Requesting feedback to shape research into possible conditional cash transfer charity

by kierangreig10th Feb 20167 comments

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Preliminary Charity Entrepreneurship research suggests the counterfactual impact of a conditional cash transfer charity may be larger than that of a number of other intervention areas we’re considering from GiveWell’s priority program list.

At this preliminary stage some ideas we have heard of include cash transfers conditional upon:

  • Up to date child immunizations.

  • Malnourished children receiving vitamin A supplementation.

  • Performance of healthcare workers.

  • Malnourished pregnant females receiving folic acid supplementation.

  • Participation in ultra poor graduation programs.

  • Participation in data collection programs.

 

Whilst all feedback has some value and is appreciated, feedback that may have a greater influence shaping our research would make us consider:

  • Possible flaws with conditional cash transfers.

  • Possible flaws in the ideas that we have heard of or reasons to think some of these ideas have a lot more potential than others.

  • Other conditions a conditional cash transfer charity could base itself upon that seem particularly good from an EA perspective.

 

Thanks for your feedback :)

7 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:57 PM
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Why would CCTs have a larger counterfactual impact than other interventions? This seems like an important point to make explicit, both for you and for everybody else.

I second @Telofy's point - I'm sure there are plenty of drawbacks to CCTs over other programs, but this seems like a question best addressed by a specialist. My gut says that administering the costs & monitoring the behavior you're promoting in a CCT program (depending on what that is) may cost more than simply giving out vaccines, vitamin-A supplements, etc. It also seems like there are more ways to mess up a CCT intervention than a simple direct service intervention. HOWEVER, all of this is bracketed with a huge disclaimer: just go talk to an expert who knows more.

I'd add "graduating additional grades" to the list of potential conditions.

Why would CCTs have a larger counterfactual impact than other interventions? This seems like an important point to make explicit, both for you and for everybody else.

Without going too in depth some of the reasons we think this are:

  • The field is relatively uncrowded.

  • A conditional cash transfer charity has relatively high potential scalability.

  • There appear to be a number of relatively evidence-based and cost-effective conditions that a conditional cash transfer charity could base itself upon.

  • A conditional cash transfer charity seems like it would be able to update on new information at a faster rate and to a greater extent than charities based on most other intervention areas.

This wasn’t included in the original post was because we felt a shorter post would be able to generate useful feedback.

My gut says that administering the costs & monitoring the behavior you're promoting in a CCT program (depending on what that is) may cost more than simply giving out vaccines, vitamin-A supplements, etc.

Your gut could be right :). My understanding is that in some areas the demand for some health interventions may be lagging behind the supply of those health interventions. For instance, this article and this article suggest major reasons for partial or no immunization in India are demand side. In those circumstances it’s plausible that conditional cash transfers could be a very cost-effective intervention and perhaps more cost-effective than supplying vaccines or micronutrients.

It also seems like there are more ways to mess up a CCT intervention than a simple direct service intervention.”

This could be true. At the moment we aren’t highly confident in our understanding of the relative logistical difficulty of different interventions. A consideration like this may make us update away from conditional cash transfers in future.

“HOWEVER, all of this is bracketed with a huge disclaimer: just go talk to an expert who knows more.”

Okay will do :)

I'd add "graduating additional grades" to the list of potential conditions.”

Sure. That’s something we will consider although we are unsure what the returns to schooling in low income countries are. For instance, the 2009 GiveWell Developing-world education (in-depth review) observes that there is little reliable information regarding the true relationship between schooling and later-life outcomes such as income.

This all sounds great! I can see your reasoning on why CCTs might have a larger counterfactual impact. Your 3rd and 4th bullet appear quite strong to me - CCTs give you flexibility that other interventions wouldn't.

The demand/supply question is an important one. Like a lot of these questions, however, demand/supply will probably come down to the specific communities you decide to work in, which makes it hard to predict at the outset.

Thanks, Kieran!

Do you have any of your research to date on this written up in a form that you can share and people can comment on?

Not at the moment. We’re currently near the beginning of a shallow review of conditional cash transfers and we haven’t wrote our research up in a form that people can comment on because we have found this process to be really time consuming. We also feel that some of the best feedback may be gathered early on in the research process by less time consuming posts like this as well as direct conversations/ email exchanges with specialists.

Ideally, in the future we will have important aspects of research written up in a form that people can comment on but at this stage it isn’t clear if that will include research on conditional cash transfers.

Good. I think the dearth of feedback here is due to there being few people here that are experts in conditional cash transfers to the point that they’re confident that they know things about the topic that you haven’t thought of without knowing what you have already thought of. The conversations with specialists you mention will hopefully be more efficient.

I’m greatly looking forward to reading your findings once they’re sufficiently advanced to warrant a write-up.

Some potential concerns I can think of:

The interaction effect between cash transfer and the program is important but very unclear. One would think that if the program is more cost-effective than the transfer, then you should just do the program. And if the transfer is more cost-effective than the program, then you should just do the transfer. So there must be some reason for combining the two for it to make sense to do both. Does giving cash boost participation rates? ...Probably yes, but enough to still be more cost-effective?

The interaction could require a worse program and/or a worse transfer. Along similar lines, if you're pairing a program with a transfer, it's possible that the program that pairs best does not actually outperform just doing the best program with no transfer. Also, it's possible that the particular program you pick may require you to make transfers to people other than those that would be the most helped by an unconditional transfer.

Combining a program with a transfer compounds the benefits of the program and transfers, but also compounds their risks. You get all the potential risks of the program plus the risks of the transfers (e.g., making other people in the village envious).

Conditional transfers may perform significantly differently than non-conditional transfers. Do people feel less happy because they're not receiving a surprise windfall? Is jealously from other villagers reduced because the money seems earned? Do recipients spend their money less wisely because they feel that they rightfully earned it and that they're not being monitored?

Cash transfers may require large regulatory and logistic hurdles that slow down an otherwise implementable program. Also, the costs of doing the program may slow down an otherwise implementable transfer scheme. And the logistic hurdles of trying to do both a program and a transfer may be really hard.