1) How long have you been involved with PSIAs, the PSIA MDTF, and have things improved over the years?
I have been involved with PSIAs for a very long time. As a poverty economist naturally you get to do a lot of PSIAs, so I did some of this work when I was in ECA (Europe and Central Asia) and in Africa before I went to ECA. I got more involved in the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for PSIA from the time it was established in 2010, as one of the focal point for Africa, with three other colleagues. Overall, I think that we had an incredible success in Africa because the MDTF did three important things: first of all it expanded the number of PSIAs we do. Second, it actually expanded to non-traditional sectors where we don’t typically do PSIAs like transport, forestry, and natural resources in general. Third, I think the MDTF provided a more systematic and proactive approach: what I felt was that in the past, before this MDTF, PSIA was something that was done only by a few people, with some managers or country directors that pushed them, but it wasn’t systematic until it became mandatory through the operational manual for the DPS. By that time there wasn’t any particular requirement for projects to do that, so it wasn’t systematically done.
2) Are PSIAs relevant to the new World Bank Group? What role can it play with the new twin goals?
PSIAs are sort of timeless because they are a tool to understand both ex-ante and ex-post, what impact the changes introduced by a government or a specific program will have on people’s lives. Therefore, as long as the World Bank’s focus looks at poverty reduction, improving incomes and in general the well-being of the population of poor countries, particularly the most vulnerable ones, the PSIA will be always relevant, both for the old and the new World Bank Group. And they’re particularly relevant for the twin goals, because we’ve always been interested in focusing on the welfare of the poor, but now our goal is even more ambitious than the ones we’ve had in the past. We aim to eliminate poverty all together, not to reduce it by half, or by some margin, but all together. What that means is that we should be particularly keen on finding out how our programs are actually going to affect the lives of the very poor. The specific tools and the insights that can come from the PSIAs could be essential for trying to evaluate how interventions by the governments and development agencies like ours ensure that as many people as possible are helped to actually get out of this extreme poverty.
3) What are the top three reasons you would recommend a PSIA to a TTL?
The first reason is that the PSIA sort of concentrates the mind on how you think about the distributional impact of interventions. So if you’re thinking about a project in any sector, what the PSIA does is whether in fact the project is going to have a positive or negative impact, and that’s important, since you definitely want to know when it has a negative impact. The second reason why I would recommend PSIA to a TTL is because it might actually be a helpful tool or framework to engage with the client. If you can show the client either that it has a huge negative or positive welfare impact on the population you might actually be having a better conversation and discussion about the merits of the project. The final reason why I would recommend a PSIA to TTLs is because you have a lot of people in the bank who can help them do this analysis. There are many people in different practices but particularly in social development who have the right skills and can provide in-house support for this kind of work.
4) You have worked on PSIA projects before, so from a technical perspective, what is exciting about the PSIA approach and what are the main challenges?
The exciting thing about the PSIA is that it brings and mixes both quantitative and qualitative skills, so no matter how good you are at quantitative skills you also really need to understand the social impacts. We always talk about poverty impacts which tend to be fairly technical and quantitative, but the social impacts are just as interesting and particularly useful on insights. Two, it might actually be very important to use PSIA because it gives you an angle whether in fact your reforms are going to succeed or not. Both the quantitative and the qualitative tools allow you to look at the stakeholders that are going to be in opposition, and the ones who are going to be in support of this reform. And knowing that is an important piece of knowledge because it makes you think very hard about the theory of change that you want to pursue for this particular project to be successful. In general the PSIA calls upon us to use a wide range of skills and training, it calls on us to look at the economic and social aspects, but also the politics. Understanding the context in that particular setting or country allows you to see whether this project is going to be feasible or not, so it’s a fairly complex process but it also gives a lot of insight of what will happen.
The main challenges for PSIAs are: how to communicate results very effectively and clearly. The second biggest challenge is how to identify stakeholders that can actually be interested in the reforms, and the third challenge is how to encourage the governments to take up ownership of the reform processes and the results that the PSIAs basically imply.
Andrew Dabalen is a Lead Economist in the World Bank Poverty and Equity Global Practice. His work focuses on poverty and social impact analysis, inequality of opportunity, program evaluation, risk and vulnerability, labor markets, and conflict and welfare outcomes. He has worked in the World Bank’s Africa and Europe and Central Asia Regions, where he led or co-led country and regional analytic products. He has published a number of scholarly articles and working papers on poverty measurement, conflict and welfare outcomes and wage inequality. He holds a Masters in International Development from University of California - Davis and a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from University of California - Berkeley.