Published on Development Impact

Weekly links April 17: online learning, alternative data sources, better coding practices, and more…

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·       Alternatives to survey data to track rapid responses of firms and consumers: Researchers at Chicago Booth are using data from Homebase from worker time-cards to see how businesses that rely on hourly workers and that use this software are changing over time. I’m sure that such data from developing countries would be even less representative, but there may still be ways to use approaches like this as a complement to surveys. On Let’s Talk Development, Pierre Bachas and Anne Brockmeyer discuss how administrative tax data may be used (in their case for ex ante simulations, but presumably high frequency VAT or sales tax data might provide high-frequency information on impacts as well). This paper uses credit card transactions data from Spain to document spending changes (with the caveat that people may be changing how much they use cash vs credit) – such an approach may work in middle-income developing countries, at least for urban consumption by the non-poor.

·       Some positive evidence for online education: many studies of online learning find worse outcomes than in-person classes. But the quality of education may improve if those producing the online content are more skilled or less resource-constrained than those teaching in class. A paper in Science Advances reports on a RCT in Russia, where 325 second-year engineering students at “resource-constrained” institutions were assigned to in-person, blended, or online only classes – where the online classes were prepared by some of the countries top-ranked departments. They find online learning results in similar exam scores at 20% of the cost of in-person classes.

·       Covid-19 increases risk aversion: The latest issue of the CEPR Covid Economics e-journal has a paper by Bu et al. that uses a repeated panel survey of 257 Chinese graduate students who were studying in Wuhan in October 2019 when the first wave was done. They managed to re-survey 88% of them online at the end of February, at a time when half had returned to their home regions for Chinese Lunar New Year, and then quarantine in Wuhan had prohibited their return to Wuhan. They find students who remained in quarantine in Wuhan and faced greater risk of the virus made less risk-seeking choices on a hypothetical gamble (allocating 45% less to a risky investment), and become relatively less optimistic about their own outcomes.

·       Julian Reif’s Stata Coding guide.

·       Tim Taylor on his love/hate reaction to how academia is handling the pandemic – “I genuinely love the eagerness of so many researchers to step up and tackle a new subject, and to try to make whatever contribution they can to addressing some part of the problem… I also hate the willingness of so many researchers to believe that in a month or two, they can become instant experts on difficult questions… Sometimes, the best social contribution you can make is to keep doing an A-level job of what you were already doing--and be ready for when that expertise is needed--instead of doing a C-level job at chasing the latest hot topic.”

·       Funding opportunity: PEDL has a call open for work on the economic impacts of the Coronavirus in developing countries.

·       Job Opening: EDI Global is seeking a survey operations manager to work on large-scale surveys and impact evaluations in East Africa.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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