Journal Issue: World Bank Research Observer, Volume 31, Issue 2

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What Really Works to Improve Learning in Developing Countries?: An Analysis of Divergent Findings in Systematic Reviews
(Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2016-08) Evans, David K. ; Popova, Anna
Over the course of just two years, at least six reviews have examined interventions that seek to improve learning outcomes in developing countries. Although the reviews ostensibly have the same objective, they reach sometimes starkly different conclusions. The first objective of this paper is to identify why reviews diverge in their conclusions and how future reviews can be more effective. The second objective is to identify areas of overlap in the recommendations of existing reviews of what works to improve learning. This paper demonstrates that divergence in the recommendations of learning reviews is largely driven by differences in the samples of research incorporated in each review. Of 229 studies with student learning results, the most inclusive review incorporates less than half of the total studies. Across the reviews, two classes of programs are recommended with some consistency. Pedagogical interventions that tailor teaching to student learning levels—either teacher-led or facilitated by adaptive learning software—are effective at improving student test scores, as are individualized, repeated teacher training interventions often associated with a specific task or tool. Future reviews will be most useful if they combine narrative review with meta-analysis, conduct more exhaustive searches, and maintain low aggregation of intervention categories.
Decentralization of Health and Education in Developing Countries: A Quality-Adjusted Review of the Empirical Literature
(Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2016-08) Channa, Anila ; Faguet, Jean-Paul
We review empirical evidence on the ability of decentralization to enhance preference matching and technical efficiency in the provision of health and education in developing countries. Many influential surveys have found that the empirical evidence of decentralization's effects on service delivery is weak, incomplete, and often contradictory. Our own unweighted reading of the literature concurs. However, when we organize quantitative evidence first by substantive theme, and then—crucially—by empirical quality and the credibility of its identification strategy, clear patterns emerge. Higher-quality evidence indicates that decentralization increases technical efficiency across a variety of public services, from student test scores to infant mortality rates. Decentralization also improves preference matching in education, and can do so in health under certain conditions, although there is less evidence for both. We discuss individual studies in some detail. Weighting by quality is especially important when quantitative evidence informs policy-making. Firmer conclusions will require an increased focus on research design, and a deeper examination into the prerequisites and mechanisms of successful reforms.
Producer Insurance and Risk Management Options for Smallholder Farmers
(Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2016-08) Smith, Vincent H.
Many smallholder families are exceptionally prone to potentially catastrophic decreases in their incomes and access to food. Over the past decade, therefore, policy makers and economists have increasingly focused on potential mechanisms for expanding risk management strategies available to those families. Commercially provided weather-based index insurance products, perhaps partially funded by subsidies, have been of particular interest because of their apparent potential to provide payments to smallholder families when they are most in need of help. However, the empirical evidence from a wide range of studies indicates that, absent relatively substantial subsidies, small holder farmers will not purchase commercially priced index products or even “all risk” products where payments are tied to the farm's crop losses. There are three important reasons why this is the case. First, smallholder farmers already have many ways of managing their risks, including informal community-based initiatives, on-farm production decisions and off-farm work. Second, index insurance schemes are subject to considerable basis risk; families often do not receive an index insurance indemnity when they experience a substantial crop loss on their farms. Third, the fixed costs of delivering crop insurance to smallholders make such coverage expensive. The potential market for weather index insurance therefore may be limited to insuring relatively large groups of farmers, either directly or indirectly though providing micro finance and other lending institution with coverage against widespread loan defaults associated with catastrophic events like major droughts. Alternatively, weather indexes could simply be used to more accurately target emergency aid.
Payment by Results in Development Aid: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
(Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2016-08) Clist, Paul
Payment by Results (PbR), where aid is disbursed conditional upon progress against a pre-agreed measure, is becoming increasingly important for various donors. There are great hopes that this innovative instrument will focus attention on ultimate outcomes and lead to greater aid effectiveness by passing the delivery risk on to recipients. However, there is very little related empirical evidence, and previous attempts to place it on a sure conceptual footing are rare and incomplete. This article collates and synthesises relevant insights from a wide range of subfields in economics, providing a rich framework with which to analyze Payment by Results. I argue that the domain in which it dominates more traditional forms is relatively small and if it is used too broadly, many of the results it claims are likely to be misleading. The likelihood of illusory gains stems from the difficulty of using a single indicator to simultaneously measure and reward performance: ‘once a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.’ This does not mean PbR should not be used (indeed it will be optimal in some settings), but it does mean that claims of success should be treated with caution.