Published on Development Impact

Weekly links June 10: development ideas from wandering around, what Chinese censorship and public health illness detection have in common, better interviewing, and more…

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·       Interesting profile of Melissa Dell by Chris Wellisz in the IMF’s Finance & Development newsletter. Includes discussion of how she got some of her ideas (and the advantages of just spending some time wandering around and talking to people about why things are the way they are in their locations) and the process of archival work.

·       I particularly enjoyed the second half of this Scott Cunningham interview with Gary King, where Gary talks about how he came up with a couple of ideas that led him to setting up companies – one which focuses on natural language processing, and where he realized that a problem of classification in public health (trying to process language summaries to figure out what proportion of people died of different illnesses) was similar to one in trying to extract information about democratic involvement and attitudes from blogposts; and one on how this led to a separate company focused on Chinese censorship – and what the private sector/having a company does well compared to running as an academic endeavor.

·       In the Washington Post, Chris Blattman summarizes the results of a long-term follow-up of his CBT intervention plus cash in Liberia: “After 10 years, for example, 5 percent of the men who got both treatments (cash and therapy) reported selling drugs, compared with 10 percent for the control group. Also, each person who got therapy and money committed half as many thefts, on average, than control group men…The men who got money generally used the cash prudently, we found, starting small businesses like shoeshine stands. But these enterprises were fleeting, and within months, their goods were stolen or the businesses simply collapsed. So therapy plus cash didn’t mean they earned more money one year or 10 years later.”

·       Richmond Fed interview with Tyler Cowen: As someone who often gets frustrated with HR processes that try to prescribe the same scripted set of interview questions for everyone, I appreciated his view on spotting talent “One thing to keep in mind is that some of the interview process is just a bunch of people ruling themselves out very quickly, whether you're a good interviewer or not. So there's that value right off the bat. To get beyond that, you need to ask complex questions that get people out of their prep. A lot of even pretty smart interviewers don't do this. If there are 10 to 20 standard questions, they go through them all and the interviewees are usually fine. What would you hope to get out of this job? Everyone halfway intelligent is prepared for those questions. You need to get them out of book, as we would say in chess, and just talking about the world.” Also his views on what we aren’t talking about “economists today use the technique of strategic silence. If you're on Twitter as an academic, you're probably left leaning. I don't see those people telling obscure lies. They're just quite silent about a bunch of things that they don't want to talk about.”.

·       Research brief of a new evaluation of Bridge Academies’ approach to standardized lessons in Kenya – with very big impacts on test scores “After being enrolled at these schools for two years, primary-school pupils gained approximately the equivalent of 0.89 extra years of schooling …, while in preprimary grades, pupils gained the equivalent of 1.48 additional years of schooling”. The brief also notes that big changes have occurred in the education system since the study, and most of these private schools were closed down.

·       Stefan Dercon interviewed by Saeed Kamali Dehghan in the Guardian: “Dercon, who said he wrote the book not as an academic but a practitioner, has hope for the future of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and – more recently – Tanzania and Zambia. “We probably don’t support enough the countries where they actually want to do development, and we support too much, probably, the countries where nothing is happening.”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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