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Espen Prydz and Maria Cardenas Mendoza co-wrote their SYPA, which won the Outstanding SYPA Award in 2011. Below, Espen describes the way in which their SYPA-writing experience fit into the MPA/ID curriculum.
"Maria and I spent the summer between the first and second year working with the Poverty Team of the World Bank’s Indonesia office on social protection and governance issues. During the summer, Maria and I worked on different projects, but for the same team and using much of the same data. It was relatively interesting work, but mostly focused on doing very detailed quantitative work which gave us good knowledge of poverty and household data in the country, but not a very good insight into broader policy questions.
Towards the end of the summer, we started thinking about how we could extend the work we had done and use it for our SYPA. We initially discussed separate ideas, but came to the conclusion that it could be more rewarding to work on a topic together.
A key priority for both the World Bank and Indonesian Government has been to make poverty programs more effective at reaching the poor. Indonesia has several large-scale social safety net programs, such as cash transfers and health provision to the poor. However, these programs are not well targeted, with many of the poor excluded while many non-poor are included as recipients.
There are many alternative methods for improving targeting social programs, however there was not yet a complete comparative assessment of different approaches and their relative effectiveness in the Indonesian context. Therefore, after consultation with Bank colleagues and HKS faculty, we decided to focus our SYPA on assessing the relative effectiveness of targeting methods in Indonesia, with a particular focus on methods involving community members in the targeting process.
Our research question became: What combination of targeting methods for social programs is optimal in Indonesia?
During the fall semester we focused our analytical work on technical simulation of outcomes of different targeting methods using statistical packages and data from large-scale household surveys. In this technical work, however, it was difficult to simulate and assess the real-life implementation challenges on the ground, both in terms of capacity and administrative constraints, as well as the political constraints to the different targeting methods.
To assess the real life practical viability and political supportability of our technical analysis, conducted through theoretical work and computer simulations, we felt a strong need to conduct fieldwork in Indonesia. With the generous grant provided by the HKS Indonesia Program at the Ash Institute, we were able to travel to Indonesia over the January break. During this trip, we conducted interviews with beneficiaries, implementers, and policy makers involved with the policy options we were assessing, which considerably enriched our analysis.
We conducted field visits to community meetings with help from the World Bank and the Statistical Agency (BPS) to investigate concrete implementation barriers for the policy options we had assessed. We also interviewed beneficiaries to better understand their concerns with the current policies and targeting methods. Furthermore, we interviewed policy makers at both central and local levels to better understand what targeting methods are politically supportable. At the national level, we interviewed researchers from the SMERU Research Center and a task force at the Vice President's Office, and worked closely with our collaborators at the World Bank Country Office to discuss our preliminary findings and facilitate the next steps of the work.
The consultation and advice from MPA/ID faculty was really valuable. Moreover, their knowledge of Indonesia and the topics we were working on was particularly useful, but also challenging in that they knew nearly everything about the topic and issues. Our advisor, Rema Hanna, was in fact in Indonesia at the same time as us while working on a different project related to the topics we were working on. She let us visit some of her related projects where we conducted field interviews, etc. Our seminar leader, Lant Pritchett, had worked in Indonesia on a similar topic a decade ago and was very resourceful in sharing his insight and putting us in touch with relevant people. Feeling that these faculty members looked at us and worked with us as colleagues, rather than students, was very motivating and inspiring.
We heard about the summer opportunity with the World Bank through the MPA/ID alumni network (Tim Bulman MPA/ID 2007), and while in Indonesia we met as many as seven MPA/ID alumni working for the World Bank office there. It was encouraging to see that these seven MPA/ID alumni working at the Bank were doing a very diverse set of jobs, from growth diagnostics to randomized evaluations, to working legal systems for the poor. Despite doing very different jobs, everyone agreed that the quantitative element of the MPA/ID Program was the single most useful skill that the curriculum provides, something that I also felt in my work during the summer and during my SYPA work."
- Espen Prydz, MPA/ID 2011
Espen is currently working with the World Bank in South Sudan.