From the IPA Blog

What do you get when a Visa exec comes to an IPA conference? It’ll bust your paradigm shift right out of the box.

Jan 25/13 | From the blog
Continuing CGAP’s blog series on practitioners’ takes on our Impact and Policy Conference in Bangkok, Gordon Cooper, head of Emerging Market Solutions at Visa shares his perspective. There to moderate a panel on financial inclusion, he talks about what it was like to come from the private sector into a room full of academic researchers:
You see, I’m a regular on the conference circuit.  But the gatherings I’m familiar with operate in a different world.  Dominated by private sector business types, these events are identifiable by conveniently predictable, if often vacuous, buzzwords; everyone’s got an out-of-the-box paradigm buster to share.  
Gordon Cooper and Josh BlumenstockAfter Mr. Cooper (on the right in the photo) learned he was a “practitioner” (who knew?) he quickly dove into the conference, talking to researchers like Josh Blumenstock (left in photo), whose presentation showed how mobile money flowed around Rwanda on the day of a natural disaster, research with obvious application to private sector companies in the money transfer business. (See a plain language summary by Josh, including a video visualizing the transfer patterns, here.)
Mr. Cooper points out there’s a wealth of information available without getting on a flight to a conference:
Judging from my day at the conference, there’s a ton of great material out there (not all of it RCTs, or even quant, no doubt).  It could be of real relevance to existing and would-be providers, so long as they knew about it!  So, my first thought on how this academic research might have greater impact is this: get the word out.
He points out that there are resources out there for practitioners but the links between the two worlds aren’t as strong as they could be:
IPA has a great searchable database of publications they’re involved in – but how many existing and prospective demand-side providers have the URL bookmarked?   If the task at hand is to get the people who offer financial services to step up their innovation game in end-user product design (reasons for optimism here; the nature of the challenge here), we need to share the treasure trove of existing academic research far and wide.
Mr. Cooper makes a good point, academics are producing lots of good data-based insights of use to practitioners, how can we get the word out better?  Read the full post here, and post your recommendations below on how to bridge the communication gap between evidence and practice.


Leveraging Research

I am heartened to see this plea for efforts to be undertaken to ensure that what we are learning about microfinance through research be made more accessible to practitioners.  Of course, practitioners could and should have shown more curiosity about what we are learning through research.  In any case, I have long felt that the frequency of the dialogue between microfinance researchers and practitioners has been far from optimal.  This is despite occasional efforts to bridge the gap, such as a meeting jointly organized by the Center for Financial Inclusion and the Center for Global Development some years back.  (I proposed during that meeting that such consultations be held on a regular basis, but unfortunately that has not happened.) 

At the end of my review of Dean Karlan’s More Than Good Intentions (a book that I generally liked), I raised the issue of what is the impact of impact research itself.  Clearly more can and should be done to measure and enhance the impact of impact research.  Measurement (and associated recognition) may motivate researchers to take all possible steps to ensure what they learn is applied in practice, as difficult as it may prove to operationalize.   

There is some low-hanging fruit in terms of conveying what research is suggesting about how the practice of microfinance can be improved.  If researchers are truly committed to “putting research into action”, at a bare minimum there should be a single, jargon-free paper published soon that summarizes the “lessons for practice” from available research on microfinance, with annual updates as new research emerges.   I would hope and expect that such a paper would be required reading for any board or senior management planning retreat organized by an MFI or microfinance network – of which there must be hundreds held every year.  If microfinance researchers are committed to causing as well as measuring impact (i.e., positive change), I believe that something along these lines is an absolute must. 

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