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    Interview with María Dávalos, PSIA Expert of the Month (September 2015)

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      1) How long have you been involved with PSIAs, the PSIA MDTF, and have things improved over the years?

       

      I have been part of the PSIA MDTF committee for the Europe and Central Asia region since 2013. We have a 3-member regional focal point team with a rotating regional manager. When I joined, it was (then) PREM’s turn to chair the committee in FY14, which I was assigned to do. At that time, ECA had a large portfolio of grants already allocated, and the interest in carrying out PSIAs to complement ongoing operational work has continued to be high in the region in the past years. We have received proposals to conduct poverty and social impact analysis on a broad range of topics, including education, health, land, judicial, transport and energy reforms. It has been very enriching to go over all the proposals received and learn about how teams across the region are thinking about addressing the poverty-related and social challenges they face in their work.

       

      Importantly, PSIA findings have materialized into policy dialogue and reform in our region to, for example, influence the targeting reform of social assistance in Armenia, inform education reforms in Romania to significantly downsize the school network, and further the dialogue on reforming the minimum social security contribution in Serbia.

       

      2) Are PSIAs relevant to the new World Bank Group? What role can it play with the new twin goals?

       

      PSIAs are now more relevant than ever. With the renewed emphasis on poverty and social impacts in the context of the Bank’s twin goals, better understanding the impact that the projects and reforms we support can have on these goals is critical and can help identify booster or mitigating measures as needed. Overall, PSIAs can help identify and draw linkages between World Bank Group operations and progress towards the goals, can contribute to maintaining the line of sight with the goals and can help enhance the impact of what we do as an institution.  


      3)  What are the top three reasons you would recommend a PSIA to a TTL?


      First, as previously mentioned, PSIAs can contribute to assessing the impact of the projects and reforms we support on the less well-off, and thus contribute to identifying measures to enhance impact on these groups and/or to mitigate any potential negative short-term effects. Second, a PSIA can broaden the scope of an operation, bringing in aspects that might not have been considered by the project team or the counterpart otherwise. For example, conducting a PSIA for an energy reform can result in very relevant linkages with the ongoing dialogue on poverty and social protection in a given country. Finally, a PSIA provides the opportunity to explicitly and more directly include vulnerable groups in the discussion of a reform or project, which can be critical for the work itself but also as a capacity building/strengthening mechanism vis-à-vis our counterparts. A policy dialogue that goes beyond averages, to look more closely at potential impacts on those in need or excluded, can be very powerful for current and future reform efforts.   


      4) You have worked on PSIAs projects before, so from a technical perspective, what is exciting about the PSIA approach and what are the main challenges?


      The PSIA approach makes you think about the bigger picture of the work that is being done, and puts the issue of poverty reduction center-stage. Being a member of the Poverty Global Practice, it has been particularly interesting to conduct PSIAs. First, it has led to very enriching conversations with people working in other topics – trade and competitiveness, energy, pensions, etc - , as we try to think about and analyze the channels of transmission from a project or reform to  the household level. Second, the PSIA approach allows for a multiplicity of methodologies to be used, including mixed methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis. Specifically, I have seen in many PSIAs how the more traditional quantitative analysis has been enriched by qualitative surveys that allow to hear more about people’s experiences, aspirations and expectations which ultimately shape their behavior and influence their support of reforms. 


      There are several challenges to conducting PSIAs. One of the main ones is, unavoidably, data quality and access. As most PSIAs rely on household survey data for part of the analysis, availability of good and (relatively) up to date micro data often becomes a constraint. Some countries haven’t had a survey in years, or the ones they have cannot be used for one reason or the other. Another challenge, which I think we are getting better at addressing, is to work with people across practices that often speak a different technical language. Bridging the gap between areas of work is absolutely necessary for PSIA work.


      BIOGRAPHY

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      María E. Dávalos is a Senior Economist in the Poverty Global Practice focusing on the Europe and Central Asia Region. She joined the Bank in 2010 through the World Bank’s Young Professionals Program, and started working on poverty and equity in the Latin America region. She currently leads the gender and poverty programs for the Western Balkans, and is the poverty economist for Albania and Moldova. She has also worked on the regional agenda on economic mobility, the regional jobs report and the “missing girls” research program in the South Caucasus. Maria obtained a Master’s Degree in economic policy management at the Centre for Studies and Research on International Development (France) and was a Fulbright scholar at Fordham University (New York), where she obtained her PhD in economics.