Aunt Eliza


Bringing evidence to bear on policy

Happy 2019. We’re beginning with a report from Evidence in Practice, a project from the Yale School of Management. The report focuses on how to integrate rigorously researched evidence with policy and practice, with an emphasis on international development. The needs numerous stakeholders involved in research and policymaking are enumerated, along with their own needs and priorities: funders, researchers, intermediaries, policymakers, and implementers each receive consideration. One of the strengths of the report is its quotations from dozens of interviews across these groups, which give a sense of the messy, at times frustrating, always collaborative business of effecting change in the world. As to the question of what works:

“The most successful examples of evidence integration lessen the distinction between evidence generation and application, and focus on designing approaches that simultaneously generate (different types of) rigorous evidence and develop an iterative process for integrating evidence into practice. These projects turn the need to negotiate evidence generation and integration into an asset rather than a roadblock. In that sense, the best examples of evidence integration resulted from programs with robust, explicit learning and evidence sharing agendas. This commitment to learning opens the door for different types of linkages and information flows across stakeholders to share experiences, perspectives, and insights with the explicit (and non-threatening) goal of learning.”

Another key point is that academic researchers and implementers have different definitions of evidence: Academics have a “tendency to think of evidence as abstract, ‘universal’ knowledge, while implementers have learned that knowledge is always and necessarily enacted and situated in practice, where few universal principles seem to hold across multiple complex contexts.”

Full report, by Rodrigo Canales et al, here.

  • In October, Ruth Mayne, Duncan Green, Irene Guijt, Martin Walsh, Richard English & Paul Cairney published a paper detailing Oxfam’s experience with promoting research-uptake in the policy sphere: “Academic studies of the politics of evidence-based policymaking suggest that policymaking can never be ‘evidence based’ (Cairney, 2016). At best, it is evidence-informed.” Link.
  • At the World Bank’s Development Impact Blog, David Evans summarized the Oxfam paper into eight key points, including: “Great research is informed by engaging with people outside of our academic circles. We learn from people and policymakers (and people in other disciplines) what big new/unsolved problems are out there, and how institutions (formal and informal) really work.” Link. ht Tim Ogden


Post-war industrialization in Finland, and its impact on mobility

This week we’re introducing a new section of the newsletter: a spotlight on great work from a graduate student. Have you read any excellent student work recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

Inaugurating the series is a paper from Matti Mitrunen, a PhD student in economics at Stockholm University. Mitrunen looks at the impact of Finnish war reparations after World War II: Finland was required to build out its industrial capacities (in a manner Mitrunen describes as “in many ways straight out of the industrial policy playbook”) and the effects of this shift toward industry reverberated through generations.

“From 1944 to 1952, Finland, a country with 60% of its labor force still working in agriculture, had to export 5% of its yearly GDP in industrial products as a reparation for losses caused during the war. This episode introduces plausibly exogenous variation in temporary government policy as the Soviet Union dictated the structure of the indemnities. The Soviet Union placed most of the reparations burden on relatively complex metal products such as ships, locomotives, cables, and engines – sectors where Finland had little previous experience.

… Having shown that the older generation of workers left agriculture for more modern sectors and obtained higher wages, I move on to the third and principal finding of the paper: the lasting intergenerational response to increased industrialization. I show that the increase in manufacturing led to better occupational and education outcomes for younger cohorts in more exposed places.”

Link to the paper, which concludes: “This experience of the Finnish war reparations illustrates opportunities and challenges for government action to spur structural transformation in today’s developing countries.”


  • Interactive data visualizations of citation patterns across scientific fields from economics to astronomy, from Moritz Stefaner and Eigenfactor. Link.
  • From Cynthia Miller and MDRC, a study titled “Boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit for Singles” finds that Paycheck Plus “reduced severe poverty” and “modestly increased employment rates.” Link. ht Sidhya
  • In our last newsletter, we listed some favorite studies and researchers of the past year. If you liked our picks, you’ll love the list of favorite development papers from David McKenzie and others at the World Bank. Link.
  • Continuing on that theme, Quartz has once again put together “Twelve leading economists on the research that shaped our world in 2018,” which includes Sue Dynarski’s work on the effects of promising of tuition-free college, and Amanda Agan and Sonja Starr’s research on the effects of “Ban the Box” legislation. Link to the full piece in Quartz. See also The Economist’s list of the eight best young economists of the decade. Link.
  • What happens when more women enter the police force? “Increases in female officer shares are followed by significant declines in rates of intimate partner homicide and non-fatal domestic abuse.” Link to the paper by Amalia Miller and Carmit Segal.
  • In late December, the Niskanen Center released a widely shared paper detailing their center-right research and policy mission. Link. Among the interesting responses, a thread from Glen Weyl offers some fundamental critiques of their program. Link.
  • At Data for Progress, Greg Carlock specifies a number of goals for the Green New Deal. Link. David Roberts at Vox has a great general-interest summary of what the Green New Deal means and the political struggle that awaits it. Link.
  • Maura Francese and Delphine Prady have a new IMF working paper about how to assess UBI and related policy tradeoffs. “In short, efficiency and equity impact of a UBI cannot be gauged in isolation.” Link.
  • For German speakers (or those equipped with Google Translate), JFI was included in a Zurich newspaper article about the increasing importance of applied ethics, especially digital ethics. Link.
  • A postdoc found a lost 1613 letter by Galileo—previously miscatalogued at the Royal Society library in London—that reveals his early thinking about separating science from church doctrine. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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