Published on Development Impact

Weekly links March 25: Fixing Indian education, cash transfers to refugees, mosquitos and IRBs, and more….

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·       On the Ideas for India podcast, Shruti Rajagopalan interviews Lant Pritchett in a fun, wide-ranging conversation about his views of the growth prospects of India and China over the next 50 years, lots of discussion on his views on RCTs and technocratic solutions that ignore systems and politics “One of the things that strikes me, again, is that it’s unbelievable what an incredible backward step RCTs were in the development field.”; the state of education in India and his prescription for how it should be fixed: “Everybody is getting a crappy education…no one comes out of the Indian education system feeling they were appreciated, feeling their skills were acknowledged, feeling that the best of their potential had been drawn out”; the problem of “donut” institutions where HR and procurement systems dominate a hollow core; his production process for writing papers; and his favorite Seinfeld episode.

·       Last week was the Centre for the Study of African Economies’ annual conference. With more than 100 papers, it’s a good source for recent economic research about Africa. The full program is online with links to papers, and Dave Evans and Amina Mendez Acosta have summarized all the human development related papers (education, health, gender, cash transfers).

·       On VoxDev, the first experiment I can recall seeing done in Somalia – Abdullahi Abdulle Farah and co-authors compare the impacts of variations in cash transfers to households in IDP camps. Here is a good example of a case where the control group is not “give them nothing”, but “business as usual” – an unconditional cash transfer of US$175 in two equal monthly instalments. They compare this to groups getting a grant of the same amount for business purposes combined with some business training, and for larger business grants of $500 and $1000, also coupled with some training. “Getting the same amount of money as the UCT group in a one-off grant (instead of two transfers) increased the likelihood of the households being involved in non-farm businesses by 15 percentage points at midline. The small one-off grant, however, did not sustain this positive effect at endline. On the other hand, both medium and large business grants resulted in a sustained impact on business ownership in the long term. However, there is no significant difference in the levels of impact observed for medium versus large business grant recipients. In other words, the additional $500 received by the large grant group did not increase the likelihood of engaging in microenterprises compared to the medium grant group.”

·       The war in Ukraine and why we react more emotionally to stories about a single victim than stories about thousands: As well as having a bunch of interesting links of its own, Katy Milkman’s newsletter has an interview with Deb Small about the identifiable victim effect – and implications for aid fundraising.

·       The German Institute for Development Evaluation has created a hub called RIE (rigorous impact evaluation) that contains information on where German development cooperation has and has not been doing impact evaluation, a database of the evaluations done, and other resources.

·       In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ryan Briggs describes how IRBs have become exercises in absurdity and unpredictability. “I heard from a professor who studies mosquitoes and whose IRB said that if he wanted to ask people about their past mosquito bites then he should have trauma counseling available” “If one thinks that expert peer review is important to evaluating research ex post, then expansive ex ante ethics screening by people from other disciplines — as well as nonacademics — is bizarre. Consider how much specialized knowledge is involved in understanding the risks and expected benefits of any research project…. the truth is, IRBs will nearly always lack the expertise to genuinely promote ethical research across diverse disciplines. Instead, they often function as a kind of legal screen: They’re the price you pay to have your university’s legal team defend you if you get sued because of your research.”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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