14 October 2011

Jeff Sachs: LVP of the MVP?

I have a lot of time for Jeff Sachs: sharp intellect, unflagging energy, extraordinary communication ability and gallons of boldness.

But when it comes to things like the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), in many ways, he seems to be his team's Least Valuable Player (LVP). He is, in short, a lightning rod. I think Madeleine Bunting called him a marmite person--you love him or hate him (although I am nowhere near these extremes).

The 2 main critiques of the MVP seem to be (a) of course if you spend $60 per head per person for 5 years you will see dramatic development improvements--but what happens when the donor money runs out? and (b) actually we don't know if the impacts are there because the MVP has no baseline comparison group of villages (and there is absolutely no technical reason the MVP experiment could not have been randomised at the village level a la Progresa).

The second critique seems sound to me. It is hard to understand why baselines of case control villages were not undertaken. The second critique gets us impact folk excited, but I suspect it is the first critique that is more widely supported--who on earth will pay for this once the donors leave?

But it seems to me that this ownership and sustainability issue can be evaluated in the impact analysis, at least in a plausibility kind of way (i.e. we won't really know if it sustainable until the external money is taken away).

For example, one could measure whether the MPV funds:

(a) crowd in or crowd out private or state contributions to infrastructure development

(b) lead to more business activity

(c) create a more diversified tax base

(d) lead to more domestically financed NGOs

(e) helps secure rights (property, user of civil), and

(f) build a stronger capacity to fight for state resources.

One could also do some knowledge, attitude and perceptions work with policymakers, community leaders and NGOs that is clever enough to get around self-interest and get answers to questions about about sustainability and ownership.

These kinds of questions are vital, it seems to me, for the next phase of the MVP evaluation equation--an equation that Jeff Sachs would do well to take himself out of for a while...


Divirian said...

The MVP affair (cannot call it an experiment) really has gone on too long. So many folk have made gentle critique like yours, which the UN SecGen's Special Rep for MDGs is free to ignore as he is not accountable. As I noted in my own modest blog (http://divirian.blogspot.com/2010/11/worth-candle.html), the FT's Undercover Economist is not impressed; but still we see the vehicles, the project offices, the distraction towards crude 'cash injection' approaches. As we approach 2015, we should all hold ourselves accountable, especially Prof Sachs.

Lawrence Haddad said...

Hi Divirian

I'm not against public cash injections if they (a) don't crowd out private injections of cash, (b) do crowd in private cash injections of resources needed for sustainable poverty reduction and (c) are evaluated properly. Mine is not an ideological objection, I just want to know if it works (or not) when the external money is flowing and I want to be reassured that it is likely to work once that money stops.

Erin Trowbridge said...

Prof Sachs responds to this posting here: http://blogs.millenniumpromise.org/index.php/2011/10/16/learning-in-and-from-the-millennium-villages-a-response-to-lawrence-haddad/

Brendan Whitty said...

A deconstruction of Jeffrey Sachs and Prabhjot Singh's response: http://bit.ly/qfUFdn

Rina Chowthe said...

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