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What are we reading?

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This week, we’re reading about development studies that go beyond randomized control trials and their key indicators. This post shares a few articles that explore which services survey respondents actually prefer, the unintended benefits of development programs, and the use of qualitative and behavioral insights to create programs that positively impact people’s lives.

1. Do the Poor Want Cash Transfers or Public Services?

In the Center for Global Development blog, David Evans explores the difficulties survey respondents face when weighing whether they prefer cash transfers or government services. He points out that presenting people with the comparison is problematic unless the tradeoff is clear.

“ There is reasonable disagreement about how many services are the responsibility of government, but many people are happy to have a well-functioning public health system, passable roads, and a competent public education system. […] If survey respondents don’t have information about the size of government budgets and how those budgets translate into services, then it’s hard to know if these questions are actually about cash versus a functioning government as opposed to cash versus the specific governments’ services that the cash would buy”.

2. Measuring unintended benefits of a development program in Bangladesh.

A team of economists write in Devex about the unintended benefits of a cash transfer and nutrition program. The program improved food security and child nutrition outcomes not only for recipients, but for their communities. It also led to a reduction in intimate partner violence among recipients, possibly through increasing their household bargaining power.

“ We are a team of economists that evaluated the Transfer Modality Research Initiative [TMRI] — a pilot safety net program that provided cash or food transfers, with or without nutrition Behavior Change Communication, or BCC, to poor mothers of young children in rural Bangladesh. […] While TMRI cash transfers increased women’s economic resources, researchers believe that BCC increased social resources and agency within the household by fostering consistent social interaction and increasing knowledge on a topic valued by the community.”

3. A different take on “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” programs. How insightful can qualitative studies be?

Berk Ozler at the World Bank discusses how qualitative research can be a valuable addition when interpreting results from randomized controlled trials. A qualitative evaluation of a poverty reduction program in Pakistan and India shed light on potentially relevant details including how cultural context, religion, health, spousal relationships, and role of NGOs affected outcomes. These can have implications for the way programs like these are adapted across contexts by various implementers.

“Sure, the sample size in the QS is small (20 in each site, if I am correct) and self-admittedly so, but there is nonetheless a wealth of information here, which help provide context, formulate some hypothesis for further testing, for heterogeneity analysis, and yes, even to assess bias and external validity.”

4. Ten years on: What’s next for behavioral insights?

Faisal Naru of the OECD writes in apolitical about what can be learned from behavioral insights and how organizations can apply these insights to improve their impact on people’s lives.

“While the proliferation of behavioral units in public policy, and now chief behavioral officers in organisations, is welcome, there is still greater potential to benefit from the application of behavioral and social sciences. The study of behavioral insights brings a number of disciplines together — including psychology, cognitive science, decision-making and economics. It also builds bridges between academia and practice.”