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When does rigorous impact evaluation make a difference? The case of the Millennium Villages

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  • Michael A. Clemens
  • Gabriel Demombynes

Abstract

When is the rigorous impact evaluation of development projects a luxury, and when a necessity? The authors study one high-profile case: the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an experimental and intensive package intervention to spark sustained local economic development in rural Africa. They illustrate the benefits of rigorous impact evaluation in this setting by showing that estimates of the project's effects depend heavily on the evaluation method. Comparing trends at the MVP intervention sites in Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria with trends in the surrounding areas yields much more modest estimates of the project's effects than the before-versus-after comparisons published thus far by the MVP. Neither approach constitutes a rigorous impact evaluation of the MVP, which is impossible to perform due to weaknesses in the evaluation design of the project's initial phase. These weaknesses include the subjective choice of intervention sites, the subjective choice of comparison sites, the lack of baseline data on comparison sites, the small sample size, and the short time horizon. The authors describe one of many ways that the next wave of the intervention could be designed to allow proper evaluation of the MVP's impact at little additional cost.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael A. Clemens & Gabriel Demombynes, 2011. "When does rigorous impact evaluation make a difference? The case of the Millennium Villages," Journal of Development Effectiveness, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(3), pages 305-339, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jdevef:v:3:y:2011:i:3:p:305-339
    DOI: 10.1080/19439342.2011.587017
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Miriam Bruhn & David McKenzie, 2009. "In Pursuit of Balance: Randomization in Practice in Development Field Experiments," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(4), pages 200-232, October.
    2. Kibaara, Betty & Ariga, Joshua & Olwande, John & Jayne, Thom S., 2008. "Trends in Kenyan Agricultural Productivity: 1997-2007," Working Papers 202611, Egerton University, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development.
    3. Michael Woolcock, 2009. "Toward a plurality of methods in project evaluation: a contextualised approach to understanding impact trajectories and efficacy," Journal of Development Effectiveness, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 1(1), pages 1-14.
    4. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2009. "Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 8769.
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    Cited by:

    1. Datta, Nirupam, 2015. "Evaluating Impacts of Watershed Development Program on Agricultural Productivity, Income, and Livelihood in Bhalki Watershed of Bardhaman District, West Bengal," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 443-456.
    2. Maria Lo Bue & Stephan Klasen, 2013. "Identifying Synergies and Complementarities Between MDGs: Results from Cluster Analysis," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 113(2), pages 647-670, September.
    3. Shira Mitchell & Andrew Gelman & Rebecca Ross & Joyce Chen & Sehrish Bari & Uyen Kim Huynh & Matthew W. Harris & Sonia Ehrlich Sachs & Elizabeth A. Stuart & Avi Feller & Susanna Makela & Alan M. Zasla, "undated". "The Millennium Villages Project: A Retrospective, Observational, Endline Evaluation," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 8376cf28448b40f69543be760, Mathematica Policy Research.
    4. Ruth Stewart & Carina van Rooyen & Thea de Wet, 2012. "Purity or pragmatism? Reflecting on the use of systematic review methodology in development," Journal of Development Effectiveness, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(3), pages 430-444, September.
    5. Matthew E. Kahn, 2015. "A Review of The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey Sachs," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(3), pages 654-666, September.
    6. Michael Clemens, Gabriel Demombynes, 2013. "The New Transparency in Development Economics: Lessons from the Millennium Villages Controversy," Working Papers 342, Center for Global Development.
    7. Kamiya, Yusuke & Yoshimura, Yukie & Islam, Mohammad Tajul, 2013. "An impact evaluation of the Safe Motherhood Promotion Project in Bangladesh: Evidence from Japanese aid-funded technical cooperation," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 34-41.

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