NGOs can learn a lot from this year’s Nobel Prize winners in economics about how to use experimental methods to ensure their programmes succeed, said researchers from Poland’s Institute for Structural Research (IBS) who led a workshop for assistance organisations.
The 2019 Nobel prize went to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for their approach to poverty reduction, which used experimental methods to measure the effectiveness of support programs in developing countries. The Swedish Academy of Sciences said the trio “dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice”.
In the case of social programmes, the experimental method consists in dividing potential beneficiaries into two groups at random, of which only one group receives support (in the form of training, benefits etc.) After the project concludes, by comparing the two groups donors can confirm whether the programme is bringing the desired effect. Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer used this method to study the effect of various forms of support for Kenyan schools on educational outcomes.
“Both NGOs and public administration can use experimental methods with success: they’re not difficult, and they deliver truly good answers,” said Mateusz Smoter, an analyst at the IBS. “Taking into account that donors such as the EU are placing increasing weight on evaluation, the use of experimental methods may soon become essential.”
As part of its “Youth employment partnerSHIP” project, which seeks to increase employment of young people, so called NEETs (not in employment, education or training) in Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain, the IBS organised a workshop to teach experimental methods to NGOs. The event was led by Tomasz Gajderowicz, an economist who uses experimental methods in his research. He showed the circumstances in which it’s possible to use an experiment, discussed how to design one and how to measure the effects.
“During the workshop, participants identified a number of ways to use experiments in the work they do,” Gajderowicz said. “A randomized experiment is recognised as the most credible method for evaluating a programme’s effectiveness; it’s also exceptionally intuitive, and simpler than many advanced econometric methods that are less credible. It would be wonderful if a culture of experimentation developed here in Poland: we’d have much more effective programmes and we’d spend public funds better.”
“Participants in our workshop admitted that they very often don’t know whether a programme is working or not,” said Gajderowicz. “Just because they’ve organised a number of trainings, which drew great interest from recipients of benefits and which they evaluated positively, doesn’t mean that the trainings delivered the desired effect, such as helping participants find work.”