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development impact links

Weekly links April 20: Swifter justice, swifter coding, better ethics, cash transfers, and more

David Evans's picture
 
  • From the DIME Analytics Weekly newsletter (which I recommend subscribing to): applyCodebook – One of the biggest time-wasters for research assistants is typing "rename", "recode", "label var", and so on to get a dataset in shape. Even worse is reading through it all later and figuring out what's been done. Freshly released on the World Bank Stata GitHub thanks to the DIME Analytics team is applyCodebook, a utility that reads an .xlsx "codebook" file and applies all the renames, recodes, variable labels, and value labels you need in one go. It takes one line in Stata to use, and all the edits are reviewable variable-by-variable in Excel. If you haven't visited the GitHub repo before, don't forget to browse all the utilities on offer and feel free to fork and submit your own on the dev branch. Happy coding! 

  • Is it possible to speed up a justice system? On the Let's Talk Development blog, Kondylis and Corthay document a reform in Senegal that gave judges tools to speed up decisions, to positive effect. The evaluation then led to further legal reform.  

  • "Reviewing thousands of evaluation studies over the years has also given us a profound appreciation of how challenging it is to find interventions...that produce a real improvement in people’s lives." Over at Straight Talk on Evidence, the team highlights the challenge of finding impacts at scale, nodding to Rossi's iron law of evaluation ("The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero") and the "stainless steel law of evaluation" ("the more technically rigorous the net impact assessment, the more likely are its results to be zero – or no effect"). They give evidence across fields – business, medicine, education, and training. They offer a proposed solution in another post, and Chris Blattman offers a critique in a Twitter thread.  

  • Kate Cronin-Furman and Milli Lake discuss ethical issues in doing fieldwork in fragile and violent conflicts

  • "What’s the latest research on the quality of governance?" Dan Rogger gives a quick round-up of research presented at a recent conference at Stanford University.  

  • In public procurement, lower transaction costs aren't always better. Over at VoxDev, Ferenc Szucs writes about what procurement records in Hungary teach about open auctions versus discretion. In short, discretion means lower transaction costs, more corruption, higher prices, and inefficient allocation. 

  • Justin Sandefur seeks to give a non-technical explanation of the recent discussion of longer term benefits of cash transfers in Kenya (1. Cash transfers cure poverty. 2. Side effects vary. 3. Symptoms may return when treatment stops.) This is at least partially in response to Berk Özler's dual posts, here and here. Özler adds some additional discussion in this Twitter thread.  

Weekly links April 13: militant randomistas, show them the germs, should your next paper not be a paper? and more...

David McKenzie's picture
Energy commodity prices gained 1 percent in March—led by a 1 percent increase in crude oil prices, the World Bank’s Pink Sheet reported.

Non-energy prices fell almost 1 percent due to a drop in metal prices. Agricultural prices increased 1 percent, largely on higher cocoa prices (+18 percent), maize and soybean meal (+5 percent each), as well as cotton and soybeans (+4 percent each). Fertilizer prices rose more than 1 percent, led by TSP (triple superphosphate) (+3 percent) and DAP (diammonium phosphate) (+2 percent).

Metals prices dropped 5 percent, led by iron ore prices (-9 percent), zinc and lead (-7 percent each), and aluminum (-5 percent).

Precious metals prices were marginally down due to a 1 percent decline in silver prices.

The Pink Sheet is a monthly report that monitors commodity price movements.
 

Source: World Bank.
 

Weekly links April 7: registration becomes compulsory, lessons from reality tv and the Black Panther, positively deviant schools, and more...

David McKenzie's picture

How much food is produced on a plot of land? The answer is central to several pressing questions in agricultural and development economics: How efficiently do smallholders use their labor and land? What interventions are most effective at lifting smallholders out of poverty? Are smallholders better off investing more time and resources on the farm, or intensifying their reliance on off-farm employment? The answers in part depend on the ability to accurately measure crop production. This is why household and farm surveys across the developing world, such as those supported by the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) initiative, attempt to obtain precise, within-farm measures of crop production and productivity.

Weekly links March 23: recall revisited, Imbens critiques the Cartwright-Deaton RCT critiques, a new source for learning causal inference, and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • The bias in recall data revisited: On the Ifpri blog, Susan Godlonton and co-authors discuss their work on “mental anchoring” - the tendency to rely too heavily on only one piece of information (the "anchor") when making a decision – they use panel data where they ask people about both current outcomes, and to recall outcomes from a year ago. They find that people use their current outcomes as an anchor in trying to recall what happened a year ago “a $10 increase reported in the 2013 concurrent report for monthly income was associated with a $7.50 increase in the recalled monthly income for 2012”
  • Scott Cunningham posts his “mixtape” on teaching causal inference -  a textbook that may be of particular interest to many of our readers because of its applied focus, use of Stata examples and Stata datasets, and also coverage of some topics not found in many of the alternatives (e.g. directed acyclical graphs, synthetic controls).

Weekly links March 16: write more productively or fake it, null power, great figures, and more...

David McKenzie's picture

Machine learning methods are increasingly applied in the development policy arena. Among many recent policy applications, machine learning has been used to predict poverty, soil properties, and conflicts.

In a recent Policy Research Working Paper by Paolo Brunori, Paul Hufe and Daniel Mahler (BHM hereafter), machine learning methods are utilized to measure a popular understanding of distributional injustice – the amount of unequal opportunities individuals face. Equality of opportunity is an influential political ideal since it combines two powerful principles: individual responsibility and equality. In a world with equal opportunities, all individuals have the same chances to attain social positions and valuable outcomes. They are free to choose how to behave and they are held responsible for the consequences of their choices.

Weekly links March 9: export super-stars, poor stats on poor women, psychosocial interventions for refugees, psychologists up their game, and more...

David McKenzie's picture

In the past two decades, development policy has aimed to involve communities in the development process by encouraging the active participation of communities in the design and implementation of projects or the allocation of local resources. The World Bank alone has provided more than $85 billion for participatory development since the early 2000s.

Weekly links March 2: quality onions, don’t just try to prove something you already know, jobs cost a lot to create, and more...

David McKenzie's picture

Weekly links February 23: tell better stories, hot days = lower profits, women need more customers, and more...

David McKenzie's picture

Weekly links Feb 16: when scale-ups don’t pan out the way you hoped, syllabi galore, do you suffer from this mystery illness? and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • Interesting blog from the Global Innovation Fund, discussing results from an attempt to replicate the Kenyan sugar daddies RCT in Botswana, why they got different results, and how policy is reacting to this. “At some point, every evidence-driven practitioner is sure to face the same challenge: what do you do in the face of evaluation results that suggest that your program may not have the impact you hoped for? It’s a question that tests the fundamental character and convictions of our organizations. Young 1ove answered that question, and met that test, with tremendous courage. In the face of ambiguous results regarding the impact of No Sugar, they did something rare and remarkable: they changed course, and encouraged government partners and donors to do so as well”
  • How to help farmers to access agricultural extension information via mobile phone? Shawn Cole (Harvard Business School) and Michael Kremer (Harvard University) gave a recent talk on this, drawing on work they’ve been doing in India, Kenya, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Video here and paper on some of the India results here.

Weekly links Feb 9: tracking Ghanaian youth as they age, envying Danish data, coding better, communicating less badly, and more....

David McKenzie's picture
Nearly 65 million persons were forcibly displaced worldwide – within and across borders – due to conflict and persecution at the end of 2015. Forced displacement is not only a humanitarian issue, but also has important economic, social, political, and environmental impacts on the places of origin and destination.

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