Despite their importance, there is limited evidence on how institutions can be strengthened. Evaluating the effects of specific reforms is complicated by the lack of exogenous variation in institutions, the difficulty of measuring institutional performance, and the temptation to “cherry pick” estimates from among the large number of indicators required to capture this multifaceted subject. Katherine Casey, Rachel Glennerster, and Edward Miguel evaluated a “community-driven development” program in Sierra Leone, accounting for economic outcomes, and the program’s capacity to make local institutions more democratic and egalitarian by imposing participation requirements for marginalized groups (including women).
The authors develop innovative real-world outcome measures, and use a preanalysis plan (PAP) as prevention against data mining. They find positive short-run effects on local public goods and economic outcomes, but no evidence for sustained impacts on collective action, decision making, or the involvement of marginalized groups, suggesting that the intervention did not durably reshape local institutions. The study is an important demonstration of the importance of research transparency, as the authors show how in the absence of a PAP, they could have generated two divergent, equally erroneous interpretations of program impacts on institutions.
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