The “Give Directly” Hypothesis

ns_ke_20170418_givedirectly50-62

A man checks his phone to confirm that the charity GiveDirectly has transferred a cash grant to his account. (Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

In 2013 Daniel Handel, an economist with USAID—the U.S. government’s main agency for foreign assistance—had just moved to Rwanda when he heard about a charity that was testing a bold idea:

Instead of giving people in poor countries, say, livestock or job training to help improve their standard of living, why not just give them cash and let them decide how best to spend it?

Handel had been mulling this exact question. Aid programs were spending enormous sums per person to boost poor people’s income less than the cost of the program. At this rate, Handel thought, why not just hand over the money to people directly? This program called GiveDirectly was doing just that.

So Handel went to his bosses at USAID’s Rwanda office and proposed an experiment:

Take one of USAID’s typical programs and test it against cash aid. For the comparison, he selected a program to improve child and maternal health in Rwanda by teaching families about nutrition and hygiene.

A pool of families from nearly 250 villages was selected based on typical criteria and randomly assigned to one of four groups.

  • Those in the first were the “control” and received no help.
  • Those in the second group were visited by the nutrition and hygiene education teams.
  • Families in the third group were given small cash grants by GiveDirectly equivalent to the per-person cost of the nutrition and hygiene program, an average of $114.
  • In the final group, families got a much larger cash grant of around $500 – a figure chosen because this was the amount that GiveDirectly estimated was more likely to make an impact.

Following the experiment, the government released the results of the first study in the series.

The experiment found that the program met none of its main objectives. Teaching Rwandans about nutrition did not improve their nutrition or health. Neither did giving Rwandans the cash equivalent of the cost of the education program — about $114.

“Our hearts sank.”

The program’s focus on trying to change behaviors is one of the world’s major strategies for ending malnutrition. And, at least in this example, it had failed to achieve any of its primary goals.

A year on, the children who had been targeted by the nutrition and hygiene program were no more likely to eat a better or more diverse diet, and no less likely to be malnourished or anemic than children who had gotten no help at all. But providing a much larger cash grant of about $500 did make some difference.

Supporters of such “cash-benchmarking” exercises are heralding this particular one as a milestone. For years, anti-poverty advocates and researchers have complained that the U.S. government doesn’t do enough to make sure its aid programs actually work. “But when you talk about giving money to people straight up, with no conditions, people at USAID look at you kind of like you’re a crazy person. There’s ‘an inherent sense’ that they can’t be trusted to spend it wisely.” said Daniel Handel’s associate James Carbonell.

  • In this case, people who were given the cost-equivalent grants used much of the money to pay down their debts.
  • It remains unclear what, if any, material changes USAID is planning to its nutrition efforts based on the study’s findings.
  • At the time of this writing (FEB 2019), USAID remains reluctant to discuss the experiment and did not grant the authors of the NPR story permission to speak directly to Daniel Handel about the results.

Discussion

  1. Did the authors of the study Fail?
  2. Would proving that cash-equivalent grants were as beneficial as the education program have qualified as Success?
  3. Or did the authors succeed by proving that simply handing recipients money without any stipulation was the wrong way to achieve a particular goal?
  4. Could the authors conclude that poor people really DON’T know “what to do with the money”?

Credits

Heavily edited from an original story by NPR.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Link to the original:
https://whyy.org/npr_story_post/which-foreign-aid-programs-work-the-u-s-runs-a-test-but-wont-talk-about-it/

Further Reading

The Planet Money story: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=214210692

From Nonprofit Chronicles: https://nonprofitchronicles.com/2018/09/11/why-is-the-us-giving-cash-to-poor-people-in-africa-no-strings-attached-for-good-reason/


Brief Exercise

  1. In the Reply field below, using your own semester-long Research Project as an analogy, discuss how you would respond to finding that the first hypothesis you investigated could not be supported by the initial evidence.
    • (Assume in your Reply that you did not wait until the last week of the semester that the evidence did not support your Hypothesis. 🙂

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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21 Responses to The “Give Directly” Hypothesis

  1. g903254 says:

    If I found out that a UBI was not practical it would be disheartening because a UBI is supposed to act as a safety net so that those who are financially insecure don’t have feel hopelessness and can take risks due to more financial freedom. This would be a problem for the human race in the future due to people losing their jobs from the rise of automation. Finding the next solution for the unemployed needs to be figured out as soon as possible or else we could face a very difficult situation in the world.

    • davidbdale says:

      The relentless momentum of capitalism aided by the governments it controls would eventually result in the need for a UBI regardless of whether humans lose their jobs to automation or are simply forced to accept sub-living wages for whatever jobs can’t be automated (if any). The question on the table this morning is: how would you react—as a researcher—if you discovered your hypothesis could not be supported by the evidence?

      • g903254 says:

        In a completely logical way of thinking finding out that your hypothesis is incorrect wouldn’t be a problem because you are still finding out information and getting one step closer the truth, but in a human way hypotheses are based off one’s opinion so finding that an opinion isn’t factually backed can be upsetting because people attach there self worth to their opinions. This can be seen in many anti-vax and alt-right circles, but overall as a researcher it can be upsetting depending on what the hypothesis could be. Whether it be battling poverty, income inequality, etc.

        • davidbdale says:

          No question about it, G. More than finding out the truth, most of us want to be right from the start. Nobody wants to change his mind. In fact, we never read with an open mind. We start arguing from the beginning, resisting anything that upsets our comfortable worldviews. Real research is very challenging because it forces those willing to participate to constantly confront their own wrong-headedness.

          4/3

  2. doorknob9 says:

    If I found out the worst post season quarterback to represent the NFC in a Super Bowl wasn’t Jared Goff and it couldn’t be supported by evidence, I would use the same premise but make it more specific. For example, If I find out that Jared Goff wasn’t the worst post season quarterback to represent the NFC, I would say he is the worst post season quarterback to represent the NFC West in the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner and Russell Wilson both have much better stats in their first 4 playoff games, Wilson’s including a Super Bowl victory. Something Goff obviously couldn’t do.

    • doorknob9 says:

      (There are many more quarterbacks from the NFC West that have played in the Super Bowl, those two were just the first to come to mind)

    • davidbdale says:

      Testing an alternative hypothesis (more specific, narrower, or based on different premises) is a good approach, Doorknob.

      Regardless how you feel JG played, or KW or RW for that matter, you’d need to craft a VERY CLEAR definition of “worst quarterback” for your hypothesis to make any sense. Brilliant quarterbacks who are sacked ten times will “have much worse stats” than those who are untouched in the pocket and throw to brilliant receivers. Etc. Etc. Of course, sacks don’t exonerate the QB either. Maybe he’s just too stupid to notice the pressure, in which case, he’s sacking himself, one sure characteristic of the “worst quarterbacks” in the game.

      What do you think? Can you REALLY define a set of metrics to measure BEST and WORST quarterbacks? If so, you could be contributing something very valuable to an age-old debate.

  3. jets1313 says:

    If I was to find that my constructed hypothesis was deemed incorrect, It would be cause I failed to provide proper evidence strong enough to influence my reader. Hypothesis are nothing more than evidence based opinions, and it is my responsibility as the writer to include enough evidence to persuade my readers that my opinion is right. So if my hypothesis could not be supported by initial evidence I would continue to expand and further my research to find not just more but stronger evidence, that would undoubtedly influence my reader to see my perspective and understanding.

    • davidbdale says:

      If I was to find that my constructed hypothesis was deemed incorrect, It would be cause I failed to provide proper evidence strong enough to influence my reader.

      Maybe, but finding that your hypothesis is incorrect is actually a major success, Jets. It eliminates the hypothesis as a possible explanation for a phenomenon. Thomas Edison did not consider himself a failure after trying 500 different filament types to produce electric light. He considered himself to have SUCCEEDED 500 times in eliminating bad hypotheses.

      Hypotheses are nothing more than evidence based opinions, and it is my responsibility as the writer to include enough evidence to persuade my readers that my opinion is right.

      Ummm. No. Your job is to find the truth. As you’ve phrased your responsibility here, you might feel justified suppressing obvious contradictions or favoring trivial examples over the preponderance of the evidence. That would be unethical. When your hypothesis fails to match the facts, you fix the hypothesis to match reality, not the other way around.

      So if my hypothesis could not be supported by initial evidence I would continue to expand and further my research to find not just more but stronger evidence, that would undoubtedly influence my reader to see my perspective and understanding.

      As long as you’re convinced that the “further, stronger evidence” represents reality, then I agree with this formula. But you’re obligated by your own integrity to argue whatever is most true, not what makes you most comfortable. If you’re in favor of gun ownership restrictions to reduce gun violence, but you discover that cities with the strictest gun ownership laws are the least violent, you need to own that fact reluctantly to keep your hands clean. Reality isn’t always pleasant.

  4. pomegranate4800 says:

    If I found out that mattress stores are actually just one big money laundering scam, but didn’t have any evidence to support it, I would try and find other examples of money laundering. With this information I would prove as well as I can that mattress stores are guilty of the same things. However people are easily persuaded that this is true. I am guilty. There is no way that there is this much demand on mattresses because people don’t often need to buy them. Also, usually, people don’t need to buy bed frames each time they buy new mattresses, so why are there so many stores that hold them? It is smart, however, that the owner of these stores open so many so that they can spread the money they are holding within these stores.

    • davidbdale says:

      If I found out that mattress stores are actually just one big money laundering scam, but didn’t have any evidence to support it, I would try and find other examples of money laundering. With this information I would prove as well as I can that mattress stores are guilty of the same things.

      That is brilliant, Pomegranate. It might still not be true, but it would shift the burden of proof to the “defense” side of the argument, which is perfectly honorable. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If evidence shows that a higher-than-average percentage of Pastafarians beat their children, it’s unfair to obligate a Pastafarian dad to prove his kids don’t get abused. But if there’s circumstantial evidence of abuse, AND a statistical preponderance, then together you might be able to build a case that shifts the responsibility to the innocent to prove themselves so.

      There is no way that there is this much demand on mattresses because people don’t often need to buy them.

      I’m fascinated by this notion of yours. I haven’t bought many of either, but I’ve bought more mattresses than cars in my life, in two-person household with four beds.
      1. As of November 2017, used car businesses are 139,278, according to the IBIS World Report.
      2. Roughly 9,000 specialty bed and mattress stores in the U.S. generated about $11.5 billion in revenue in 2015.
      Not a pure comparison, and there are probably a LOT more numbers and ways to count than my five-minute survey, but that looks like 15 times as many used car dealerships as mattress stores.

      Somebody else is mystified by this phenomenon too:
      https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-chicago-mattress-stores-0717-biz-20160715-story.html

      That’s all I have so far, but it took just a few minutes to put together.

  5. chavanillo says:

    Exercise:
    Finding out that my first hypothesis doesn’t match the evidence at the end of the project is not bad because I’m trying to look for if controlling your phone would reduce the amount of health issues. Is not based on looking for your opinion is what is really truth out there. If I didn’t wait until the semester ended, then I would of prove why my hypothesis was wrong your right and how the real answer makes sense. I s all about finding what is real and what is a lie and how can we fix that. It might be false that if we know how to control our phones in a way that could reduce the health issue the better we would be. It all depends how you illustrated. Is going to be hard if you just are focusing in your opinion that is already turning it in to counterintuitive.

    Discussion:
    1) I don’t believe the author’s study failed because the USAID didn’t show Handel the final results, meaning that he was right. They didn’t want to accept it.
    2) I believe so because is going to be people’s choice to be organize or disorganized. It actually would make people smarter in the way that they are going to start using their knowledge on what to do. What is right or wrong.
    3) Handing recipients money might be wrong but the most important thing is the results. If it turn out better or worse.
    4)The author could conclude that poor people don’t know hoe to deal or use money because if they knew they wouldn’t be poor. They would’ve known how to deal with money and stop buying thing they don;t need.

    • davidbdale says:

      4)The author could conclude that poor people don’t know hoe to deal or use money because if they knew they wouldn’t be poor. They would’ve known how to deal with money and stop buying thing they don;t need.

      Some authors might, but I doubt this author would. I’ve read many of the profiles of recipients of the Give Direct program. These are people who smear dung on the floors of their homes to fill the holes that appear there from wear. It’s hard to imagine what such “low wage earners” might be wasting their money on if the money they hope for will be to lay some concrete for a permanent floor.

  6. hazelnutlatte123 says:

    My hypothesis, JonBenet Ramsey was murdered by her brother, has evidence to support this claim, but also deny these claims. If I were to find out that this hypothesis could not be support by substantial evidence, I would begin to find out why it does not support it. By explaining why it does not support my hypothesis, I can then go back to conducting research and asking other questions to create another hypothesis within my paper. Every time i find that my hypothesis has evidence to go against it, I will report both sides, but also ask questions and explain why this is. When writing my paper it is important that I find and use research to find the truth, rather than what I perceived to be the truth.

    • davidbdale says:

      It is possible, of course, Hazelnut, that if you continue to find your hypothesis beset by contrary evidence, that you may decide to change your hypothesis. That may be what you mean by “create another hypothesis. It’s also possible, so many years after a case has gone cold, that eliminating possibilities might be the best you can hope to accomplish. In other words, a worthy contribution might be concluding that the brother CANNOT BE RULED OUT.

  7. daphneblake25 says:

    If my initial hypothesis that states the removal of all trash cans with the replacement of more recycle bins would reduce ocean pollution proved to be unsupported by evidence, I would include that in my paper. I wouldn’t let that discovery set me back on my efforts to find a hypothesis that is supported by evidence, or just to research and find new perspectives that I didn’t have prior to the activity. I would actually look at it as a step forward in the right direction because now I know one way that definitely doesn’t work so I could eliminate that from the countless possibilities I have to choose from.

    • davidbdale says:

      As long as you have “countless possibilities” to spare, that’s a sound strategy, Daphne. You’ll have to be more specific about your proposal to swap out trash cans with recycling bins first. Much of what goes to the curb can’t reasonably be recycled at the moment. Do you propose a MUCH MORE ROBUST effort by the whole planet (or at least one country at a time) to produce no waste that can’t be recycled, period, so that EVERYTHING could go to the curb and be picked up by a recycling truck?

      Something happened recently that set back the efforts of many towns to more completely recycle their refuse. It involved the sudden refusal by China to accept materials for recycling. Let me find it.

  8. rowanstudent2 says:

    If I found out that my initial evidence did not support that air pollution dramatically increases the daily mortality rate, I would go along the same lines of pollution, but use a slightly different hypothesis. I wouldn’t change up my original hypothesis completely though. That just means I would have to do more research. And maybe I will be able to find ever stronger evidence to support my next hypothesis who knows. There’s a reason why it’s called a hypothesis and not a thesis. You need to test it before it’s proven. There’s always room to try new ideas and research more angles.

    • davidbdale says:

      Hypothetically, what would constitute a “slightly different hypothesis” in this case, RS? if you couldn’t support the hypothesis that air pollution dramatically increases the mortality rate, does that mean there’s no cause-and-effect relationship between air pollution (a very broad topic) and mortality (an equally broad topic)? That seems unlikely. There almost HAS to be some connection. (There’s probably a cause-and-effect relationship between conditions as subtle as seasonal changes in the amount of average daylight and mortality!) So maybe Step One is narrowing your focus to something much easier to prove or disprove: for example, that a dramatic increase in a particular gas or chemical in the breathable environment increases mortality.

      I was pondering the difference between outdoor and indoor air as I was typing that paragraph, which led me to this:
      https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/indoor-air-pollution-deadly-unconventional-solution-lpg-envirofit/
      The article contains this provocative paragraph:

      As the world continues to urbanize, emergent middle-class populations in China, India and elsewhere are putting new strains on our global energy resources. Easy access to energy is often the measuring stick for societal advancement. Images of smoggy cityscapes with dramatically obscured skylines offer telling visual proof of the numbers reported by the WHO. Though outdoor (ambient) air pollution is a serious issue, more than half of deaths caused were the result of household air pollution (HAP). Though HAP receives less attention than ambient air pollution, it causes more deaths than HIV, malaria and TB combined.

      The most radical thinking isn’t always “outside the box,” RowanStudent. Sometimes, it’s what’s Inside the Box that can kill us.

  9. nousernamefound1 says:

    If I found out that my initial evidence did not support that lowering tuition will benefit the students and parents, I would still attack it the same just leave out the parent part. Evidence would be clear that students have more benefits when they don’t have to worry about the cost of school. A lot of opinion for students will increase my argument, so I would definitely add it to my paper. If my evidence still doesn’t support my hypothesis, I believe I must then change my position towards the topic. Critique my hypothesis using the 6 steps, which will help better my chances the second time.

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