When will researchers ever learn?

I was recently sent a link to this 1985 World Health Organization (WHO) paper which examines the case for using experimental and quasi-experimental designs to evaluate water supply and sanitation (WSS) interventions in developing countries. This paper came out nearly 30 years ago. But the problems it lists in impact evaluation study designs are still encountered today. What are these problems?

Institutionalising evaluation in India

The launch event of Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) which happened in Delhi, included an eclectic mix of presenters and panelists consisting of key policymakers (including the chairperson of India’s planning commission), bureaucrats, India-based researchers and representatives from the Indian media. The discussions at the event brought to the fore several challenges that the IEO will face as it moves forward:

How much evidence is enough for action?

One of the most useful ways in which evidence from rigorous evaluations can be used is to help policymakers take decisions on going to scale. Notable recent examples of scaled-up interventions based on high-quality synthesised evidence are conditional cash transfers programmes and early child development (pre-school) programmes.

The Global Open Knowledge Hub: building a dream machine-readable world

The word ‘open’ has long been bandied about in development circles. We have benefited in recent years from advocacy to increase open access to research articles, and open data shared by researchers or organisations. But open systems that enable websites to talk to each other (e.g. open application programming interface) have been a little harder to advance into greater use, simply because they are not built for non-technical users.

Opening a window on climate change and disaster risk reduction

Nature has provided us some stark recent reminders that our climate is changing, often towards the extremes. Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed the Philippines. The ‘polar vortex’ blanketed the United States in snow. While East Coasters in the United States may still feel some of the polar sting, it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable that feel the sustained harms of climate change.

When is an error not an error?

Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin (HAP) in their now famous replication study of Reinhart and Rogoff’s (R&R) seminal article on public debt and economic growth use the word “error” 45 times. At 3ie, we are more than a year into our replication programme, and we are seeing a similar propensity for replication researchers to use the word “error” (or “mistake” or “wrong”) and for this language to cause contentious discussions between the original authors and replication researchers.

Civil society: strong advocates for evidence-informed HIV/AIDS policies and action

As a member of 3ie’s HIV/AIDS programme team, I attended the annual International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), where I was struck by the strong and vital presence of countless civil society organisations (CSOs). From the displays in the main lobby calling for sex workers’ rights to the exhibits displayed by legal networks, human rights advocates and community organizations throughout the Cape Town International Convention Centre, I was reminded that participation of CSOs is crucial to moving forward the dialogue and action on improved HIV prevention and access to HIV/AIDS treatment, especially in hard-hit developing countries.

Making participation count

Toilets get converted into temples, and schools are used as cattle sheds. These are stories that are part of development lore. They illustrate the poor participation of ‘beneficiaries’ in well-intentioned development programmes. So, it is rather disturbing that millions of dollars are spent on development programmes with low participation, when we have evidence that participation matters for impact.