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When Rigorous Impact Evaluation Is Not a Luxury: Scrutinizing the Millennium Villages

A version of this blog also appeared on the Huffington Post.

Back in 2004 a major new development project started in Bar-Sauri, Kenya. This Millennium Village Project (MVP) seeks to break individual village clusters free from poverty with an intense, combined aid package for agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure. The United Nations and Columbia University began the pilot phase in Bar-Sauri and have extended it to numerous village clusters in nine other countries. They hope to scale up the approach across much of Africa.

But wait: Before we consider blanketing a continent with any aid intervention, we have to know whether or not it works. For example, we have to know if different things have happened in Bar-Sauri than have happened in nearby Uranga, which was not touched by the project. And we have to know if those differences will last. This matters because aid money is scarce, and the tens of millions slated for the MVP are tens of millions that won’t be spent on other efforts.

Here I discuss a new research paper that I wrote with Gabriel Demombynes of the World Bank.