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.
development impact links
- In the Atlantic – are Jupyter notebooks going to replace pdfs for scientific papers? Konrad Hinsen discusses, noting that it seems the future isn’t here yet.
- On VoxDev, Daniel Bennett discusses how traditional medicine beliefs can hamper hygiene campaigns, and the results of an experiment which used microscopes to actually show people the microbes in standing water and buffalo dung – this led to improvements in hygiene and child health, but only for those without strong beliefs in traditional medicine in Pakistan.
- From Ifpri, a nice couple of summary notes by Berber Kramer and co-authors on testing picture-based crop insurance – where farmers take regular pictures of their crops throughout the growing cycle, and then these are used to assess damage: there is one note on willingness to pay, adverse selection and moral hazard, and one on the practical feasibility of the approach.
- AEA journals now require registration in the RCT registry: - the AEA journals' submission instructions now include: “The American Economic Association operates a Registry for Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs). In January of 2018, the AEA Executive Committee passed motion requiring the registration of RCTs for all applicable submissions. If the research in your paper involves a RCT, please register (registration is free), prior to submitting. In the online submission form, you will be required to provide the registration number issued by the Registry. We also kindly ask you to acknowledge compliance by including your number in the introductory footnote of your manuscript.” – note this registration can still be post-trial registration at this stage, but this definitely should encourage you to register new trials as you start them.
- Marginal revolution notes a newly published meta-analysis paper that compares RD estimates to RCT estimates on the same data, showing both internal and some external validity of the RD method.
- 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).
- On the LSE impact of social sciences blog, six academic writing habits to boost productivity.
- On the Berkeley Energy Institute blog, Catherine Wolfram and co-authors summarize their RCT on rural electrification in Kenya under the heading “does solving energy poverty help solve poverty? Not quite” – “The rural electrification agency had spent more than $1,000 to connect each household. Yet eighteen months later, the households we connected seemed to be no better off”
- Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham summarizes a recent twitter thread on great figures that summarize the story of entire papers – excellent motivation to thinking hard about how to best display your data.
- Among the many posts on international women’s day, I thought our readers might find most useful this one on measurement of poverty and gender by Carolina Sanchez and Ana-Maria Munoz-Boudet “No, 70% of the world’s poor aren’t women, but this doesn’t mean poverty isn’t sexist”
- Emergency loans that are automatically given out when disaster hits as a substitute for microinsurance – summarized by Feed the Future – “Results ... show that the availability of emergency loans has had a big effect on how these farmers manage risk. Households who knew they were pre-qualified planted about 25 percent more rice than households who were not offered the emergency loan” (h/t Mushfiq Mobarak).
- Video and slides from Ana Fernandes’ policy research talk on exporter dynamics, superstar firms, and trade policy – it is stunning how large a share of exports from many developing countries comes from the top 1% or even top 5 exporters.
- Have you questioned your life choices enough lately? If not, Video of Lant Pritchett’s talk last month at NYU’s DRI on “The Debate about RCTs in Development is over. We won. They lost”
- On VoxDev, Tanguy Bernard and co-authors on an experiment that provided quality certification for onions in Senegal, causing farmers to invest more in quality and raising farmer incomes...but with the sad post-note “In this particular case, the reform was discontinued under pressure from the long-distance middlemen who gain from the lack of transparency on markets.”
- Following on the heels of Berk’s post, Science has a story “researchers debate whether journals should publish signed peer reviews” which discusses how this debate is also taking place in other fields.
- On the Voices blog, Arianna Legovini discusses DIME’s program of work on edutainment, and why information interventions that “lacked inspiring narratives, and were communicated through outdated and uninteresting outlets such as billboards and leaflets” may need to get replaced by working with professional storytellers. [edit: they seem to be changing the link for this, here is an alternative link]
- On VoxDev, Morgan Hardy discusses some of her new work with Gisella Kagy on how female-owned garment firms in Ghana are demand-constrained.
- On the Econ that matters blog, Nouhoum Traore and Jeremy Foltz look at the impact of high temperatures on firms in Cote d’Ivoire, finding years in which there are more days above 27C are correlated with lower firm revenues and profits, and more firm exit.
- 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.
- DEC has a fantastic lecture series going on at the moment. This week we had Pascaline Dupas. Videos of the talks are online. Of particular interest to our readers, will be her discussion of the techniques used for how they managed to re-interview 95% of Ghanaian youth after 10 years; and of how they messed up asking about labor market outcomes the first time they tried due to the sporadic nature of work for many youth (and something I hadn’t thought about – people working for the government whose payments have been delayed, so are owed back wages, but didn’t actually get paid in the last month).
- In VoxEU, revealed vs reported preference – when asked if they saved or spent their stimulus payments, people’s answers were qualitatively informative of actual behavior seen from observed spending data; and when asked how much they spent, gives a reasonable measure of average spending propensity – but these questions aren’t so good at capturing which households respond more.