21 September 2012

How do we scale up personalized support? (policy response to heterogeneity)

The CGAP Graduation pilots seem to be getting good results (evaluations with Esther Duflo here and Dean Karlan here). My instinctive reaction is that personalised, individualised, tailored support may very well be successful, but is it possible to set up systems to implement this routinely at scale?

The need seems to be clear. Perhaps the key bottom line from the microfinance impact literature is heterogeneity - people are different, their needs are different, and one-size-fits-all policy has all sorts of different impacts, both positive and negative, on different kinds of people.

Similar results seem to be emerging on support for small businesses (a lit review by David McKenzie here and and evaluation from Ghana here), and in education and early child development (see this great episode of This American Life covering Paul Tough's new book How Children Succeed).

Meanwhile in the UK, Iain Duncan Smith has decided that the benefits system is far too complicated (it is complicated) and so it needs to be simplified, rolling 6 different benefits into one "Universal Credit." But maybe, just maybe, complicated people need complicated support? And is that a realistic goal for developing countries with weak government systems?

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