God’s Servants Do Play Dice

Chris Blattman, development economist extraordinaire , posts from Liberia.

Today we sat down with an inter-faith network of Liberian religious
leaders to talk about their peace building plans. They are a truly
inspiring organization, building local capacity to resolve conflicts,
and training mediators to resolve disputes in the community. The
countryside is, to some extent, a powder keg, and they are building
local early warning systems and rapid response capability to
potentially serious conflicts.

Moreover, to reduce tensions in
conflict-prone places, these religious leaders–principally Muslims and
Christians–do not just aspire to a new social contract, they sit down
with ethnic and religious leaders in each village and coax them to
actually write one, specifying norms and sanctions.

And they want to know if it’s working.

hum and haw about comparison groups, going through my impact evaluation
101 schpiel. I have serious concerns that one would or could develop a
control group, let alone randomize, for such a program. So I dance
delicately around the subject.

"Wait a minute," interrupts the Imam, "Are you talking about a randomized control trial?"

I gape.

"Oh I see!" says one Reverend Minister, "We need a control group! This is a good idea."

turns out his holiness was once an agronomist. "This is just like our
control plots for fertilizer. But how are we going to control for
spillover effects?"

An older Methodist leader frowns sitting in the corner glowers. "Please, a moment," he says. "I see a real problem here."

it comes. Here is the doubt and questioning I expected. We’re talking
about a peace building exercise, not fertilizer on a farm plot. Even I
have my reservations. This man, of an older generation, clearly has
other priorities.

"How," he asks "are we going to select a proper sample?"

Hat tip to Dani Rodrik.


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