ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rethinking Development Econometrics

Not Everything That Can Be Counted Is Counted

There is, at present, little discourse and theory in academia about how to tackle the quick and dirty research needs of the development sector, which includes localised decision-making for programmes. There is a need to recognise qualitative approaches and move towards subjective interpretations of research results.

“Jaise maine pucha hain ... in me se kaunsa?” (Out of the options I have listed, which one?). The call operator asked the question politely, forcing the respondent to choose from the options that she had just enlisted—options that were there only for her reference. Much to my researcher colleague’s dismay, the call centre representative had unwittingly committed research anathema by “leading” her respondent. My colleague did not have sufficient funding to visit the 5,000 subjects of her impact study who were spread across the country. Nonetheless, she was expected to run a quantitative study by her supervisor and by the standards of her discipline. After all, her background in economics had ensured that she had little tolerance for any methodology that involved fewer respondents than what the sample size calculator advised. She argued that larger sample sizes would nullify the call centre’s confirmation bias, and that this meth­do­logy was still statistically superior to unrepresentative qualitative research based on five to 10 interviews.

I would like to clarify at the onset that this article is not a critique of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or any other experimental/quasi-experimental methods of impact evaluation. That debate has had its day in the sun.1

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