Lorena Moscovich - Jefa de Experimentación - LabPNUDArg
The recent Nobel Prize in Economics awarded jointly to Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer is an endorsement of the Accelerator Lab Network but it also gives some lessons about what we should avoid.
Grassroots Solutions for Identifying and Testing What Works
Solutions come from communities. For instance when women were included in the decision making process in Indian villages, different issues were put into the councils' agenda. In villages where women were included, new policy initiatives were proposed out of their needs and views, such as having a drinking water source next to their houses since women spend a lot of their time seeking drinking water.
Testing solutions show which are more effective. Would a solution that helps a community to solve a specific problem work for other persons? Experimentation, using randomized control trials, the preferred method applied by the three Nobel laureates, or other approaches would show what works. Moreover, this approach tests different ideas at once. What does it take to increase the number of vaccinated children? They tested if having more vaccines centers, increasing the number of hours of the existent ones, or giving a kilo of lentils as an incentive for the families would be more effective to encourage them to act. Sensing and exploring would suggest unexpected solutions for known problems, such as giving pills against diarrhea to cope with school absenteeism in areas with higher malaria incidence.
In all the recognition of this approach means an endorsement of the Accelerator Labs of social initiatives for development: working with innovative solutions from grassroots levels, testing how they work and making them grow are part of the many communalities between the two approaches.
Are We Missing the Big Picture?
However, other voices stress that this agenda has a bias towards storytelling, meaning it addresses the issues that are easy to share with, and to understand by, general audiences, which may not always be the most relevant. The pragmatism and sought for solutions can lead to split problems parts that may be too small. As a result, this focus may lose the big picture of the deeper and wider causes of the problems, such as the coming from inequality or macroeconomic issues, which are far beyond the reach of communities and their chances to take actions.
More generally speaking, this makes us wonder if focusing on the solutions emerging from grassroots communities could, in some way, discourage decision makers from committing to address the problems of less advantaged persons.
A Team of Builders
In the middle of these two positions, there are the plumbers: According to Duflo “Plumbers try to predict as well as possible what may work in the real world, mindful that tinkering and adjusting will be necessary since our models gives us very little theoretical guidance on what (and how) details will matter”.
The Lab's works in Argentina navigate this gap between grassroots knowledge and academic and government expertise. The Lab has learnt from the sensing process that the strength of UNDP Argentina is its reputation earned by its expertise, neutrality, and reliability.
Thanks to its reputation, UNDP Argentina is able to make alliances with different stakeholders and help decision makers to find the best solutions. Identifying, testing and promoting solutions that work at grassroots level will enhance the ability of governments to focus their policy intervention in a more effective way. In sum, while the “plumbers” will anticipate new innovative solutions, the “builders” of the governments will bring the knowledge and expertise of bureaucracies, look at the big picture, bring the budget, and assume responsibility. Which are the plumbers of development in your country's Lab?