Evidence Action Beta: What Are We Working On? 

So what is our brand-new program Evidence Action Beta working on? As is true for many beta projects, we fully expect that some of these programs will not progress beyond the current stage as we learn more about them. We aim for one or two new programs at Evidence Action to be identified over the next year that meet our rigorous filters on the “path to scale.”

YOUNG 1OVE: INNOVATIVE HIV EDUCATION

In Botswana 21 percent of adults (aged 15-49) are living with HIV/AIDS.  Similarly high rates of infection are seen throughout Southern Africa. Teenage girls that engage in sex with older men are more susceptible to infection, since 25-year-old men are more likely to already have HIV than 16 year olds. Programs aimed at addressing risky sexual behavior have the potential to protect against the spread of HIV and reduce rates of adolescent pregnancy.

In a rigorous evaluation in Kenya, youth were given information on the increased risk of HIV/AIDS disaggregated by age and gender, resulting in a 28 percent reduction in adolescent pregnancy rates.  Do these results hold up in Botswana and elsewhere in the region where infection rates are the highest? Evidence Action is exploring partnering with Young 1ove, a non-profit based in Botswana, to implement an advocacy program aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS among youth. The Young 1ove program targets youth through primary school visits to promote curriculum on HIV/AIDS risk disaggregated by age and gender, with emphasis on the increased risk of infection from cross-generational sex. The pilot’s implementation will be accompanied by a rigorous evaluation in conjunction with the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Botswana and J-PAL Africa. The evaluation will test information delivery methods for program effectiveness and cost efficiency to inform the potential for a nationwide scale-up.

 

NO LEAN SEASON: SEASONAL INCOME SUPPORT 

Seasonal income insecurity is a problem in many regions of the world for the very poor during the period between planting food crops and harvest time. For example, northern Bangladesh is at risk of significant income insecurity during three months leading to the winter harvest that affects very poor people especially. Researchers working in this region identified a simple and effective solution that took advantage of the relative abundance of employment opportunities outside of the famine-prone north during this lean season.They provided households a travel subsidy for work-migration during the lean season, allowing them to send a member away to generate income that would otherwise not have been possible. This resulted in significant improvements in household welfare (including consumption and nutrition) during the lean season, an effect that held even in subsequent years. Based on this evidence, providing these travel subsidies is a promising way to avert seasonal insecurity.

We are investigating several critical questions to pressure test the hypothesis that alternative strategies to food aid may be effective and cost effective means of providing seasonal income support in Bangladesh and elsewhere. In collaboration with Innovations for Poverty Action and the original research team, we will test alternative strategies to allocate people to different destinations, local price effects of worker inflow to migration destinations; impacts on household well-being (marital harmony, intra-household allocation, possible introduction of disease by migrant member); and welfare impacts of the program on non-participating households. This work will help us explore unintended consequences that could arise if the program were implemented at a large scale, and understand how to develop a business model for this program.

 

COMMUNITY HEALTH PROMOTERS: SIMPLE NUTRITION MESSAGING

We are exploring the potential to use Dispensers for Safe Water's existing rural delivery system to deliver nutrition information to targeted groups at a low marginal cost in order to reduce the impact of undernutrition and malnutrition on child health. The nutrition messaging program is modeled on the MaiMwana infant feeding intervention from Malawi.

A randomized controlled trial found that the MaiMwana program led to significant reductions in infant mortality as well as improvements in height-for-age among young children. The nutrition information provided in the program was simple and non-technical; it’s possible that our promoters could be effective as information providers.

Evidence Action is collaborating with evaluators to explore whether the initial results found in the Malawi context can be sustained at a larger scale with less intensive quality control. We will do this by using dispenser promoters for nutrition message delivery.

 

G-UNITED: VOLUNTEER MENTORING FOR REMEDIAL EDUCATION

Evidence Action is working with the Government of Kenya on G-United, a pilot program for post-university volunteers that aims to increase social cohesion, improve student literacy outcomes, and provide unemployed college graduates with professional skills.

Rigorous evaluations conducted in India, Ghana, and Kenya have shown that an additional lightly trained volunteer working with remedial students can be a low-cost method of improving literacy and raising standardized test scores.

Working closely with the Government of Kenya, we are supporting the development of a program intended to achieve these educational outcomes, as well as other important goals, with university graduates. The initial pilot that we are supporting will focus on strategies for recruiting a quality cohort of volunteers, creating compelling incentives for volunteers to engage consistently with the most vulnerable children, and measuring learning and other outcomes.

 

PROJECT SAWA: SAFE WATER FOR HOUSEHOLDS THAT DON’T USE DISPENSERS

(Update, April 2016: Project Sawa is currently on hold as we streamline our Beta portfolio)

Evidence Action has an interest in understanding how to effectively target water treatment products to low-income households at scale, in order to expand our reach and impact beyond the current/planned catchment area of the Dispensers for Safe Water program. This could include operation in other countries where potential partner organizations work, or new strategies in areas where Evidence Action operates but where certain districts are not good candidates for chlorine dispensers (for instance due to population sizes). In 2007-08, a team of researchers found that requiring rural households to exert the effort of traveling to a nearby clinic or shop to redeem coupons in exchange for free bottles of dilute chlorine did effectively target the product to those who would use it for drinking water treatment.

To investigate this idea in more detail, we are developing a series of strategies for allocating and redeeming coupons at scale. This involves thinking through how to transfer funds to shopkeepers, detect cheating, and monitor usage of chlorine. We are also exploring how to transfer our model of carbon crediting from dispensers to this alternative model.

What's Next? 

As we are launching Evidence Action Beta, we understand that some of our criteria will be be met by these projects we are looking at.  As with many beta products, not all make it to a mass market. Evidence Action Beta will be transparent about what we are finding and what projects at scale we will be embarking on beyond Dispensers for Safe Water and the Deworm the World Initiative. We are excited to take a hard look at what works in development -- for millions of people.

Comment