impacts of a lump-sum payment, 2 years of payments with the guarantee of a further 10 years to come, and just getting 2 years of payments.

·       Opening for early-career African researchers: The Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS) fellowship program, a multi-institution collaboration managed by Cornell University in collaboration with the World Bank’s Development Research Group, and the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), announces its annual call for research proposals. Early-career African researchers selected as STAARS Fellows in 2024 advance rigorous, policy-oriented research on the causal determinants of productivity and income growth, asset accumulation, rural employment and risk management in African agriculture and rural spaces.  The Fellowship covers travel and training expenses. STAARS Fellows will be paired with faculty, senior research staff, or affiliated researcher mentors from Cornell University, the World Bank, or PEP, with whom they will jointly author a paper on a topic of mutual interest relating to structural transformation in Africa south of the Sahara. The program aims for publication of resulting research findings in high quality, peer-reviewed journals and as working papers. In addition, the World Bank, PEP, and Cornell will facilitate Fellows’ participation in scientific and policy conferences, provide professional development training, and build Fellows' international research networks. Deadline is January 19. See here


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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