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‘Revolution’ in Evidence-Based Policy Discussed at Opening of 3ie’s UK Office

The upcoming ‘revolution’ in evidence-based policy and the importance of impact evaluation were emphasised at the opening of the London office of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).
Academics and policy-makers spoke of evidence gaps, challenges translating evidence into policy, and opportunities to influence investment decisions affecting the poor in developing countries. A new joint call by DFID, 3ie and AusAid – the Australian aid agency – was also announced for systematic reviews at the event hosted by LIDC on October 11.

Michael Anderson, Director General for Research, Policy and International Relations at DFID, explained DFID’s new focus on evidence, systematic reviews and cost-effectiveness. He spoke of increased scrutiny of the aid budget, but also explained that DFID will not stop taking risks and will not only pursue what can be measured. Anderson said: “It is my personal belief that the development venture is on the verge of going through an evidence-based revolution, so that 10 years from now we will have tested much more, will know much more about what works where and why, and will regard an evidence-based discussion as standard operating procedure. The work of 3ie will be critical to making that change.”

The conference at Woburn House was held to mark the launch of 3ie’s London office at LIDC’s headquarters in Gordon Square. Staff in the London office are focusing on systematic reviews and will coordinate a monthly seminar programme to improve the dialogue between researchers and policy-makers. 3ie seeks to improve the lives of poor people in low- and middle-income countries by providing, and summarising, evidence of what works, when, why and for how much. Created in 2007, 3ie has already disbursed a total of $50m for 47 impact evaluation studies, and has completed 11 systematic reviews.

3ie was repeatedly praised as relevant and important at the launch. Miguel Székely Pardo, former Undersecretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Ministry of Social Development, Mexico, claimed its activities are necessary to fill information gaps and support policy-making, especially as policy decisions are “seldom” based on scientific evidence. He also said evaluation should be seen as an instrument to improving implementation, rather than an end in itself, and suggested 3ie could help provide incentives for successful implementation.
Designing research for impact
Dr Rachel Glennerster, Executive Director of the Adbul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, continued by demonstrating how evidence can influence policy, particularly if evaluations are based on rigorous methodologies, if implementers have the ability to scale-up projects, and if they can be replicated elsewhere in the world. She cited an evaluation of a deworming programme in a part of Kenya, which showed how deworming increases school attendance by 25 per cent. The intervention, which only costs US 50 cents per child per year, has grown to cover 3.7 million children in Kenya and two million in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.

Dr Thomas Clasen, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, spoke about the importance of effective and appropriate solutions for household water treatment. He mentioned the difficulties of promoting behaviour change and his focus on impact was clear. Clasen said: “It is not enough to count things and deliver. Ultimately we have to look at the health impact and be outcome-based. If we measure we have an impact upon investment.”

The benefits of combining qualitative and quantitative methods and the value of impact evaluations were also emphasised. Professor Sandy Oliver, of the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre at the Institute of Education, said: “Interdisciplinary working is required. There will be many challenges for policy-makers, practitioners and researchers, but there will be mutual learning. If you are poor you need more evidence than if you are rich.”

By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC
Powerpoint presentations delivered at the launch
Impact evaluation, policy-making and academic research: some reflections and examples - Professor Orazio Attanasio, Department of Economics, University College London
Systematic reviews as a source of useful evidence: the experience of the EPPI-Centre - Professor Sandy Oliver, EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education
Using evidence to drive health interventions: the case of household water treatment - Dr Thomas Clasen, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
The use of evidence in developing countries: experiences and challenges - Miguel Székely Pardo, former Undersecretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Ministry of Social Development, Mexico
The use of evidence in developing countries: (South African) experiences and challenges - Thilde Stevens, Department of Social Development, South Africa
Using randomized control trials to inform development policy - Dr Rachel Glennerster, Executive Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT