Published on Development Impact

Weekly links March 17: what practitioners want from research, developing your research taste, norms and gender, and more…

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·       Paddy Carter, Director of Research and Policy at British International Investment, has a blog on what sorts of things practitioners would like to get from research: “we really want to know what we should be doing, and why. Prioritisation requires information about relative importance. … Surveys and literature reviews go some way towards synthesising knowledge, but they summarise the progression of a literature that consists of papers written to appeal to journal editors. Surveys rarely attempt to help make sense of things for practitioners. They do not say: “given where we are and what we want to achieve, based on what we know here is what you should be doing in order of importance”. …”One way to let researchers know what questions we care about is to talk to each other more often, but perhaps we could do more. Perhaps for every literature review, practitioners should write an unanswered questions review. “

·       Christopher Olah, who works on AI, has a blog post on exercises you can do to develop research taste – which he defines as the ability to choose good problems to work on. Most of these ideas also look relevant for economists. E.g. “Write down a list of research ideas. Have a mentor you respect rate each idea 1-10. Discuss ideas where you disagree with them after reflection.”; “The heuristic of imagining that another group has published the paper you have in mind. Are you excited to read it? “; and “What are the most interesting (not important!) problems in your field? Why aren't you working on them?”

·       On the Yale Economic Growth Center page, an overview of a recent mini-conference on norms, gender and development and Eliana La Ferrara’s Kuznets Lecture.

·       Scott Cunningham has GPT-4 write, and then answer, exam questions on causal inference.

·       On the All About Finance blog, Simon Alder and co-authors summarize their difference-in-difference findings that measure the impacts of road sector development in Ethiopia. “Since 1997, the country has invested over 266,209 million ETB, or over $5 billion, to improve approximately 130,000 kilometers of its road network and accelerate economic growth…. Across all empirical approaches, we find that road upgrades contributed to an increase in economic activity and urban land, which in turn led to a reduction in cropland.  However, impacts varied significantly depending on the location. Locations with higher initial levels of economic activity—proxied by nighttime lights—experienced larger growth in economic activity and urban land expansion, and a larger reduction in cropland”

·       On the Open Data blog: Khadim Cisse and co-authors discuss ongoing work to measure air pollution with low-cost sensors in Dakar. – with examples of how this can be used to examine temporal and spatial variation in pollution, as an input to policy decisions and part of impact evaluations.

·       From Eurasianet: a story that reminds me of Joana Naritomi’s work on consumers as tax auditors – Kyrgyzstan tries lotteries to try to get more small scale retail stores to adopt online cash registers – “even those 65,000 cash registers fitted in 2022 will often lie unused. Customers typically have to insist on being given a receipt, and sellers will often demur. The lottery was one method devised to effect a change of mindset. Kanybekova and others got an apartment. The 140 or so other prizes ranged from microwave ovens to iPhones. Abdyrakmanova said 177,000 people took part in the first round of raffles by redeeming checks worth a total of 19 billion soms ($220 million).”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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