Friday, June 11, 2010

Evidence Wars

"They found no miracle. Microcredit allowed some people to start a business, and others to buy durable goods, such as televisions and bicycles. But there had been no rise in average consumption..., and no evidence of improvement in levels of education, health, or women's decision-making....[T]he absence of a steady job is what is most likely to be preventing a person in poverty from having an easier life."

Ian Parker, "Poverty Lab: Transforming development economics, one experiment at at time," The New Yorker, May 17, 2010.

There's nothing like debunking fads -- or rightsizing the impacts of popular silver bullets. On the other hand, someone joked the other day that conservatives like random assignment trials applied to social policy because they almost inevitably show that nothing works or that what works produces rather marginal gains. No need for big government investments.

We need good evidence to guide practice and investment more than ever -- but we also need to get beyond warring tactics to talk about larger strategies for change and poverty alleviation. These aren't mutally exclusive, but they are different.

I think we also need to build a culture of continuous improvement in which learning, evidence, and innovation are integral parts of a long-term process. Too often we use "gold standard" evidence to dismiss efforts -- or ignore the best evidence because it doesn't seem to apply to a particular situations.

No comments: