Searching for the Devil in the Details: Learning About Development Program Design

64 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2016 Last revised: 6 Dec 2016

See all articles by Sara Nadel

Sara Nadel

Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Lant Pritchett

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); Center for Global Development

Date Written: November 1, 2016

Abstract

Motivated by our experience in designing a particular social program, skill set signaling for new entrants to the labor market in Peru, we articulate the need for, and explore the empirical consequences of, alternative learning approaches to the design of development projects. Using a simulation, we demonstrate that even with only modest dimensioned design space and even modest “ruggedness” of the outcome with respect to design a naive iterative approach of “crawling the design space” dominates an RCT learning strategy. We suggest that the empirical results of RCTs to date are consistent with social programs having high dimensional design space and outcomes sensitive to design and hence project/program/policy design must depend on more robust learning strategies than the attempt to directly apply results from “systematic reviews” or move prematurely to an RCT.

Keywords: research, program design, RCT, development

JEL Classification: O12, O22, C93, D04

Suggested Citation

Nadel, Sara and Pritchett, Lant, Searching for the Devil in the Details: Learning About Development Program Design (November 1, 2016). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 434, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2847122 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2847122

Sara Nadel

Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

111 Western Avenue 10 soldiers Field park apartmen
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Lant Pritchett (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4562 (Phone)
617-496-2554 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~lpritch/

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