Aid at random

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On the topic of aid effectiveness, Tim Harford discusses a new book by "randomista" Abhijit Banerjee:

Banerjee argues that there is a solution: aid agencies should copy medical researchers and run randomised trials. In one famous trial in western Kenya, economists used the alphabet to decide randomly which of 178 Kenyan schools would receive flip charts. Because the allocation was random rather than based on need, enthusiasm or political connections, improvements in test scores or attendance were almost certain to be due to the aid programme. Previous evidence suggested that children learnt more with flip charts, but the randomised trial proved otherwise.

I would count the flip chart trial a big success. Even though the children learnt nothing, the aid community learnt a lot.

Many aid programmes are introduced gradually for want of funds; it does not take much to turn a gradual introduction into randomised delay for the purposes of finding out what works. These operations are too important to carry out with our eyes closed.

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