Published on Development Impact

Weekly links March 19: small fish in big ponds, group-based consulting, how digital communication is killing our productivity redux, and more…

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·       The costs and benefits of being a small fish in a big pond – on VoxDev, Dasgupta et al. examine the impacts of being in a more selective academic environment among college students in Delhi. Female students who are marginally admitted to a better college do better on exams, are less risk averse, and less overconfident; marginally admitted male students do no better on exams, attend fewer classes, and become less extroverted and less conscientious – which the authors ascribe to the consequences of being a low-ranked student.

·       Also at VoxDev, Leonardo Iacovone, Bill Maloney and I summarize the results of an experiment that tested individual and group-based consulting in Colombia. The paper is now forthcoming at ReStud, and one of the things we were able to do during the revision process was link the firms to newly available data from the manufacturing census, allowing us to measure longer-term impacts over 3-4 years on firm sales, profitability and productivity. This provides even more support for the effectiveness of the new group-consulting approach we introduce: “We estimate a mean increase in annual profits from the group treatment of $273,000, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from $17,400 to $528,000. The intervention would then pay for itself within one month of returns at the point estimate, and within one year at the bottom of this confidence interval”

·       And another good piece at VoxDev – Catia Batista and Pedro Vicente provide experimental evidence on the impacts of introducing a mobile money service to rural households in Mozambique.: “mobile money reduced the transaction costs of immediate long-distance transfers, thereby improving the possibility of long-distance insurance, and allowing household members to invest in migration instead of in less productive activities such as subsistence agriculture.”

·       I enjoyed this Ezra Klein podcast with Cal Newport, talking about how the systems we have in place for using tools like email and Slack have really wrecked our productivity, why this is a systems or institutional failure rather than just not enough self-control on your own part, the role of knowledge worker autonomy in why this happens, and whether there is a market failure that prevents organizations that can do this better from taking over. Here’s the transcript if you prefer reading over listening: “now that we have low friction, low cost digital communication, we can just figure things out on the fly. We’ll plug everyone into an inbox, or later, into a Slack channel, and ad hoc unstructured back and forth messages, just figure things out with people as you need them. And that swept basically the entire knowledge sector. And I think that ended up being a disaster.”… “We’re at a point now where it’s completely common in a lot of knowledgeware companies that not only do you spend a lot of time doing things like email and meetings, you now spend all of your time doing that, every working hour. And actual work has to get done in these hidden second shifts that happen in the morning or happen in the evening, which creates all of these unexpected inequities.”….” a lot of the managers I talked to when I was working on this book just have this vision of themselves as, I’m like an operator. And little questions and concerns come to me, and I try to answer them as quickly as possible. And one of the big points is, that’s not really good management. There’s some of that have to figure out how to do. Of course, questions need to be answered. But if all you’re doing is just trying to keep up with a hyperactive hive mind flow of all these ongoing conversations, the real important stuff doesn’t happen, that managers, too, need to be able to do one thing at a time, give things the attention they deserve.”

·       Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham has nicely been sharing the slides for his graduate applied methods PhD class which provides a helicopter tour of recent econometric developments for the applied researcher. This week includes his notes on difference-in-differences, which provides another entry point into this changing literature.



David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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