Featured Stories

Research to Help Mitigate Future Shocks to State's Water, Food, and Energy Supplies

PDEL affiliated researcher Jen Burney and researchers at UC Irvine and UC Davis have received a $2.72 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. They will study ways to mitigate shocks to California's water, food and energy supplies—three key sectors, or “systems,” that they say are increasingly interdependent.

Does Cash Transfer Improve Wellbeing of Beneficiaries, Asks Expert

Article on the long-term effects of cash transfers cites work of Craig McIntosh, Sarah Baird, and Berk Ozler.

Power Calculation Software for Randomized Saturation Experiments

The blog post by Berk Ozler introduces the new software tool built by PDEL.





Craig McIntosh & PDEL: A new empircal movement

Anthony King | GPS News | Oct. 1, 2014

Craig McIntoshIn a recent Q&A with Craig McIntosh, the popular professor of economics said his approach to teaching is to assume graduate students are serious about wanting to make the world a better place. Mixing development, applied economics and program evaluation, McIntosh successfully navigates his way into his 12th year at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS), taking the same approach in his own research.

“You are attempting to do something that matters in the world and you are also a professor,” he said. “It’s a question of balancing between the projects that you find most interesting from a policy perspective and the papers that you think are going to be most publishable from an academic perspective.”

McIntosh is a development economist who focuses on improving and perfecting program evaluation: not just asking specific research questions, for example, but looking to see if how those questions are being answered in the best way possible. He is currently investigating how to boost savings among the poor, on whether schooling or cash payments can be used as a tool to fight HIV/AIDS and on mechanisms to improve the long-term efficiency of agricultural markets.

His own graduate work was done at UC Berkeley, where he gained a PhD in agricultural and resource economics before moving into researching micro-finance services. He said agricultural economics was a “natural home” for him and his fieldwork, and he credits the program at Berkeley for preparing him for success.

“The department I went to had three sub concentrations, which were development, environment and agriculture. I took all three concentrations and I feel like I’m working at some level at the juncture of all three fields,” he said. Subsequently, he has conducted field evaluations in Mexico, Guatemala, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

Combining policy and development

McIntosh is also co-director of the Policy Design and Evaluation Lab housed at IR/PS. The lab’s focus is, as you can imagine, empirically driven academic research at the interplay of public policy and economic development, most often using new technology: mobile phones, real-time data and cash transfers, just to name a few.

This education and experience — including time spent with a host family in Africa where he saw first hand the struggle small business owners had in making ends meet — led to his interest in looking at the complete market system. He wants to know how agriculturally based, rural markets function and what is needed to help people expand their reach without causing a drop in prices and, subsequently, keep small-scale farmers from improving their families’ lives.

“These things have all become very linked together in terms of my research because my main technical interest is in experimental design and the design of randomized trials, particularly trials that are intended to capture spillover effects and general equilibrium effects like price impacts,” he said, but numbers and profit are not the only end result.

Just as graduate-level economics has moved from the realm of theory to applied, real-world economics, so has McIntosh’s view of the overall goals of a professor. In a sense, he has turned the role of research professor away from sitting in offices to one where partnering with those in the field is more productive. He calls it a new empirical movement.

“You don’t do research by sitting around and thinking about what might happen. You do research by going to the ground, finding the organizations that are innovators, building collaborations with them and then working with them,” he said. “I’ve never wanted to work inside the ivory tower, and this is now an era in which you can really succeed in academia doing things that are very applied and very practical.”

Experts at PDEL

PDEL plays a part in supporting active field research too, by providing expert staff with deep experience in grant management, human subject protection applications, international contract handling and research-related applications. McIntosh said the lab looks to “ease the administrative burden” to allow researchers to do bigger, better projects.

“PDEL is only a couple years old now, but it has grown very quickly, partly because we are operating in a space where UC San Diego is truly a world-class university and has a completely unusual set of faculty who work across social-science disciples with no borders at all,” McIntosh said. “The particular intellectual thrust that PDEL has is this confluence of technology and development, which as opened up all of these incredibly exciting new possibilities.”

One example is a project monitoring illegal mining in the Philippines by empowering non-governmental organizations with mobile-based tools, and another, headed by McIntosh, is working to create a high-frequency market survey. If successful, it could radically alter the ability to capture data and open up the use of new technology as a policy tool in places like rural Africa.

“It looks like data capture, but it actually starts to become an intervention,” he said, and then you can move further and further down this road in terms of mobile money, mobile banking.”

One again, McIntosh shows there is a place for both large-scale policy implementation and academic research.

“There are projects that fail and don’t end up being papers, and there are projects that succeed and end up generating multiple papers,” he said. “The resolution of this tension has opened up a fantastic win-win. IR/PS is way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of seeing that these two disciples can talk directly to each other.”

PDEL recaps first year’s collaboration with USAID

IR/PS News | May 13, 2014 

Policy Design and Evaluation Lab co-Director Craig McIntosh and Project Manager Wallied Shirzoi recently met with Development Impact Lab representatives (DIL) at UC Berkeley for an open house, showcasing projects and activities currently being implemented under US Agency for International Development (USAID) partnerships with several development research labs across the country.

Those in attendance from USAID included Tara Hill, program manager; Ashley Heiber, Higher Education Solutions Network program analyst; and Genevieve Croft, AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellow.

The biannual meeting marked the end of the first year of PDEL’s collaboration with USAID, which provided funding for the recently closed Spring 2014 Request for Applications competition that was open to all DIL affiliate institutions, as well as projects from several School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) faculty.

McIntosh presented PDEL’s Information Communication Technology for Accountability (ICT-A) portfolio, which included the first year’s demonstration projects and second year’s pilot projects. Other presentations included business macros and progress on the Spring 2014 ICT-A grant competition, as well as future proposals that would extend support to UC San Diego graduate students who wish to be certified in impact evaluation knowledge and experience.

Policy Design and Evaluation Lab announces research support

IR/PS News | Feb. 27, 2014

The Policy Design and Evaluation Lab (PDEL) held an open house on Wednesday, Feb. 26 to help UC San Diego researchers understand how PDEL can support their research and provide information about the Development Impact Lab (DIL) grant competition.

Housed at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, PDEL in an interdisciplinary center supporting faculty in applying for experimental-research funding, managing aspects of research relationships and running field-based projects. The open house introduced PDEL to a larger community of researchers, with over 20 attendees from across campus. PDEL co-Director Craig McIntosh, Manager Lisa Woinarski and Project Manager Wallied Shirzoi oversaw the meeting.

For providing research support, Woinarski said PDEL will help any project using experimental methods in social sciences, including field, laboratory or natural experiments. Their “extended service” research support offers a comprehensive package of support to research leads who submit their grants through PDEL. They can help guide research through the entire process – from proposal through completion – as well as offer select project-management guidance, written directly into the grant.

“By growing the flow of grants moving through the university we hope to support investigators and to create a financially sustainable environment for applied research at UC San Diego,” McIntosh said.

PDEL is also managing UC Berkeley’s spring DIL grant competition, focusing on innovative uses of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to address global development problems. Open to PDEL-affiliated researchers, approximately five grants of $50,000 to $200,000 will be awarded to support the design and rigorous testing of ICT for international development. The application deadline is March 31.


New report outlines primary education policy recommendations for India

Christine Clark | May 27, 2013

Karthik Muralidharan, professor of Economics and PDEL affiliated faculty member, traveled to half-way across the world to New Delhi during the spring quarter to conduct a 3-hour workshop on evidence-based policy making in primary education, all without having to reschedule or cancel a class. 

India's 12th 5 Year PlanAt the invitation of the Education Minister of India Dr. Pallam Raju, the workshop was attended by several top officials of the Government of India who work on primary education policy, including the Minister of State for Education, Dr. Shashi Tharoor.  Muralidharan designed the workshop based on a paper written for the Government of India's 12th Five-Year Plan that summarizes a decade of high-quality research on primary education in India. The research summarized in this paper highlights that simply increasing the inputs to primary education in a 'business as usual' way are unlikely to change the trajectories of student learning in a meaningful way unless accompanied by significant changes in pedagogy and/or improvements in governance.

"Priorities for Primary Education Policy in India’s 12th Five-year Plan" is a forthcoming paper in the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)-Brookings India Policy Forum 2013. 

Several points and suggestions in this paper have been incorporated into the official 12th Plan document of the Government of India. These highlights in the paper were discussed in Muralidharan’s workshop, some of which help the Government of India implement cost-effective strategies for meeting the goals outlined for education in the 12th Plan. The workshop was well received and even tweeted about by both ministers.

The paper was also integrated into Muralidharan’s economics classroom curricula at UC San Diego. His students were directly engaged with the research underlying this workshop in  Muralidharan's undergraduate course on Economic Development (Econ 116). The course syllabus featured several of the recent research studies summarized in the paper and the paper itself was required reading.  

In fact, the workshop was scheduled over Memorial Day so that Muralidharan could travel to India over the weekend, conduct the workshop on Monday, and travel back in order to not miss a single class. His students then received a first-hand account of the workshop results and experienced the process of current research being directly applied to policy-making. 

UC San Diego launches groundbreaking policy research lab

Christine Clark | UC San Diego News | April 22, 2013

UC San Diego is launching the Policy Design and Evaluation Lab (PDEL), a breakthrough academic endeavor which combines advanced social science methods with the power of information technology to develop policies and programs that alleviate poverty; promote health, welfare, and security; and enhance accountability.

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