Basic “pre-math” skills in young children have been shown to be important for developing later mathematics competency. In Panama, math scores are lower than other Latin American countries and there are large performance gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous areas. Researchers are evaluating the impact of bilingual and intercultural preschool math curricula on the math skills of preschool-aged children.

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Poor sanitation leads to major diseases, increased public health expenditures, and causes childhood diarrhea, a leading cause of mortality in children under five. In western Rwanda, researchers evaluated the impact of community hygiene clubs on the health and hygiene of households and on children under five in particular. The study found that the community health clubs had no impact on caregiver-reported rates of diarrhea among children under five.

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Gender-based violence is a global problem, but little rigorous research exists on the effectiveness of interventions that aim to reduce and prevent such violence. Violence is the result of the complex interplay of several factors, including social norms and attitudes.

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Ghana, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has greatly expanded access to primary school in the last two decades, but very few children meet academic standards for their grade.

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Around the world, studies show that children’s health and cognitive development tend to be higher when parents have more education. However, it is unclear whether education itself causes improved child health, or if other factors account for this relationship.

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Globally, bureaucrats are responsible for the day-to-day matters of policy implementation and government service provision. However, we know very little about how bureaucrats’ own interests and biases influence the ultimate distribution of public goods and services. To measure how citizens’ identities and the characteristics of their petitions affect municipal bureaucrats’ bias and efficiency, researchers conducted a national-scale audit of two of Colombia’s largest social service programs.

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Negative experiences in medical facilities can deter women from accessing delivery, family planning, and post-abortion care services and adhering to recommended treatment. In Kenya, researchers are evaluating the impact of quality improvement interventions on improving patient-centered care for delivery and family planning services.

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Elected government officials in many developing countries often do a poor job of performing their core responsibilities of providing public goods, developing legislation and regulation, and representing their constituents at the national level. Additionally, primary elections often cater to the elite and lack input from the average voter.

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Few microenterprises grow and employ more than one worker, and policymakers have struggled to identify what keeps these businesses from growing further. To study these limitations, researchers offered microentrepreneurs capital to incentivize them to hire. Results showed that a wage subsidy did not lead to lasting increases in employment sales or profits.

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Identifying eligible beneficiaries for social programs, a process known as targeting, can be a challenging and costly process for development and humanitarian organizations. Many widely-used targeting strategies were developed for rural environments and may not work as well in dynamic and densely populated urban centers. One potential new technique is “decentralized targeting,” a process that relies on information from socially knowledgeable members of a community.

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Impact evaluations in the financial inclusion sector often attempt to measure the financial health of their participants. However, there is little consensus about what financial health consists of and how it should be measured, making it difficult to compare findings about financial health across studies. IPA is developing a standardized set of metrics for measuring financial health that can be used in a variety of contexts.

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As in many other developing countries, children under the age of five in rural Ghana often fail to reach their developmental potential. Researchers there are partnering with the organization Lively Minds to evaluate the impact of a low-cost, play-based learning program on early childhood cognitive development.

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Testing Agricultural Technologies

Using improved hybrid seed varieties may generate higher yields for maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa—where agricultural productivity is low relative to other regions—but many farmers have not adopted these seeds. This project, which was not a randomized evaluation, studied the comparative yields of several seed varieties and farmer purchasing decisions in an effort to understand the performance and adoption of seed varieties in northern Ghana.

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One reason for low incomes among smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa may be a lack of demand for their crops in the markets that these farmers have access to. In Kenya, Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) is a program that trains smallholder farmers to adopt a “market-oriented farming” approach involving shifts to more in-demand crops and adoption of new agricultural practices.

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Prior evidence on small grants programs to female-owned businesses has found that women entrepreneurs are less likely to invest this capital into their businesses than men are. The intersection between household and business needs seems to play a role in this.

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While workers in larger firms tend to be more productive than those in smaller ones, the underlying reasons for these differences are unclear. In India, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation among data entry employees, to measure the impact of different work arrangements (office- versus home-based) on worker productivity.

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Business training programs aim to instill standardized management practices in participants in hopes that these will help raise business performance. However, decision makers and researchers have struggled to find conclusive evidence on the firm-level impacts of these trainings.

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Credit: World Bank Erick Kaglan

What makes someone a successful entrepreneur? Is it a matter of teaching the right business skills, or instilling a proactive entrepreneurial mindset? If the latter, can these personal qualities be taught? This research in Togo investigated these questions, and found that a training focused on personal initiative skills, such as self-starting, future-oriented, and persistent behavior, was more successful than a traditional business training at increasing sales and profits.

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Evidence suggests that approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve mental health and reduce crime and violence in post-conflict areas. However, delivering CBT programs is a challenge in settings that lack trained staff and therapeutic facilities. Researchers in Sierra Leone are exploring alternate delivery platforms to bring evidence-based mental health interventions to youth facing conflict and adversity in West Africa.

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