In both rich and poor countries, government policy is often based on no evidence at all and many programs don’t work. This has particularly harsh effects on the global poor – in some countries governments only spend $100 on each citizen a year so they can’t afford to waste a single dollar.
Enter MIT’s Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Since 2003 they’ve conducted experiments to figure out what policies actually help recipients, and then try to get them implemented by governments and non-profits.
Claire Walsh leads J-PAL’s Government Partnership Initiative, which works to evaluate policies and programs in collaboration with developing world governments, scale policies that have been shown to work, and generally promote a culture of evidence-based policymaking.
We discussed (her views only, not J-PAL’s):
- How can they get evidence backed policies adopted? Do politicians in the developing world even care whether their programs actually work? Is the norm evidence-based policy, or policy-based evidence?
- Is evidence-based policy an evidence-based strategy itself?
- Which policies does she think would have a particularly large impact on human welfare relative to their cost?
- How did she come to lead one of J-PAL’s departments at 29?
- How do you evaluate the effectiveness of energy and environment programs (Walsh’s area of expertise), and what are the standout approaches in that area?
- 80,000 Hours has warned people about the downsides of starting your career in a non-profit. Walsh started her career in a non-profit and has thrived, so are we making a mistake?
- Other than J-PAL, what are the best places to work in development? What are the best subjects to study? Where can you go network to break into the sector?
- Is living in poverty as bad as we think?
And plenty of other things besides.
We haven’t run an RCT to test whether this episode will actually help your career, but I suggest you listen anyway. Trust my intuition on this one.