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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do No Harm and the GK approach

I got woken up by a tweets yesterday by Dean Tony La Vina. It was from some high level meeting of important people:
@tonylavs: In China, they never scale up programs nationally unless tested in provinces and regions first.
@tonylavs: Dean Arsi Balisacan of UP Economics argued that the choice of what strategy to scale up should be based on evidence.
Ah, this is indeed very encouraging. If public policy can be based more on evidence, I believe we would be able to bring more people out of poverty more quickly and use scarce resources better. Dani Rodrik of Harvard has spoken about this many times. Development should take a more diagnostic approach rather than a presumptive one.  The idea is, we really don't know what works. But we will try out many things, many programs, and evaluate each, and see which one to pursue and scale up.

Quite the opposite, I would say to what I would call the "Gawad Kalinga approach," where the idea is to scale up as quickly as possible. I'm sorry, I know many are fans of this program. 700000 houses in 7 years was their motto right? But to date, I have not seen or read any rigorous evaluation done of the program. Does building houses -- pretty ones -- in fact, increase development outcomes like health, employment, education, etc.? Did the housing cause unintended consequences to the families, to surrounding neighborhoods? Nobody knows the answers to these questions because nobody stopped and said, wait a minute, is this the right use of our time? Did we do no harm?

Sigh. Do no harm. I like that. There is much talk lately about developing some ethical code for economists. Perhaps policymakers should adopt one too, just like the one for medical doctors. That is, before scaling up something, we should first make sure that it does no harm.


Faith (Culinary Conquests) said...

Hmmm I think its easier for China because it's a technically a top down approach. I mean there is a lot of political maneuvering but after all of that when the standing committee passes the resolution everyone else has to follow. Unlike here, every tom dick and harry, by the process of democracy, is going to complain why their sitio will be made the skape goat. Or maybe when we have a more organised society it will pan out somehow.

And yeah! The GK check and balance. Haha email Karl

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