What Data Can Do to Fight Poverty – The New York Times

I wonder if this research can is useful for food assistance incentive strategies: If allowing shoppers to use their incentive for any item at a market (rather than a hard commitment to just F&V) would ultimately create a more active (regular) marketgoer? And what about the search for food system leaders?

IF social scientists and policy makers have learned anything about how to help the world’s poorest people, it’s not to trust our intuitions or anecdotal evidence about what kinds of antipoverty programs are effective. Rigorous randomized evaluations of policies, however, can show us what works and what doesn’t.

Public primary school students were given the chance to deposit money weekly into a lockbox, and they were informed that their accumulated savings would be returned to them at a school-supplies fair at the beginning of the next trimester. Schools were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In the first group, students were offered a “hard” commitment: Their accumulated savings would be returned in the form of a voucher that had to be spent on school supplies. In the second group, students got a “soft” commitment: Their savings would be returned in cash, and could be spent as they wished. The third group of schools continued as normal, serving as a comparison group whose savings and spending money were also observed…. Students who got their savings back in cash saved more, and when the program was combined with parental involvement (which was also randomized), the students also bought more school supplies and achieved higher test scores.

The researchers randomly assigned some rural communities to receive advertisements for the jobs that announced opportunities for career advancement, whereas in other areas, the advertisements were silent on this issue. Contrary to expectation, the researchers reported in a working paper released last year, those recruited with “career” advertisements were more qualified and scored higher on exams during training, and also exhibited the same degree of emphasis on community service. The “go-getters” also outperformed the “do-gooders” on the job, seeing the same number of patients in their health clinics while conducting 29 percent more home visits and twice as many community health meetings.

These two insights — committing to cash savings, recruiting “go-getters” for community service jobs — are just the tip of the iceberg. We have found that pairing experts in behavioral science with “on the ground” teams of researchers and field workers has yielded many good ideas about how to address the problems of poverty. Hope and rhetoric are great for motivation, but not for figuring out what to do. There you need data.


Source: What Data Can Do to Fight Poverty – The New York Times


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