Congratulations to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer for having been honored with the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics! Here at Dobility, we have been enthusiastic students, colleagues, followers, and supporters of theirs for many years, and we couldn’t be happier for them. We also couldn’t be happier for the much-deserved recognition this brings to an entire community of hard-working practitioners.
The kinds of field experiments promoted by Abhijit, Esther, and Michael — randomized control trials (RCTs) — have become the gold standard for rigorous empirical evidence in both policy and practice, but it is extraordinarily demanding work. To even justify the cost, difficulty, and time commitment required for such an experiment, a rock-solid practical and theoretical foundation is necessary, generally involving partnership between policymakers, program implementers, and academics. To then implement an experiment requires that partnership to remain strong, flexible, and committed over time, as a wide variety of outcomes are painstakingly measured.
These outcomes can be difficult-to-measure by nature (think, for example, wealth, stress, or agricultural productivity), and also because the populations of interest can be in hard-to-reach places. What’s more, outcomes generally take time to manifest, so most experiments require measurement over the course of years (sometimes many years). But without reliable measurement of outcomes, even the best-conceived field experiment fails to achieve its fundamental purpose.
It is in this — the reliable measurement of even the most difficult-to-measure outcomes in even the most-hard-to-reach settings — that the Dobility team has been proud to contribute, through its SurveyCTO platform. SurveyCTO itself was born in a large-scale field experiment, out of a need to effectively measure difficult-to-measure outcomes (e.g., impacts on generosity, social networks, and agricultural practices) in hard-to-reach settings (rural India). And members of the Dobility team were themselves research associates, consultants, data managers, and principal investigators on individual project teams, before coming to support the community in their present capacities.
We’re incredibly proud of the work this community has done to provide rigorous empirical evidence to international development policy and practice, we feel fortunate to have been able to support its work, and we are grateful to the Nobel committee for recognizing both these specific individuals as well as the broader community they have helped to create and foster.
To learn more about the prize and broader community, see David McKenzie’s post over on the DIME blog. To learn more about how to set up and run your own RCT, check out JPAL 102x, an MITx course run by the Poverty Action Lab team.
Image: © Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences