Launching of AusAID-funded Policy Impact Evaluation Research Initiative (PIERI)
Thanks to the joint effort of a team of international experts and the financial support from the Australian Aid Agency, a series of up to six policy experiments will be conducted between 2007 and 2010 by teams of developing countries researchers from around the world. The experiments will make it possible to evaluate the impacts of various policies and programs that aim to improve human capital in rural areas.
Why should evaluations be conducted?
With the transition to market-based systems, many countries are designing and implementing social policies targeted to specific populations, e.g. social protection to poor people, job training programs to the youth and unemployed and agricultural development programs to farmers. Policy-makers, donors and taxpayers are interested in knowing whether the money is well spent. Conducting an evaluation can help answer important questions such as:
- What is the average impact of the program on participants?
- What would be the impact from expanding eligibility to the program?
- What would be the average impact if the program was universal?
- Who gains the most from the program?
- Are some people missed by the program?
- Do others benefit who should not?
- Would it be possible to have the same impacts at lower cost?
In fine, conducting an evaluation can help generate political support for the continuation or expansion of a program. It can feed into the design of the intervention and lead to its improvement.
Why should experiments be run?
Rigorous assessments of public interventions are needed. Field experiments, just like controlled medical experiments, provide the most convincing evidence. The objective in modern evaluation research is to construct a comparison group of non-participants who are as similar to the participants as possible – with the exception that they do not receive the treatment. That is precisely what an experiment allows by randomly assigning the treatment to some people and not to others: the best “counterfactual” possible.
What can we learn from a series of experiments in different countries?
The advantage of a series of evaluation projects centered on a unified theme is that it makes it possible to contrast and compare results in order to draw out general results and identify country specificities. For this reason, it contributes to the accumulation of knowledge on the behavioral responses to incentives embedded in programs.
Why focusing on human capital-enhancing strategies in rural areas?
People around the world value education and health for themselves and their families. Policy-makers also value them because only a well-trained and healthy population is likely to create wealth. In recognition of this fact, human capital is at the center of the MDGs and many other poverty alleviation strategies that have been designed and implemented throughout the developing world. Health and education poverty is particularly stark in rural regions.
Why should the research be done by developing countries researchers with technical and financial support from PEP-AusAID?
Evaluation findings may also inform policies outside national boundaries. Their public good value justifies funding evaluations with resources beyond those available domestically. But, who should perform the evaluation? Program administrators conducting in-house evaluations, although very knowledgeable, may be more likely to emphasize positive impacts. In contrast, while possibly more objective, international experts may lack in-depth knowledge of the program and its environment. Researchers in developing countries are often the best placed to undertake program evaluations, as they can be as knowledgeable as program administrators while remaining as impartial as international experts. When appropriately trained and given resources to conduct the evaluations, they are likely to generate a valuable input into decision-making. A team of international experts from Australia, Canada, Peru and USA will provide the scientific support.
Some important details about the initiative:
- With a total budget of CAN $1,284,000, with a generous contribution of CAN $1,104,000 from AusAID, this initiative will provide funding for six field experiments that will help evaluate the impacts of human capital enhancing interventions around the world
- With additional funding from other donors, this first phase of PIERI may be followed by additional phases focusing on other type of poverty-focused interventions relevant to policy-makers around the world.
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