End of Year Review — EPoD Looks Back on 2020

End of Year Review — EPoD Looks Back on 2020

This marks the end of a truly unprecedented year for Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD). We’ve transitioned all staff to working from home, all while adjusting our field-research to align with the constraints and new realities brought upon by the pandemic and migrating our trainings to a new platform to better support virtual deployments. Through all of this, we’ve continued our focus on economics research, training and policy outreach to improve lives by designing, testing and enabling better policies worldwide. 

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How can policymakers mitigate adverse impacts of the pandemic on Morocco’s labor market? The COVID-19 in Morocco: Labor Market Impacts and Policy Responses report analyzes the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Moroccan labor market, and highlights considerations and international experiences to help shoulder the pandemic’s impact. 

The death of a healthy term infant may signal patient safety and quality issues but little evidence exists regarding how exposure to an unexpected newborn death may alter clinician practice. Jessica Cohen, Margaret McConnell and co-authors found that an unexpected newborn death was associated with a modest increase in the subsequent use of cesarean delivery, newborn assisted ventilation, and antibiotic use for suspected sepsis, as well as an increase in neonatal intensive care unit admission in subgroup analysis.

Mental health is essential for an economically productive life in both industrialized and developing countries. In a study by Gautam Rao and co-authors, they found benefits to cash support and of low-cost therapeutic interventions for those suffering from mental illness under poverty.

Enhanced tax administration can increase government revenue collection from medium-sized firms in developing countries even more than raising tax rates. Rema Hanna Chatib Basri, Ben Olken and Mayara Felix looked at evidence from Indonesia.

David Franklin, an MPA/ID graduate, wrote “Invisible Learning”, a book about a statistics course offered at the Kennedy School by EPoD faculty Affiliate Dan Levy.  Written from the perspective of the student, the book is a fly-on-the-wall case study of the course. It argues that the learning environment is composed of invisible bonds between students and teacher, and considers how Dan strengthens those bonds and uses them to maximize learning. 


How do search and information frictions shape firm dynamics and market evolution in global e-commerce? Jie Bai, Maggie Chen, Jin Liu & Daniel Yi Xu share results from their randomized experiment in an NBER working paper. 

South Asia is the world's most climate vulnerable region, but people living in informal settlements, particularly women, face the brunt. Ammar Malik and colleagues explore the interplay between urban environments, climate risks and gender relations in the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice. 

The impact of FDI via quid pro quo (technology for market access) on facilitating knowledge spillover and quality upgrading in the Chinese automobile industry is studied by Jie Bai, Panle Jia Barwick, Shengmao Cao, and Shanjun Li in a NBER working paper

Public health officials should target their pandemic messaging to men differently than women. Vincent Pons and co-authors found a wide gender gap, consistently among 21,649 people across eight countries.   

Since April 2020, Rema Hanna and J-PAL SEA have been conducting continuous online surveys to provide real-time data on the social impact of COVID-19 in Indonesia. The survey helped provide an early assessment on the socioeconomic repercussions of COIVD-19 in Indonesia, focusing on employment, food insecurity, migration, use of government programs, and health knowledge.


To date, our Training of Trainers program has trained more than 6,000 policy actors on how to use data effectively through our blended BCURE program. Along with counterparts in India & Bangladesh, Charlotte Tuminelli and Teddy Svoronos shared our innovative model for capacity building for evidence-based policymaking in South Asia at the UN World Data Forum.

How do we promote a culture of evidence-based policymaking? The Morocco Employment Lab trained researchers and policy actors on our Smart Policy Design and Implementation (SPDI) framework. Introducing policy actors to SPDI’s problem-driven approach to policymaking is the first phase of generating buy-in and interest in conducting labor market evaluations to enhance the labor market in Morocco.  

Janina Matuszeski and Amelia Knudson collaborated with the Harvard Ministerial Program to train 40 Harvard graduate student researchers on how to evaluate programs and use data in their forthcoming research projects with African government ministries. Students had diverse prior experience with statistics and econometrics, and used EPoD’s BCURE blended-learning materials to develop a common language around data and evidence.  

Social norms can heavily influence our everyday decisions. Research by Leonardo Bursztyn, Alessandra Gonzalez, and David Yanagizawa-Drott, shows that social norms among men may shape women’s labor force participation decisions in Saudi Arabia. Via American Economic Review, and funded by EPoD’s labor market policy-research engagement in Saudi Arabia.

Do unconditional grants to schools improve learning? In the latest evidence from Pakistan, EPoD affiliate researchers find that under the right conditions test scores improve by almost 40% in villages with financial saturation. Unconditional grants can also lower closure rates and improve school revenues and enrollment. Read the paper by Asim I. Khwaja, Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, Selcuk Ozyurt, and Niharika Singh in AER

Does Context Outweigh Individual Characteristics in Driving Voting Behavior? Enrico Cantoni and Vincent Pons examine voters who relocate across state and county lines in this NBER working paper. 


The government has continued to expand safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable against economic shocks caused by COVID-19. To support policymakers, Rema Hanna via J-PAL Southeast Asia (J-PAL SEA) hosted a webinar presenting evidence-based insights on strengthening social protection programs during COVID-19. 



Can information about improved public services help build trust in state institutions and move people away from nonstate actors? In the Journal of Political Economy, Daron Acemoglu, Ali Cheema, Asim I. Khwaja, and James A. Robinson conducted high-stakes lab games and found evidence to suggest that it does. 

How can social protection programs target the right people, be adaptable in their design, and be delivered safely and efficiently? Rema Hanna and Benjamin Olken presented evidence on these topics via a World Bank webinar and provided actionable recommendations on how these lessons could be incorporated into program design.  

One of the most pressing impacts of the COVID-19 crisis has been on children’s education. The effects on learning outcomes, the future of low and middle cost private schools, and the disproportionate impact on remote and low-income background students are only some of the issues that education policymakers and professionals face. Zainab Qureshi moderated a panel on Education during the COVID-19 Era at the Harvard Pakistan Forum highlighting these issues. 


Our Smart Policy Design and Implementation (SDPI) framework generates evidence and embeds it into the policy process. Ammar Malik and Charlotte Tuminelli explored how theory and data can inform the diagnosis of a challenge’s underlying causes – thus leading to more evidence-based solutions at the Impact Festival at the Centre for Homelessness Impact.   

Dan Levy released his book “Teaching Effectively with Zoom” – providing pedagogic principles and practices to support everyone’s transition to online teaching. This book will help build the capacity of instructors to teach more effectively and inclusively online by giving them strategies to increase student participation and active learning. These strategies align with those used EPoD's in in-person training programs, but with the main learning domains re-imagined for virtual pedagogy.   


J-PAL and EPoD joined to launch the Morocco Employment Lab, funded by the Millennium Challenge Account Morocco and hosted by Policy Center for the New South. The Morocco Employment Lab seeks to create a culture of evidence-based policymaking through rigorous impact evaluations and capacity building in collaboration with a wide range of public and non-governmental organizations. Ammar Malik, Adil Ababou and Florencia Devoto for EPoD and J-PAL blogs. 

Poor families balance future returns to schooling against children’s current economic contributions. In a study in the Journal of Development Economics, Jie Bai and Yukun Wang examine the impact of returns to work, for adult labor and child labor, on child work and schooling outcomes.  

Social protection is more important than ever now for fragile countries that already house a large share of the world’s poor. Rema Hanna outlines the importance of social protection policies in addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 in fragile states and makes suggestions on how policymakers can overcome the challenges of implementing social protection policies when addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 in an International Growth Centre brief.   

Can taxes on consumption help reduce inequality? In a working paper, Anders Jensen, Pierre Bachas and Lucie Gadenne find that consumption taxes are substantially more progressive in developing countries than many believe. 

Can a simple, interactive game serve as a debiasing tool to reduce gambling in South Africa? Through a randomized field experiment, Martin Abel, Shawn Cole and Bilal Zia derived practical guidance for designing interventions to give individuals brief experiences that correct biases in their beliefs. 

Without the ability to travel or congregate in groups, governments are faced not only with the need to quickly learn how to respond to this pandemic, but to remotely train civil servants on how to respond. Teddy Svoronos shared tools to effectively teach others and illustrate how institutions can conduct their own convenings using EPoD’s evidence-based delivery model.  

Behavioral economics strategies may be able to strengthen HIV care continuum. In a study in South Africa, Margaret McConnell and co-authors found that conditional lottery incentives, which reward positive health choices with a chance to win a prize, shortened the time to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation among South African men.

Can a new car help a politician be reelected? Through field research in Uganda, Pai Raffler and Lucy Martin found that strengthening the (perceived) power of the bureaucracy through training, new office blocks, cars etc. may have the unintended consequence of undermining electoral accountability. They found that survey respondents were less likely to blame politicians for poor services when they perceived them as less powerful vis a vis the bureaucracy.


Many developing countries have long maintained fuel subsidies because they are politically impossible to abandon, owing to the sticker shock that the public encounters at the pump as soon as prices are floated. But now that oil prices have reached historic lows, this problem has all but disappeared. Rema Hanna, Chatib Basri and Benjamin Olken explain why in Project Syndicate.   

As COVID-19 shut down traditional education programs throughout South Asia, Zainab Qureshi, Asim Khwaja and colleagues discuss the unique challenges facing the educational, economic, and the potential long-term effects of distance learning.

Should the Chinese government tighten their regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Jie Bai shares insights based on her research on collective reputation in trade in the context of the Chinese Dairy Industry. 

COVID-19 has forced schools to close and thrown education systems around the world into an unprecedented crisis: how can students learn if they cannot access the classroom? Zainab Qureshi and Surayya Masood from the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan’s discuss these challenges in Dawn, The Analytical Angle


Asim Khwaja spoke on a panel hosted by the South Asian Studies Council at the Yale MacMillan Center about harnessing research for response in Pakistan against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak.  

Expanding social protection to reach vulnerable people quickly must be a pillar of every country’s COVID-19 strategy. Rema Hanna and Ben Olken discuss this topic for Project Syndicate

We joined together to congratulate Melissa Dell, recipient of the John Bates Clark Medalist. She  spoke with American Economic Association about her research journey, the insights she’s gained from first-hand experience, and what advice she has for young economists.   

What can the government do to protect the vulnerable middle class in Indonesia during COVID-19?  Rema Hanna, M. Chatib Basri and Benjamin A. Olken provided three suggestions in The Jakarta.   

Can efforts to eradicate inequality in wealth and education eliminate intergenerational persistence of socioeconomic status? In an NBER working paper, David Yang and co-authors use newly digitized archival records and contemporary census and household survey data in China, to show that the revolutions were effective in homogenizing the population economically in the short run. However, the pattern of inequality that characterized the pre-revolution generation re-emerges today. 

Social media messaging from a trusted local source has significant effects on individual knowledge about COVID-19 and related preventative behavior in Zimbabwe. Jeremy Bowles, Horacio Larreguy, and Shelley Liu discuss these issues in their working paper.  

Dan Levy used innovative techniques and new digital pedagogy in the first ever virtual HKS Executive Education Course "Using Evidence to Assess Effectiveness", where he taught 140 participants over two courses about how to measure impact in their organizations.  

Simple savings devices can meet an unmet demand for a secure place to save, partially helping households in rural Niger cope with negative impacts of a health shock. Margaret McConnell and co-authors share results of their RCT in World Development. 

"With the COVID-19 pandemic comes the hard lesson that we are fragile." Rema Hanna, M. Chatib Basri and Ben Olken discuss what the Government of Indonesia can do to extend social protection to the lower middle class in a special three part series in Harian Kompas.

Research suggests that when making decisions as a group, civil servants may not be able to efficiently harness all the collective knowledge from within the group. However, group collaboration has the potential to improve decision making as groups collectively have more information and capability than individuals. Laura Metzger, Theodore Svoronos, and Adnan Qadir Khan investigated the effect of group learning on policy decision outcomes with participants from their Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence program, which trains civil service officers in data and evidence use. 

Rema Hanna and Ben Olken discuss strategies for protecting the world's most vulnerable & guaranteeing a timely response by building on existing structures & programs in a VoxDev podcast


In mid-March, all staff and fellows transitioned to remote work, all international travel stopped, and all in-person field research was suspended. During the early days of this transition, we strategized new ways to help policymakers face the grave new challenges of the day, and we started working with governments to provide timely policy advice.  As countries adjusted policies to meet the needs of their citizens – from transfers and health services to support people in these tough times, to combatting rising unemployment – we knew our work would be even more important in the coming months. So we called upon our close relationships with governments, training officials and local academics to support the use of evidence in designing COVID-19 response programs.  

How does Chinese foreign assistance affect household welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa? Research by Bruno Martorano, Laura Metzger and Marco Sanfilippo suggests that Chinese aid projects improve education and child mortality but have no significant effects on child nutrition.

Insights from historical analyses can be used to improve the design, implementation and effectiveness of policies. Nathan Nunn reviews an emerging area of research within economics that seeks to better understand contemporary economic outcomes by taking a historical perspective. 

Across the globe, institutions scrambled to move operations online in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Teddy Svoronos, shared this virtual teaching tips on how to deliver engaging teaching and training in a suddenly online-only environment. 


Women are just as capable of running businesses as men – as is evident in findings that solely women-owned businesses respond to capital investment in the same way as those owned by men. Rohini Pande, Natalia Rigol and Arielle Bernhard delve into details on this topic for VoxDev.  

Rising local protectionism reduces interprovincial trade and manufacturing exports, and increases ’inward-looking’ sourcing by local intermediaries. Taking advantage of a nationwide VAT rebate policy reform in China, Jie Bai and Jiahua Liu experiment to identify the existence of intranational barriers due to local protectionism and study the impacts on exports and exporting firms in VoxChina and VoxDev.


Our year started by expanding our affiliate community to development economists across Harvard University – welcoming 19 new faculty affiliates, 30 PhD affiliates and 10 research fellows. This expanded community covers 55 countries.  

We cohosted a Research Conference on Forced Displacement with the World Bank and UNHCR to focus attention on emerging scholarship, and establish links between researchers and data providers to promote coordinated and innovative efforts around forcibly displaced and enhance the ability of stakeholders to make timely and evidence-based policy decisions.  

We brought our Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) blended learning curriculum to Bangladesh for the first time, in a training with the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)  for participants from BIGD, local nonprofits, and several Bangladeshi government ministries. Charlotte Tuminelli for the EPoD Blog.  

Insights from behavioral economics are being used more and more in developing country settings. In a VoxDev talk, Michael Kremer and Gautam Rao discussed their chapter in the 2019 edition of The Handbook of Behavioural Economics, which looks at the important implications of tendencies, such as present bias and loss aversion, when making economic decisions in every day life.