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[b]The Poverty Action Lab: An Evidence-Based Approach to Education Policy in the Developing World[/b]
[b]By Brent Harlow[/b]
At Givology, we try to connect our network of donors to innovative and high-impact projects that can be shown to improve education outcomes for children in developing countries. But how can we know what policies and programs[i] [/i]are most effective for children, their families, and their local communities?
Givology has really focused on [i]impact[/i] as a criterion for our partnerships (we get about two dozen applications per week, but accept only one to two partners per year). And while there are clearly different levels of sophistication in impact measurement across our partnerssome have embraced randomized controlled trials and conducted systematic detailed baseline/pre/post data collection, while others remain more anecdotal and dependent on qualitative metricswe try to help all of our partners by sharing best practices in impact measurement, which is a growing and important trend, and a powerful movement in the philanthropy industry as a whole.
One of the most important books to articulate the vision of this movement, as it applies to questions of global development and education, is [i]Poor Economics [/i](2011), by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.

In this book, the authors argue that questions of global development (including education) are best addressed not within the conventional framework of macroeconomics, but rather as a set of much smaller questions that can be studied scientifically within the specific geographical, social and political contexts in which the problems arise in the first place. The authors advocate for a research program that includes gathering evidence from the everyday lives of poor people in specific communities, in order to better understand the ground-level causes contributing to their economic decision-making; using this evidence to design interventions aimed at improving specific, measurable outcomes; monitoring the impact of these interventions, primarily through the use of randomized controlled trials; determining how outcomes differ between the group receiving the intervention and the control group; and, finally, using this knowledge to better inform future interventions (and research). In 2003, Banerjee and Duflo implemented such a research program, when they founded the Poverty Action Lab (MIT, Department of Economics), which now has 146 affiliated professors carrying out evidence-based policy research in all regions of the developing world.

Professors affiliated with the Poverty Action Lab (PAL), as well as others, have conducted important evidence-based research into what has actually worked to improve education outcomes for children and families in the developing world. This research provides a way of scientifically assessing the efficacy of programs designed to increase student enrollment, increase student access to essential learning materials, increase student proficiency in basic skills, better prepare students for the labor market, improve teacher performance, improve school management, etc.
Over the next several weeks, I will be reading through the research that has come out of the PAL and sharing what I find most relevant and exciting there on education policy in the developing world. How has this research contributed to the broad implementation of good, evidence-based policies? How has it revealed gaps where further studies are needed in order to improve these policies? And what work is currently being done that just might transform the ways we understand education policy in the developing world?
If you are interested in these questions, I hope you will read my posts in the weeks to come!


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