Michael Clemens won’t let up on the Millennium Villages + bonus links

It’s nice to see scholars bringing attention to the critical need for evaluation and informed public dialogue (not just “success stories” or short-term impact evaluation) for the Millennium Villages Project, which we have also covered on this blog. Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development is currently carrying on a very revealing dialogue with Millennium Villages. In Michael’s first blog post which we blogged, he makes three central points:

  1. The hundreds of thousands of people living in the Millennium Villages, present and future, deserve to know whether the project’s combination of interventions is backed up by good science.
  2. Randomized evaluation is the best way to do this. While it may be too late to properly evaluate the first wave of villages, there is still time to conduct such a study for the next wave of villages.
  3. The MVP evaluation should demonstrate long-term impact before it is scaled up.

In a subsequent post, Michael parses the curious non-answer he receives from the director of monitoring and evaluation for the MVP, Dr. Paul Pronyk. He breaks down—for those of us not intimately involved in the finer details of impact evaluation—the difference between true scientific evaluation and what the MVP says it is doing, namely “matched randomly selected comparison villages.”

What the MVP has done is something very different from…a rigorous evaluation.  First, village cluster A1 was chosen for treatment, for a range of reasons that may include its potential for responding positively to the project.  Then, long after treatment began, three other clusters that appear similar to A1 were identified — call these “candidate” comparison clusters A2, A3, and A4.  The fact that all three candidates were chosen after treatment in A1 began creates an enormous incentive to pick those candidates, consciously or unconsciously, whose performance will make the intervention in A1 look good.  Then the comparison village was chosen at random from among A2, A3, and A4.

Differences between the treated cluster and the comparison cluster might be due to the MVP. But those differences might also be due to how the original Millennium Village was chosen, and how the three candidate comparison villages were chosen.  This is not a hypothetical concern…

So, either the MVP director of evaluation does not understand evaluation...or he thinks we won't know the difference.

Dr. Pronyk promises the release of the MVP’s midpoint evaluation at some unspecified time later this year, and said they “look forward to an active discussion about the initial findings regarding poverty, hunger, and disease in the Millennium Villages.” We hope the scholarly community and the wider reading public concerned with development issues will give Dr. Pronyk precisely what he’s asking for.

Bonus Links

* Sounds a bit like a parody we wish we’d written….but it’s true. Yesterday’s NYT features this quote from a story on China’s bid to supply California with technology, equipment and engineers to build a high-speed railway, and to help finance its construction:

“We are the most advanced in many fields, and we are willing to share with the United States,” Zheng Jian, the chief planner and director of high-speed rail at China’s railway ministry, said.

* We’d be remiss not to mention this helpful timeline of celebrity aid to Africa featuring an interactive map from Mother Jones (and some additional commentary from Wronging Rights and Texas in Africa.)