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.
Globally, violence against women is a leading cause of premature death and morbidity for women and almost one-third of women report experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their life. Yet rigorous evidence on scalable and effective ways to reduce IPV is limited, in part because measuring IPV is challenging. Current standards of practice for reducing gender-based violence are also relatively limited in scope, focusing mainly on changing gender norms. Designing and testing new approaches has the potential to yield more effective solutions. IPA’s Intimate Partner Violence Initiative, a partnership with the International Rescue Committee, exists to address these challenges. The initiative designs and tests innovative solutions to IPV, leverages existing research to identify factors that contribute to IPV and works to address methodological and measurement challenges in violence research and related fields. With our academic and implementing partners, IPA has identified a number of effective solutions, including mass media campaigns, coupling women’s economic empowerment with gender dialogue, and teaching secondary school students soft skills. Results from several initiative-supported studies are forthcoming. Further research will be needed to validate results in new contexts and at scale, and to design and evaluate new ideas.
Recent research suggests giving cash directly to the poor can have a range of benefits for recipients in the first few years, including increased consumption, assets, and food security, but little evidence exists on the long-term effects of cash transfers, particularly as a way to spur entrepreneurship and increase earnings. To shed light on this question, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation in Uganda of a government self-employment program that provided cash grants of about $400 per person to groups of young adults to start a skilled trade. An IPA research team followed up after two, four, and nine years—providing some of the longest-term rigorous evidence on how start-up cash grants impact measures of poverty.
» Four years after grants were distributed, recipients were more likely to be practicing a skilled trade and earning 38 percent more than their peers who hadn’t received grants. The boost in earnings seemed to be driven by recipients’ work in skilled trades.
» Nine years after the cash grants were disbursed, most of the business and earning gains had dissipated, but grant recipients still had more household assets and were more likely to be practicing a skilled trade.
» The fade out of business and earnings effects was driven by changes in the comparison group: those who hadn’t received the grants had started working, and earning, a lot more—in fact, they had caught up to the grant recipients in hours worked and income.
» The grant had some positive impacts on health outcomes, but only for the children of women who had received the grant: children of grant-recipient mothers displayed better physical skills such has walking and talking, relative to male-recipients and to the comparison group.
» In sum, start-up grants served the purpose of providing better jobs and businesses—but they did not offer sustained gains in earnings as earlier ndings suggested.
In Uganda, researchers conducted a large-scale randomized evaluation of a program called Accountability Can Transform (ACT) Health. The program provided community members and health care workers information about the quality of their local health services and brought them together to create action plans for how to improve local health service accountability, delivery, and quality. The study built on previous research of a similar program called Power to the People, which was found to greatly improve child health.
Twenty months after the program began:1
- The program marginally improved the quality of treatment patients received and increased patient satisfaction.
- However, the program did not affect how often people sought health care (utilization rates) or improve health outcomes; child mortality rates were unchanged.
- Results were similar one and two years into the program and were consistent across different groups; no health effects were found in any subgroup.
- Contrary to the theory of change motivating the intervention, there was no evidence that the program caused citizens to more closely monitor or apply pressure on service providers.
- Overall, the findings suggest a combination of information provision and increased oversight can marginally change the behavior of frontline service providers, but cast doubt on the power of information to foster community monitoring or to generate improvements in health outcomes, including child mortality, at least in the short term.
1 On average the time between the launch of the program and the final survey was 20 months.
Designers and funders of payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs have long worried that payments flow to landholders who would have conserved forests even without the program, undermining the environmental benefits (“additionality”) and cost-effectiveness of PES. If landholders self-select into PES programs based on how much conservation they were going to undertake anyway, then those who were planning to conserve should always enroll. This paper discusses the less-appreciated fact that enrollment is often based on other factors too. The hassle of signing up or financial costs of enrollment (e.g., purchasing seedlings) can affect who participates in a PES program. These enrollment costs reduce overall take-up, and, importantly, they can also influence the composition of landholders who select into the program—and thereby the program’s environmental benefits per enrollee. Enrollment costs can increase a program’s benefits per enrollee if they are systematically higher for (and thus deter enrollment by) landholders who would have conserved anyway. Alternatively, enrollment costs can dampen per-enrollee benefits if their correlation with status-quo conservation is in the opposite direction. We illustrate these points with evidence from two studies of randomized trials of PES programs aimed at increasing forest cover in Uganda and Malawi. We also discuss how in other sectors, such as social welfare, policy designers have purposefully adjusted the costs of program enrollment to influence the composition of participants and improve cost-effectiveness. We propose that these ideas for targeting could be incorporated into the design of PES programs.