Changing locations: The positive takeaway

So I can make the formal announcement here:

Due to a variety of complex, but valid reasons, I have left Ayacucho to start working closely with the Joining Hands Network and Bridge of Hope here in Lima. I’m still unpacking a few of those reasons, but suffice it to say the move was for the best and I’m highly excited for my new placement.

That being said, I want to talk a bit about what I took away from my work with CEDAP. I didn’t keep my frustration a secret, so if you’ve been reading, this is not much of a surprise.

It took quite a few conversations with Jed and Jenny, and with Tulia to arrive at this point. And to my surprise it was a relatively graceful exit from CEDAP. Tulia sat me down in her office and said that she understood the decision and hoped that I could be better utilized elsewhere, recognizing that the dynamics within CEDAP were not currently the best for a volunteer. She added that it was a joy having me on board and regretted that a more formal goodbye was not possible due to scheduling issues.

Also, we agreed that I could continue working for CEDAP remotely. I will be creating an outline for evaluations during the years to come, so that they can budget for the necessary infrastructure. This lack of resources truly held me back from performing an analysis of “the benefit with the program versus without the program,” which is a blatant request for a Randomized Control Trial (RCT).

Tulia had not heard of RCTs, but she was looking for a comparison of treatment against control. I think it’s brilliant that CEDAP is looking for that, unfortunately an RCT takes at least several months-worth of planning and oftentimes a year to execute. In the case of interventions with children it may take five or more years to get noticeable outcomes.

CEDAP has a lot of really fantastic programs going on: playgrounds for children in rural schools, nutritional supplements for preschoolers, agricultural production and gender equality workshops, and expansion of mountain reservoirs. An RCT to track the benefits of each of those would take at minimum a year and in the case of the playgrounds and nutritional supplements, at least five years.

So, I could not truthfully perform the evaluation they wanted.

Instead, I suggested to Tulia that I would write up a proposal for how to best implement an RCT for next year once they had properly budgeted for the necessary costs. I will provide them with the necessary surveys, ethical methodology and estimate of expected costs over the course of the year. Likewise, I will craft a survey app for use on a smartphone to reduce costs for paper and data entry. Then if they choose to implement an RCT, I will provide the necessary data analysis as part of my commitment to them.

I’m especially glad that I will be able to provide this assistance because I am disturbed by the power dynamics around development “evaluations.”

I recently reached out to Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to see if they might work with CEDAP in the years to come. IPA is an organization which coordinates economists to perform RCTs to evaluate various policy initiatives. They then report that information for use in determining the pros and cons of different development programs. In that sense, it’s a great idea. Economists getting together to create more knowledgeable development work.

Unfortunately, a friend who works with IPA said I should not expect a response. As he explained it, economists do not go evaluate existing projects, they get ideas and then find organizations to implement those ideas.

That is really frustrating. Jed explained to me a bit ago that part of Tulia’s pride was in having me, someone with academic experience in economics, working with a small organization like CEDAP. In Peru, there is a history of the upper class claiming academic superiority to the poor. It’s deep-seated, so my presence was meaningful, though they struggled to engage me.

The situation I described with development economists above seems to create a similar relationship between the academic elite and organizations on the ground. Mainly, CEDAP does not have knowledge of RCTs, nor do they have the infrastructure to just implement one without substantial planning. Yet, it is called the “golden standard” of development economics and causality.

I am frustrated that CEDAP can’t access this kind of analysis. So, I’ve realized that if possible I’d like to work to make RCTs more accessible to smaller organizations. Specifically, if I continue on the path of academic economics, I will create and maintain ties with smaller organizations in order to perform needed RCTs. Plus, I’d like to see what need there is for a non-profit that performs RCTs for organizations that cannot afford them.

Now all this being said, I am just unaware of such a non-profit or business. If any reader knows of one that exists, let me know. Not only will I explore career opportunities with them, I will also connect them with CEDAP.

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