Global efforts are underway to improve education quality—to ensure children are not only in school but learning and developing to their full potential. Although many theories exist on the best approaches to improve education quality, policymakers and implementers need evidence on which programs are effective at helping children actually learn while in school. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a research and policy nonprofit that discovers and advances what works to reduce poverty and improve lives. In addition to conducting rigorous research, IPA reviews and consolidates research for policymakers and practitioners. The objective is to distill complex, nuanced, and dynamic research findings into focused and actionable recommendations. This brief summarizes and provides key lessons from multiple meta-analyses and over two-dozen randomized evaluations (both IPA and non-IPA studies) on improving learning outcomes in low-income countries, with a focus on basic education.
Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of the poor will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares the cost-effectiveness of three strands of anti-poverty social protection interventions by reviewing 30 livelihood development programs, 11 lump-sum unconditional cash transfers, and seven graduation programs. All the selected graduation initiatives focused on the extreme poor, while the livelihood development and cash transfer programs targeted a broader set of beneficiaries. Impacts on annual household consumption (or on income when consumption data were not available) per dollar spent were used to benchmark cost-effectiveness across programs. Among all 48 programs reviewed, lump-sum cash transfers were found to have the highest benefit-cost ratio, though there are very few lump-sum cash transfer programs that serve the extreme poor or measure long-term impacts. Livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor had much lower benefit-cost ratios. Graduation programs are more cost-effective than the livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor and measured long-term impacts (i.e., at least one year after end of interventions). More evidence is needed, especially on long-term impacts of lump-sum cash transfers to the extreme poor, to make better comparisons among the three types of programs for sustainable reduction of extreme poverty.
A multifaceted livelihood program that provided ultra-poor households with a productive asset, training, regular coaching, access to savings, and consumption support led to large and lasting impacts on their standard of living across a diverse set of contexts and implementing partners.
Performance pay for tax collectors has the potential to raise revenues, but might come at a cost if it increases the bargaining power of tax collectors vis-a-vis taxpayers. We report the first large-scale field experiment on these issues, where we experimentally allocated 482 property tax units in Punjab, Pakistan into one of three performance-pay schemes or a control. After two years, incentivized units had 9.4 log points higher revenue than controls, which translates to a 46 percent higher growth rate. The scheme that rewarded purely on revenue did best, increasing revenue by 12.9 log points (64 percent higher growth rate), with little penalty for customer satisfaction and assessment accuracy compared to the two other schemes that explicitly also rewarded these dimensions. The revenue gains accrue from a small number of properties becoming taxed at their true value, which is substantially more than they had been taxed at previously. The majority of properties in incentivized areas in fact pay no more taxes, but instead report higher bribes. The results are consistent with a collusive setting in which performance pay increases collectors’ bargaining power over taxpayers, who either have to pay higher bribes to avoid being reassessed, or pay substantially higher taxes if collusion breaks down.
We present results from six randomized control trials of an integrated approach to improve livelihoods among the very poor. The approach combines the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services. Results from the implementation of the same basic program, adapted to a wide variety of geographic and institutional contexts and with multiple implementing partners, show statistically significant cost-effective impacts on consumption (fueled mostly by increases in self-employment income) and psychosocial status of the targeted households. The impact on the poor households lasted at least a year after all implementation ended. It is possible to make sustainable improvements in the economic status of the poor with a relatively short-term intervention.
Business training programs are a popular policy option to try to improve the performance of enterprises around the world. The last few years have seen rapid growth in the number of evaluations of these programs in developing countries. We undertake a critical review of these studies with the goal of synthesizing the emerging lessons and understanding the limitations of the existing research and the areas in which more work is needed. We find that there is substantial heterogeneity in the length, content, and types of firms participating in the training programs evaluated. Many evaluations suffer from low statistical power, measure impacts only within a year of training, and experience problems with survey attrition and measurement of firm profits and revenues. Over these short time horizons, there are relatively modest impacts of training on survivorship of existing firms, but stronger evidence that training programs help prospective owners launch new businesses more quickly. Most studies find that existing firm owners implement some of the practices taught in training, but the magnitudes of these improvements in practices are often relatively modest. Few studies find significant impacts on profits or sales, although a couple of the studies with more statistical power have done so. Some studies have also found benefits to microfinance organizations of offering training. To date there is little evidence to help guide policymakers as to whether any impacts found come from trained firms competing away sales from other businesses versus through productivity improvements, and little evidence to guide the development of the provision of training at market prices. We conclude by summarizing some directions and key questions for future studies.