“Just because it worked in Brazil doesn’t mean it will work in Burundi.” That’s true. And hopefully obvious. But some version of this critique continues to be leveled at researchers who carry out impact evaluations around the world. Institutions vary. Levels of education vary. Cultures vary. So no, an effective program to empower girls in Uganda might not be effective in Tanzania.
Of course, policymakers get this. As Markus Goldstein put it, “Policy makers are generally not morons. They are acutely aware of the contexts in which they operate and they generally don’t copy a program verbatim. Instead, they usually take lessons about what worked and how it worked and adapt them to their situation.”
In the latest Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Ann Bates and Rachel Glennerster from J-PAL propose a four-step strategy to help policy makers through that process of appropriate adaptation of results from one context to another.
- external validity