Weekly links January 21: RCTs on SMEs are still hard, African economic history, declining literacy, and more…


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·       From the IGL blog, a reminder that doing randomized trials with SMEs can be really hard, and it is great to see sharing of lessons from one that didn’t go so well: “We set out to recruit 500 businesses over two years. Recruitment of SMEs proved difficult from the outset in 2019, but uncertainty and disruption due to Brexit and then Covid-19 created additional challenges and affected our ability to deliver support and collect data from firms. We eventually managed to recruit 229 firms into the trial, but only 43 firms answered the endline survey….We experienced challenges in terms of programme take-up, even for firms that signed up to attend our events….Some of the mechanisms we set out to test through our trial, such as peer effects, relied on good attendance. Thus the quality of the intervention was hampered by low sample size.”

·       A great looking new online course on African History through the lens of economics, starting Feb 1, taught by Elias Papaioannou, Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University), Stelios Michalopoulos), and Nathan Nunn, plus a bunch of others.

·       Translating Stata to R – a nice website with side by side code in both languages that covers data wrangling and regression (by Grant McDermott, @nickchk & @kylefbutts).

·       African Development Bank’s Kofi Annan lecture by Esther Duflo on “Good economics for warmer times” (starts at 26:22 h/t Robert Dur).  Half hour talk followed by discussion.

·       Lant Pritchett blog on long-term changes in literacy and school attendance in different countries – an impressive increase in years of schooling completed has been accompanied in most countries by big declines in the proportion of children reaching e.g. 5 years of schooling who can even read a single sentence. But big differences across countries in these trends.

·       Advice for academic writing about data from Tim Taylor: quoting from a new paper by Zelner et al,  “If it can be conveyed visually, do it! Prefer figures over tables and in-text descriptions where you can. …. Reasonably informed readers should be able to get what is going on from looking at your figure and reading the legend, even if they have not read the rest of the paper….Big, complex tables are where reader attention goes to die.”

·       On VoxDev, Bruno Crépon, Mohamed El-Komi and Adam Osman compare grants and loans for microenterprises in Egypt. “In our study, all three types of capital assistance seem to help the same type of people (primarily women with education), and the type of support was of secondary importance. …We find that in-kind grants increase income through increases in self-employment earnings, while the loan and cash arms have greater levels of wage income.”

·       Funding opportunity: The Agency Fund has calls open for funding work on: Caregiver counseling on nutritional choice;  Scalable mental health interventions; livelihood exploration and digital coaching and mentorship.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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