Published on Development Impact

Weekly links September 16: infrastructure myths, surveying rare populations x 2, being a development mum, and more…

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  • The latest issue of Migration Studies has two articles which caught my eye (disclosure I’m on the Global Editorial Board, so get sent copies of the journal which is why I was browsing through it). The first is a paper by Merli et al which looks at Chinese immigration into Africa. It notes that this is a phenomenon which has been growing, but accurate data are not available, and sampling what is still a rare population is tricky. They use a method I hadn’t seen before, called Network Sampling with Memory – this starts with the identification of a set of initial respondents or seeds (like in snowball or respondent-driven sampling (RDS)). Each is then asked to provide minimally identifying information on 10 friends and acquaintances in their social network – then the method uses the currently revealed network and a sampling algorithm to direct the interview process to spread rapidly through the social network by placing higher sampling probability on people who are nominated less frequently. Apparently this needs a much smaller sample than RDS for accuracy.
  • The second paper I found interesting is part of a new series on teaching migration studies, and is by Landau and Palmary who teach the subject in South Africa. They note that migration studies “as with other categorically determined fields of enquiry – gender studies; queer studies; race/ethnic studies to name a few – there is often a strong ethos that determines that legitimate work is that which somehow advances the respective subjects’ interests”. They also have an interesting discussion from the perspective of African researchers of what sort of research ends up being done– “where part of broader comparative projects, African scholars often are left feeding data to scholars elsewhere or criticizing them from the margins”… and of teaching “many of our students…have learned largely from memorizing textbooks or lecture notes [so] our emphasis is on critical reading and questioning modes of knowledge production….uncritical teaching of global theory and concepts …compromise one of African scholars’ most significant comparative advantages: the ability to identify what might otherwise be invisible or inexplicable and to generate new theories”.
  • The White House’s nudge unit issued its second annual report. Some examples of results of interest and things underway:
    • having service members make an active “Yes” or “No” choice about whether to contribute to retirement savings upon their arrival at a new military base, led to an 8.3 percentage point increase in TSP enroll­ments.
    • outreach letters to farmers detailing customized steps for applying for a micro­loan and personalized contact information for their local loan officers increased the percent of farmers who obtained a microloan by 63 percent
    • scheduling borrowers who are in student loan default status to call in at a specific appointment time increased the call-in rate 61 percent compared to an email emphasiz­ing consequences of inaction.
    • DOL, the University of Chicago, and SBST are collaborating to support the DataAtWork project, which pools skills and jobs data, employs advanced analytical techniques to generate an understanding of what kinds of skills are being supplied and demanded, and makes the results available to workers and the organizations that support them (results not yet available)
    • Not just for kids apparently: They worked with the departments of Labor and Energy to offer a growth mindset intervention to managers (results not yet available)
    • USAID is collaborating with them on a bunch of health projects in Africa which the report describes (results not yet available)


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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