Rohini Pande on solution oriented policy analysis, gender, and development research

World Bank blog has a short interview of Prof. Rohini Pande of Harvard Kennedy School.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. She has great insights into development research, especially on nature of development research and intersection of politics and economy.
On policy analysis:
We often see students, especially those with experience in government and policymaking, arrive with a solution in hand— digital identification, or universal basic income, or whatever — and our work is to get them to back up and start thinking hard in terms of problem identification. If you can get them to do that — to be question-orientated rather than answer-orientated— then it’s an easy step to get them to think about analytical frameworks and the evidence needed.

solutions dominate the conversation before problems have even been identified. This is often because a particular solution is being pushed by political bosses or superiors in the bureaucracy.
On gender:
I think it’s a matter of righting a wrong. Researchers are coming to see that this isn’t a matter of feminism or activism, but of accuracy and rigor: research that doesn’t view development through a gender lens makes errors. I’ve seen this many times in my own work. Microfinance is one example: it’s easy to look at microfinance through the lens of profits and poverty-reduction, and say it doesn’t work. But if you frame the question differently, if you say, Have these programs successfully provided credit to poor women — some of the most isolated and disempowered people on earth — and made a profit at the same time? Then you get a very different outcome. It becomes a success story.
On nature of development research:
I would also love to see the central engagement of development economists being with the research question they pose and not the tools used to answer it. The last decade has seen what I consider a phony war between supporters and opponents of RCTs. I think, as a profession we agree that RCTs are a valuable method for identification in some settings but the analytical toolkit available to development economists is, and will remain, broader than just RCTs.
I liked this line
It’s easy to create and introduce an indicator variable for gender in regressions, much harder to create a sensible indicator for the power structures underlying gender inequities.
I haven’t seen such nuanced views from a development economist in long time. There was Hirschman, then Dani Rodrik and then Rohini Pande!
I am now definitely adding her to the list of my favourite economists. :)

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