Round up of stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t: partnerships, taxes, evidence, and failure

1. Partnerships.

Small is Beautiful…Grants, That Is. Jennifer Lentfer describes small grant programs in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the “why” of small grant programs. In short: because local, community-based organizations are vitally important for development, and larger-scale donor projects provide inadequate support to their work. Part 2 looks more at the “how” of such programs. Working with small, local organizations calls for a different approach to grant-making, monitoring and accountability. Part 2 also includes a list of organizations with small grant programs.

INGO Partner Survey. On a similar note, a recent survey asked local NGOs for their opinions on their international NGO partners. Unsurprisingly, one major finding was that local organizations don’t want to be treated as sub-contractors. (h/t Lawrence Haddad)

2. Taxes are good.

Tax doding, aid, and Afghanistan. Scott Gilmore describes how the UN, USAID contractors, and others avoid taxation in countries where they operate. Instead, donors end up giving general budget support to the host country. But this doesn’t adequately make up for the lost tax revenue, because the tax exemption undercuts the development of a transparent and efficient tax administration system. This has implications for the government’s institutional growth and accountability.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now. Matt Collin reviews a suggestion by Todd Moss that a country facing new-found oil wealth could avoid the resource curse by just giving cash to its citizens (like Alaska does) and then taxing it like income — thus promoting accountability and strengthening the social contract. Matt asks a provocative question: “If we think this would work with natural resources, why don’t we try this with aid?”

3. Evidence-based policy?

Removing the Roadblocks to Rehabilitation. Tina Rosenberg blogs for NYT about prisoner re-entry and rehabilitation programs in the United States. She laments the lack of evidence regarding what actually works and what doesn’t, but is hopeful that states facing budget crunches will get more serious about funding research. (h/t Alex Tabarrok)

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. Don’t be fooled by the headline. The article cites a study from the journal Science in which students who conduct “retrieval practice” after reading a passage will remember the contents better than students who simply read the passage multiple times or conduct something called “concept mapping”. The NYT article decided to equate “retrieval practice” with “testing” — thus allowing them to shoe-horn this study into a hot-button political debate. But if you read it closely, “retrieval practice” sounds a lot more like taking notes. So the study confirmed that taking notes improves learning and comprehension. I already knew that. I bet you did too. I include it here to make a point: evidence is insufficient if we’re not smart enough to know what it means. (h/t Josh Z)

4. Failure.

Admitting Failure. Several organizations now issue some form of failure report, including: Peace Dividend Trust, Engineers without Borders Canada, and Mobile Active’s FailFaire. Engineers without Borders has now launched a site to encourage other organizations to admit failure. I love that the engineers are leading this charge. Given that medicine brought randomized-control trials to development, it makes sense that the engineering field would contribute tinkering, screwing-up, and then fixing it! (I say this with nothing but love for the engineers.)

Looking Back on Haiti II: Failure or Success? J. (Tales from the Hood) discusses whether the Haiti earthquake response has been a failure. His observations suggest that “failure or success?” may not be a useful question to ask, in part because “Haiti earthquake response” is not a useful level of analysis (some interventions worked, some didn’t).

Mainstreaming complexity and failure. Failure has become a hot topic on development blogs recently. Shotgun Shack worries that it will become just another buzzword.

The Journal of Universal Rejection. I find this only mildly amusing. Probably because I’ve never had reason to submit anything to a journal. Among academics, evidently this is hilarious. (h/t Tyler Cowen, Chris Blattman, and others).