Nobel prizes and methodological wars. But are we using enough evidence to end poverty?

We were pleased to see development economists Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo win the Nobel prize for economics this week. Their work has done a lot to raise awareness of development evaluation and the need for better evidence to address global poverty.

Of course, they are not alone: there are others who take a different view, such as Nobel prize winner, Angus Deaton.

What works and why

Evaluation plays an important role as we continue to make global strides in addressing poverty. With philanthropists such as Bill Gates predicting there will be no more poor nations by 2035, (coincidentally, the year that Gates will turn 80) and countries such as the UK continuing to commit 0.7% of GDI to overseas aid, understanding what works and why in development will have wide-reaching and long-lasting importance.

Reflecting on RCTs

With this in mind, and in light of the award to Kremer, Banerjee and Duflo, we have been reflecting on the primary focus of their work, Randomised Control Trials (RCTs).

RCTs have their place in the evaluators’ toolkit, but as with all tools, they have their strengths and weaknesses. RCTs are not always feasible in development, meaning other evaluation methods are often needed. Even when RCTs can be used, we often find our commissioners need more than RCTs to understand what is working and why in their programmes, and the complexity of addressing poverty often requires blending different methods. In fact, we’re increasingly focusing on ‘more-than-methods’, as we find better ways to use evidence to influence change (see our recent award for influence in transformational change for example), build capacity and increase the likelihood of evidence-informed decision making.

Informing key decisions

Evaluation is crucial to informing development programming, and awards such as the Nobel prize this week will help to raise awareness of the role we have to play in the development ecosystem. Practitioners, including us here at Itad, will continue to refine and adapt evaluation tools. Importantly, our focus is not only what evidence we produce (the product), but how it is used to inform key decisions (the politics and the process) – and, ultimately, work towards a world without poverty.

Chris Barnett, Emmeline Henderson and Tim Ruffer, October 2019

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