My guest on this week’s show is David Roodman, a research fellow here at CGD who has spent the past year writing a book on microfinance. He has shared this experience online through his open book blog, posting chapter drafts, analyzing ongoing research in the field, and soliciting comments and suggestions. I ask David why he decided to write his book in such a public way, and what he’s learned over the last year.
David replies that when it comes to policy research, people write books for four reasons. “One is to help you think through a complicated process… Another is to provide a basis for shorter spin-off pieces… Another is to signal that you’re an expert about something. And then the last is, oh yeah, to write something for people to read.” David says blogging about the book-writing process has helped him to partially accomplish the first three goals even before the book is complete. It has also, somewhat unexpectedly he says, changed his writing style, something he discussed recently on the blog.
Some of David’s posts have been highly influential. We chat about several: a series of posts interpreting the recent spate of randomized controlled trials of the effectiveness of microcredit, his reflections on Kiva’s less-than-fully-forthright explanation of how it works, and his recent exploration of a perhaps worrying drop in the Grameen Bank’s repayment rates.
Near the end of the Wonkcast, I ask David to summarize the main argument of his book, which he’s nearly finished drafting and which will be published later this year. He says that, looking at metrics like poverty alleviation, empowering women, or building strong institutions, microcredit has not succeeded as well as commonly thought. However, other kinds of financial services—especially savings—do better almost across the board. “That’s where I think we need to push the microfinance sector generally,” says David.
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